Heaven on Earth

Kashmir Map

Kashmir was a long awaited trip. I have been planning this trip in my head for almost 5 years but unfortunately the journey never happened. It is one of the most controversial tourist destinations in India due to the conflict over its territory between India and Pakistan.

As luck would have it my in-laws were off to India for some much needed R and R and we decided to take the opportunity to spend some quality time with them. We deliberated on the options that we had. Since their trip was already planned this would just be an add on, so eventually we all agreed that Kashmir was a place that  was on every one of our travel lists but none of us  had ever gotten a chance to explore it as yet! So off to Kashmir it was.

We flew via Ethiopian airlines since it was the shortest and cheapest flights available. What a combination :).  Only 11 hours to Mumbai and a 25 minute layover, this was a no brainer.

Day 1

We reached Mumbai at 5 in the morning, and proceeded to the domestic departure for our direct flight to Srinagar on Indgo. The flight is approximately 2h 35m. The other airlines do offer flights but they either connect in Jammu, Amritsar or New Delhi and at a minimum take about 3h 30m.

As you enter Kashmir, the beauty of the snow-capped mountains entrances you. The blue skies combined with the magical white mountain backdrop has a unique charm that cannot be described by words.

Plane

We landed in Sringnar and were whisked off to a hotel on the lake by, our tour company, Kashmir Tourism. I was very impressed with the vehicle and our collection at the airport. I highly recommend them.

Srinagar is well known for its beautiful lakes and colourful gardens. Unfortunately it was still winter so we didn’t get to see any of the gardens but the lakes were breath taking. The lakes are laden with rows of local colourful boats which created a vibrant atmosphere.

Boats

We were escorted by boat to our accomodation, Wangnoo Houseboat situated on the smaller lake called Nigeen. The houseboat boasted beautiful carvings and was impressively decorated.  It was owner run. Service was impeccable; the food was homemade and delicious. The only downside was the hawkers that were allowed to come on board and set up a mini stalls so that they could sell their wares. The first one wasn’t too bad but after you encounter 5 or 6 you lose interest.

House Boat

The options in Srinagar are to take a walk and enjoy the streets or a cruise on the lake. We opted for a cruise on the lake. It was both serene and beautiful until we were surrounded by more hawkers, this time on boats! They are rather persistent and never take NO for an answer. We eventually caved and bought some scarves and took some pictures

Princess for a day

 

Day 2

The next morning we were off to Sonamarg, the temperature had dropped dramatically so we had to dress up warm, especially since we were going into the mountains on horseback. There are several ways to see Sonamarg. You can walk around, take a taxi up to the second point or reach the glacier on horseback …. As we stopped in the town at the bottom, we were approached by many people offering their services. Among them were the owners of the horses, photographers, rentals for shoes and jackets.  We generally carry our water resistant hiking boots and we had warm jackets on so we refused to pay for something we were not going to use. We negotiated with the owners of the horses and eventually paid  Rs 1600 per person just for the horses .

I can’t even describe the beauty of Sonamarg so instead I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Sonamarg 2The trek up is 16km in total and it took almost 7 hours. I think it’s because we stopped so often to take pictures.

More Scenery

Along the way there are 5 photo points and plenty of fun to have in the snow.

Fun in the snow

Always time for love

We returned to Sonamarg for the evening; a bit sore from being on the horses so long and spent the night at a hotel, Heritage Heevan Resort, situated in the city centre. The hotel was under construction so the restaurant was not in use. The hotel however upgraded our rooms and the service made up for any shortfall the hotel had. It would have been nice to have an extra day to explore the town but alas our itinerary was tight.

 

Day 3

We woke up slightly stiff after the long hours on the horse that we are obviously not used too. So we all agreed that no matter what the options were for Pahlagam we were going to choose the one that excluded the horses. However our tour guide had other plans…  Guess what? We ended up BACK ON THE HORSES!

palagam horses

The valleys were beautiful but because of the time of year it was a bit dry. This ride also entailed 5 stops, each with its own beauty. Pahlagam is filled with valleys, limitless spreads of pine tree surrounded by a lush forest with layers of snow in some parts. Although the hilly ranges were beautiful, at some point I felt sorry for the horses that were doing all the hard work. The 4th stop was interesting because there was a small tourist attraction, it costs Rs 15 per person to enter. Once your inside, you can enjoy some snacks, coffee or tea, zorb down the hill or enjoy a ride on a snow mobile.

Snow mobile

We stayed just out of Palagam at a hotel called Kolahoi Greens. The hotel was phenomenal, after a long day on the horses; we had access to hot water, a warm room, scrumptious food and friendly staff.

 

Day 4

We proceeded to Gulmarg, which is 154 kms away. The ride took about 3 ½ hrs. We only had one day in Gulmarg and I was insistent that we go right to the top of the mountain. Before we got there we had to stop and get warmer jackets. We were told this is compulsory. I do not think it’s so much compulsory but rather a necessity, as it is ‘mostly to extremely cold’ on the top. The prices for rental are Rs. 300 for an unused jacket and Rs. 200 for a used jacked. Just by the way the jackets are all used and we ended up paying Rs. 300 anyway. The rental boots are Rs. 150, it is highly recommended to get boots if you don’t have appropriate shoes for snow. You also need to purchase chair lift tickets if you want to reach the highest skiing spot in the world. Chair Lifts cost Rs. 600 for stage 1 and Rs. 700 for stage 2 per person.

Cable cars

I found Gulmarg to boast exquisite natural beauty. It was a spectacular site! Flawless white blanket type mountain ranges for as far as the eyes can see. I felt like the snow princess except, I was covered in 4 layers of clothing and resembled something close to a polar bear rather than a princess.

Fur

We got back to the cabin around 5. The road all the way to the hotel is filled with snow and its quiet slippery, so you do have the option of taking a ride in a snow sled for about Rs100.

sledge

The hotel itself looked like a set out of Hogwarts!!!! I cannot explain how mesmerised I was by the beauty of Gulmarg.

Gulmarg

Overall I found Kashmir to be an impressive mix of undulating mountain ranges, ethereal meadows, surreal snow-capped mountains riven by spectacular lakes and rivers. I definitely would suggest a longer itinerary though. I would suggest a minimum of 2 nights in each town would be required in order for you to absorb its boundless beauty… although I could quiet easily spend 4 days  in Gulmarg.

The beauty of Kashmir is endless and it is a place that will always have a mystical calling for me… I have a feeling I will be back

Our Adventure Down Under

We headed off to Australia to set our eyes on the start of the F1 Grand Prix season and at the same time experience a live Cricket World Cup final. Although Australia has been on my to do list, it was not a country that I was truly excited to see, it happens to be smallest and flattest continent in the world and is the driest inhabited continent on the earth. 25% of the people living in Australia are actually overseas citizens! Now this I can believe, throughout my trip I was served by more non-Australians then Australians, e.g. Our Taxi driver was Italian, the lady that checked us in at the hotel was Chinese, our waiters that served us in the restaurants and the cashiers at the stores were all either European or Asian….

Route: 

Sydney to Melbourne

UntitledCosts:

Approximate Costs pp
Flights

1303.57

Accommodation

1349.89

Online Visa

130.00

Grand Total

2783.46

Prices are all in A$

Rate: A$1 |R 9.52

Day 1:

Arrived at Sydney International in the afternoon. First stop, the Vodaphone shop. We paid A$20 for a card, which included 1 GIG of data, A$ 450 airtime and free sms’s. As you know by now, all I ever need when I travel is google and data :)

The taxi ride to the hotel was 30 minutes to Sydney harbor and cost A$ 57. You can take a single trip on the tram that cost A$ 4 but then you need to make sure you will be able to carry your luggage. With 3 bags in hand we opted for a taxi.

We got to the hotel a little after 4 and by 5:30 we were out and about exploring the city.

First stop Sydney Harbor Bridge.

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Now there is two ways to tour the bridge.

Way 1: Costs money, A$ 248 for an adult to be exact. This is referred to as a bridge Climb in which you walk on the outer or inner rim of the bridge. Once you summit the bridge, beautiful views of the harbor and opera house can be seen. The tour takes 3 hours for the outer rim and 2 for the inner. The prices are the same for both, the difference is the time spent. If you end up doing the bridge climb you will be given free entry to the pylon lookout, a group photo, certificate of achievement and a BridgeClimb cap! Wow!

Way 2: Free except for the pylon lookout. Walk along the pedestrian walkways, although the fence surrounding it obstructs the view, and then climb to the top of the pylon. The Pylon LookoutTM Sydney Harbour Bridge will cost AUD 13 for an adult. It’s open 7 days a week from 10am to 5 pm. Warning! Be prepared to climb 200 steps…. Time: It will take you approximately an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how fast you walk.

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We opted for option 2 from and time and value for money point of view.

Famished after the long walk, we decided to head down to Darling Harbour for some supper. We were close to central station, so on went Google maps and we were on our way.IMG_0164 copyUnfortunately when we got off the train two stops later, it had started to rain. The walk from Townhall train station to Darling Harbour is 5 minutes. Most of the shops were closed but eating-places were still open.

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Food is exceptionally expensive, but if you consider that Australians only eat A Grade food, it makes relative sense, sort of…..

Just to give you an idea……

A glass of chardonnay                                   A$ 7

Medium sized pizza                                       A$ 28

MacDonald’s Cheese Burger Meal       A$ 7

Nando’s ½ chicken meal                              A$ 18

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Day 2:

We had pre booked a Sydney harbour cruise when we arrived for 1:45pm. At 12pm we woke up and scurried around, even as seasoned travellers we had forgotten about the jet lag and our bodies adjusting to the time difference. Thankfully we made it on time.

We done our bookings over the web and managed to get a slight discount. Instead of paying A$ 120 we paid A$ 106pp. There are many tour companies offering the cruises, among them Thomas Cook Cruises. You can also purchase tours on Viator and Adrenalin a well. We used Adrenalin and we were very happy with their services. We elected: Sailing, Tall Ship Lunch Cruise with Unlimited Drinks – Sydney.

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The cruise was extremely relaxing and views from the ship were amazing. If you are keen you could help pull up a sail or steer the ship :)

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For supper, we booked at the 360o bar and restaurant. The restaurant was simply incredible; it provides 360-degree views of the city, hence the name! The restaurant slowly rotates whilst you are having supper and takes about an hour to turn full circle. The food is pricey but scrumptious.

There is an option of 2 ($75) or 3 ($95) course with additional charges applied to dishes like steak. Note: you could pay up to $45 as an additional charge.

Portions are small but the two-course meal was perfect for me.

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Day 3:

11am Opera House tour, again bodies had not adjusted to the time difference so we woke at 10 even though we set the alarm this time for 9! Luckily the location of our hotel is perfect. It was a 10-minute walk to Sydney Harbour, 15-minute walk to the Opera House and a 20-minute walk to Darling Harbour. Location in Sydney is everything. Be prepared to do a minimum of 10 000 steps a day. A great work out!

The Opera House tour needs to be booked at least 24 hours in advance. Tickets can be purchased directly at the box office or online. There are many options with regards to the tours offered at the Opera House. We opted for just a normal tour. The tickets cost A$ 33pp.

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The tour itself, for me, fell a bit short. I didn’t feel that it was value for money. One could have just used google to access the same information. Rather than waste your money on the tour book tickets for the opera, a play or a show. Tickets for a show start around A$ 57 and can go up dramatically, depending on where you sit and the play/show or opera you book. Standing tickets are much cheaper but I wouldn’t personally recommend this, who wants to stand for two hours, I’m already past 30 and there’s no way I’m getting taller, in fact I read once that as you age you get shorter (hoping this is a myth).

The building is beautiful and definitely something that must been seen, but once again this can be done when you book tickets for a show. The design is extraordinary especially considering that the outer building is made up of concrete and the inner buildings are buildings within a building.

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We planned to spend the rest of day at Bondi Beach (subway to Bondi junction and then bus 380, 381, 382 or 333 to the beach), but the rain had other plans for us, so instead to walked around a shopped a bit. I was afraid at first because I always heard how expensive Australia is. But I found it to be rather reasonable.

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Prices:

Guess Bag                                                              A$99

Kardashin Kollection Shoes                        A$88

Hello Kitty Pendant & Earing Set             A$27

Now had I gone to the beach I would have saved my dear husband $214! Okay, okay maybe add another $ 200 for some other items purchasedJ. Blame the weather babe!

Lunch can be had at several of the restaurants on the habour or in the city. But I must warn you the closer to the harbour you are the more expensive things get. My advice: Head out to the city, let your legs do some walking and your pockets some saving…. And then use the extra savings to splurge a bit J

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In the evening we headed out to experience a live cabaret show at the Opera House, I would have much rather preferred the symphony orchestra or the opera but tickets were sold out L

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Day 4:

Melbourne is the city of bars, eateries, restaurants and for our trip purpose: sport. We booked as close to Bourke Street as we could as I had researched that this was the happening part of the city.

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We easily found our way to the local train/tram station situated just outside our hotel on Spring Street. If you want to make use of the public transport buy a Myki card, from any 7-11, it cost A$ 6. There are free tram/train zones in the city so you won’t need to pay unless you are travelling out of the area. If you are going to Albert Park or St Kilda then you will need to purchase some credit on your card.

We spent the day at the racetrack watching the qualifying and on our return we strutted down Bourke Street, highly entertained by the youth who spent the evening either listening to live music on the street corners or stumbling from one bar to the next.

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Day 5:

We spent the morning again wandering around Bourke Street. And found ourselves attracted to the admirable artistic expressions painted on the sides of the buildings. I must say, the legal graffiti, contributes to the creation of a vibrant urban Melbourne!

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Next: Off to the race. The race was not the most thrilling that I have been too, but the organisers put in a lot of effort and the pre-race proved to be quiet entertaining.

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After the race we headed down to the WTC Wharf… except for the Yarra River, there’s not much. The restaurants were fairly empty and the wharf was quiet deserted.

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So, we decided to explore the city….. Melbourne is best explored on foot. The best places are generally found by just walking around…. Okay, okay, make a left or a right off Bourke Street and your set J…. Try putting in Hardware Ln into google maps if you get lost. We were surprised to find such a lively city on a Sunday night at 9pm!

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P.S Melbourne loves restaurants or bars that are placed in the nooks and crannies of its streets. Don’t be afraid to venture up or down a flight of stairs in an alley, it might be a gem waiting to be discovered. Also don’t be surprised to find one of the best restaurants tucked away amid two large buildings.

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Day 6:

Between day 5 and 6, and it’s not a 24 hour time period, we toured New Zealand, but I have left that for another post. More exploring of the city occurred and we tried out a different venue on Hardware Ln for supper.

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Day 7:

Cricket final! Such a disappointment!!! Albert Park itself was an amazing experience. We managed to take lots of beautiful pictures.

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Day 8:

Spent most of the day wandering around Melbourne city and then headed off to the airport to return to Sydney for the night. Darling Harbour, was on my agenda and we managed to enjoy its beauty without the rain. We spent the last night smoking hubbly and enjoying the views of the harbour.

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This trip unfortunately did not permit us to tour the Great Barrier Reef nor see Ayers Rock so we will have to return…. but I’m going to put Australia on the back burner for a while.

Incredible India!

It’s taken me 3 weeks, since my return, to write this post and not because it has been a difficult task but more because I think India is such a beautiful place and has such a magnificent story to tell that I didn’t want to mess it up. This trip marks my 5th journey to India and I still haven’t uncovered all of its magical mysticism partly because I keep getting drawn to some places over and over again and because its such a big coutry with so much to see.

I always like starting my blog with the reason for our trip, so I think I am going to stick to this. This time we were invited by some friends to attend their son’s wedding in Udaipur. We were thrilled at the chance to return to India and at the same time continue our tour of the country.

Route:

We decided to start our trip at an ashram in Shridi, attend the wedding in Ahmedabad and Udaipur, then head of to Rishikesh and end the trip at a beach side resort in Goa.

Costs:

      Approximate Costs pp
Flights Jet airways – codeshare SAA www.jetairways.co Rs.63 600
Accommodation Various (mostly expedia)  www.expedia.com Rs.65 500
Visa Indian Embassey  www.blsindia-southafrica.com Rs.312
Taxi Get me Cabs www.get mecab.com Rs. 7 000
Grand Total   Rs.136 412

Exchange Rate: R5.30 l Rs.1

Notes: Firstly South Africans do not pay a visa fee as such, only a Rs.254 service charge and other optional fees for services. I chose the SMS for an extra Rs.58 but it’s a waste of time. I didn’t receive a single sms and had to keep calling the embassy to get feedback. Also note the turnaround time says 5 working days but I got mine in 10, so leave ample time for that.

We took a direct flight from Johannesburg to Mumbai on South African Airways (SAA). Personally I hate flying SAA; the service is generally not on par with the other airlines that I am fond of using and the inflight entertainment is so ancient, but due to no transit time and it being the only airline to fly direct we had no other choice.

Money changers at the airport are rip offs. The rate of the $ was $61/Rs.1, they gave us Rs.57/$1 and still had the nerve of charging us commission! If you have a ATM card, it would be wiser to draw cash from the ATM or if you can wait till you reach you point of destination and change in the town that you are in, you would get a better rate.

We couldn’t get local SIM cards as proof of stay in Mumbai is required and we were leaving to Shirdi immediately. We did however purchase SIM cards in Ahmedabad. Data costs Rs.250 for a GB.

Day 1:

We arrived in Mumbai early parts of the morning and set off straight to our first stop, Shirdi. There are taxis available 24 hours a day outside the airport but you need to bargain. A taxi to Shirdi should not charge more than Rs.7000 return. Be careful as they normally rip off tourists and charge double that price. Our friends that joined us in for the trip were a bit concerned since it was their first time to India, so not wanting to increase their anxiety in anyway; we agreed to pre-book our taxis using Get Me Cabs. The booking process via the internet was a fairly simply process but we should have pre-arranged a meeting point because we spend a good hour and a half trying to contact the drivers on arrival.

We arrived at Shirdi at 6 in the morning so we had to book an extra night’s accomodation. Accommodation in Shirdi is relevantly cheap; expect to pay in the region of Rs.5000 a night at the best hotel. The reason of visiting Shirdi is that the Ashram is the holy abode of a hindu Saint. During his time on earth he performed many miracles and has promised that even in death he would assist those that requested his help.

Most of the hotels provide a free shuttle service to the Ashram. If you are foreign you are eligible for a VIP pass and free entry unless it’s a weekend, in which case, you have to pay Rs.300pp for an Aarti (a prayer that removes darkness, it is a lamp waved before an icon , in this case Shirdi Baba) and Rs.100 for Dharshan (dharshan is the practice of seeing or beholding the icon, once again in this case, Shirdi Baba). We chose to pay to attend the Aarti that evening. The Aarti in itself was not what was imagined, they seemed to be doing it over and over again for different sets of people.

Please be careful of shop owners trying to sell you various prayer items, they will try to sell you flowers, prayer goods or keep your shoes. You do not need any of it, as no prayer items are allowed inside and the Ashram is safe for shoes. Just remember where you place them. Do not take any cameras inside as you will not be allowed into the complex. Queues are long but generally move fast.

We spent the day touring the temple complex and retiring quiet early to the hotel as we were exhausted.

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Day 2:

The day before we had also booked the Abisheik Pooja, at the temple office. The cost of the prayer was Rs.100. The prayer is a process were the idol of Shirdi Baba is washed in milk rosewater and the dressed with new attire. I felt the whole process to be very transactional based. Although the place is very spiritual and I understand that the upkeep of the temple complex costs money; I would rather give donations instead of paying for entry to the temple. After the prayer we visited the Shirdi Baba Dhuni, it is basically a fire that was started by Shirdi Baba himself over 100 years ago, the fire still burns today. We also viewed Shirdi Babas home, once again no photos were allowed. We used the afternoon and evening to roam the town and purchase various trinkets. There are plenty of stalls, shops and even a mini strip mall. Trinkets, saris, bangles, prayer beads can be bought at relalatively cheap prices.

One day in Shirdi is more than enough to do everything, we spread it over two days because we had already allocated the time.

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Day 3:

Wedding Celebrations here we come…. Ahmedabad is one of the cleanliest cities in India that I have ever been too. I wish we could have spent more than a night here as there is so much to do but being part of the wedding party we couldn’t do any sight-seeing. I would have loved to see Sabarmati Ashram, it was the place from which Ghandi directed the independence movement and the Jama Masjid, which was considered one of the most beautiful artichetactral buildings when it was built in 1424, but alas all we only got a chance to shop at the local mall. Clothing is so inexpensive and beautiful, I paid Rs9000 for my beautiful out outfit and Rs.13000 for my husbands…. If I had more space I would definitely have bought more.

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Day 4 & 5:

The following day we were whisked by a private charter on Jet Airways to Udaipur. Udaipur is a beautiful city of lakes, it is known as the Venice of the East and quiet rightly so. During our stay this time we didn’t tour much as the sole purpose of our visit was the attendance of the wedding. The wedding itself was straight out of an Indian movie. It was held at the Oberoi Udaiimage5 copyvillias.

I have not placed any pictures of the wedding as I do not have any distribution rights.

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On a previous visit in 2013 we toured the city. These were some of our highlights:

Firstly a trip to Udaipir would not be complete without a boat ride on lake Picola. Rides vary according to length and type of boat that is used and can cost anything from Rs.200-Rs.500 pp.

On the edge of lake Pichola lies an Bagore Ki Havei, built in the 18th century and now converted to a museum. The building holds traditional Rajastani paintings, arts and crafts along with clothing of the royals. The museum is open from 10am to 7pm dialy.

The City Palace Complex is a very popular attraction. At the city palace one can adorn their hands with mendhi , watch a puppet show, or wander around in the museum.

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The Udaipur Ropeway is an absolute must , the sunset can be idecally seen from a beautiful vantage point that you can reach using the cable car. Tickets cost Rs.300 for foreginers and Rs.75 for locals. The queing system is very confusing, so try to get there early as you can wait up to an hour and a half to ride the cable car to the top. At the top is a little resturant but don’t expect anything fancy.

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Just out of Udaipur there are two sites that I felt were worth while. Haldi Ghatti museum and he Eklinji temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The museum opens at 08:00 am in the morning and close at 07:00 pm. Entry Fee was Rs 30pp. However note that if you do not speak the local language you may not understand much that is being said. It basically relays the story about Maharana Pratap and the famous battle he fought with the Mugals in Haldi Ghatti. Outside the musem are stalls that sell pickels, clothing and a small resturant. Camel rides are also offered oustide the museum.

The temple is about 20kms out of Udaipur. Photography at the temple complex is prohibited. Shoes and cellphones are required to be left in lockers just before entering the temple. The temple is guraded by a mutltitude of guards who willing help tourists. At the entrance of the main temple there is a beautifully sculpted huge Nandi (cow). Cows are very sacred in India and are often worshipped. The temple complex has 108 temples built with sandstone and marble. Not all the temples are open to tourists.

 Day 6:

Rishikesh has always captivated me, it’s a little village. And I use the term village because that’s exactly how I would describe it . It lies north of india at the foothills of the Himalayas.

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Now I always wondered why this town enchants me so much that I return on every visit. On my recent visit I was told that you do not come to Rishikesh, Rishikesh beckons you. It is a great sentiment to think that I have done something so worthy to be brought to one of the greatest spiritual places in the Hindu religion several times.

In previous visits we road by car to Rishikesh from Delhi. The trip itself took 4 to 5 hours leaving in the wee hours of the morning or 8 to 9 hours leaving anytime after 9. Now if we talking km Rishikesh is only about 232km from Delhi but Indian traffic has to be the worst in the world, and everyone including the cows get to use these roads. Anyway… This time we entered flying in from Delhi. The flight is an easy 1 hour and we landed in a place called Dehradun, DED if you searching for the flight. Dehradun is the capital of the Uttarakhand state. It’s also a half hour or 45km taxi ride from the airport to the Luxman Jula (the place where we stayed) and costs in the region of Rs.700 for 2 people with luggage.

We arrived in the afternoon and was rudely welcomed by the hotel front desk clerk. We had tried to make reservations before our trip directly with the hotel but was told we could not pay via credit card and had to pay the hotel in rupees also we could not pay on arrival. For the sake of convenience we instead just booked on bookings.com.

The room was terribly old and I probably would not have had a bath for the duration of my stay should we had stayed in those rooms. Luckily on our arrival we had met the hotel manager, Raj and we requested an upgrade. He managed to arrange two rooms in the new section overlooking the Ganges. What a view.

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We paid a bit extra for the room but it was worth every cent. It also had private access to the Ganges which was a cherry on the top for me.

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Raj is a bit eccentric but such a phenomenal host, he gave us some great insights for sightseeing. He not only done that with us but with all guests staying at the hotel. I would definitely recommend staying at the Divine Ganga resort if ever you find yourself in Rishikesh.

Day 7

Having only 1 full day in Rishikesh, I woke early (6:45). I sat on the banks of the river and meditated and chanted for an hour. I returned in time to attend a private yoga class that Raj had organised the day before. Since I am not famliar with Yoga I requested the private class, however the hotel runs complimentary yoga classes every morning at 7. We paid Rs.800 each for the lesson that lasted an hour. The instructor was incredible and took our current levels of fitness into consideration, I will definately try to continue my morning sun salutation.

After breakfast we walked down to the Laxman Jula market. I purchased several trinkets along the way. I managed to get a beautiful citrine stone and have my palm read for free. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the famous Beetles Ashram on this trip. Apparently the Ashram still remains closed but you can give the guard about a Rs.100 and he will let you roam about.

Because of the short time in Rishikesh I wanted to maximize my time at the river Ganga. January is considered winter in India and although the water was freezing it didn’t stop me from doing the sacred dip. The water is relatively clean in Rishikesh as it is the first major town that the river passes through.

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In the Hindu religion a dip in the Ganges is considered an act to remit ones sins. The river is peaceful yet so powerful, I can spend hours here.

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After a soul fulfilling experience I then prepared for a Ganges haven and Aarti. We arrived at the Parmarth Nketan temple at 5.00 and my husband enquired about the process of sitting in the haven scheduled for 5.30. We were told that we would need to pay Rs.3500 for this. Now although this is not a lot of money for us; the concept for paying for praying just doesn’t sit right with me. My husband didn’t pay. I was slightly disheartened and with a heavy heart I decided to watch the proceedings anyway. To our surprise the Pandit (priest) called us and we were part of the ceremony. When things are meant to be somehow it just finds a way.

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After Aarti we joyfully headed back to the hotel for supper and retired for the day.

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Day 8

My day again started with my morning ritual at thre river. However we had to leave directly after breakfast to catch our flight.The taxi ride back t the airport was slightly somber for me because the best part of my journey had come to an end and we had 3 flights ahead of us to reach Goa.

We splurged a bit in Goa and stayed at the Marriott. A transfer awaited us at the airport; this was included in our stay. We arrived at the hotel at 7pm and we were exhausted after a full day travelling. To be honest the hotel, although beautiful on the outside, was a far cry from a good choice. Firstly our bookings were for a king room and we were given two double beds, the showers were handheld, breakfast was not on par with the normal Marriot breakfasts, the head chef asked us for suggestions for improvement and when we suggested what we would like to see he said his guests would not like that, now forgive me for my stupidity but am I not a guest??? There were several other issues that I will mention as the trip continues. Overall bad service and over priced.

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Day 9

Waking up early we headed out to the beach! Woah were we in for a surprise, firstly the hotel has no beach, it is situated on a dirty river mouth. You cant even walk along the shore. If I were the hotel owner, even if I do not own the beach I would still keep it clean to cater for my guests. Disappointed once again we googled and then headed off to Candolim beach. It is a 30 minute drive from the hotel and costs Rs. 1250 which includes a driver waiting for you for 4 hours.

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The beach was truly amazing… I loved every minute. An umbrella with 2 chairs can cost about Rs.200 for the day. On my return to Goa we will say in Candolim. It is ideally situated.

A variety of water sports are also offered on the beach. This includes parasailing, speed boats, banana rides and jet skis. We chose to do the Jet Ski for 10 minutes, it costs about Rs.1 500 for 2 people. Nothing beats Jet Skiing in the ocean. What a awesome experience.

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One can also get massages although I would not recommend it, the massage therapists do not look trained and they walk around with dirty, old, oiled stained cloths that were probably used to do massages earlier in the day. If you do choose to do a massage expect to pay about Rs.250 for a foot massage and Rs.700 for a full body.

There are several shacks on the beach, all cater for breakfast, lunch and supper. We ate at a place called Lawrencios.

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 Day 10

This happened to be National Day in India, most of the shops were closed. We lazed around the hotel as the hotel tour manager had arranged a cruise on the river for Rs. 8000. The cruise was a complete dissapointment, we were told that we would be taken on a yacht and would be given supper, instead we were taken on a boat that had no canopy, so we spent the first half of the cruise burning in the hot sun. Secondly supper turned out to be 2 sandwhiches and 4 chocolates that had to be shared among four of us. What a dissapoinment! If you do choose a cruise please ask for a brouchure and confirm what you are getting.

At least we got to view an amazing sunset!

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The hotel apologized for poor service and paid for the cruise but we were rather disappointed with the waste of time and effort from our side. If we had known better we would have rather returned to the beach for the day. We were also given a free dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Day 11

Back to the beach. Lazying on the beach proved to be another awesome experience. We spent the evening at Baga beach at a place called St. Anthonys Bar. The atmosphere is mesmerizing. Supper is literally on the beach. You can also enjoy a wonderfully flavoured hooka after supper. Dancing and live karoke completed our last evening in India.

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India proved to be another incredible journey!!!

However this post is not over yet….. :)

Tips for the golden Triangle – Delhi, Jaipur, Agra

A trip to India can never be complete without doing the Golden Triangle. I have done this route on a previous trip and throughly enjoyed it. As it is highly recommened, I have decided to add some useful tips for this route. (Please note that most of the tips are courtesouy of our dear friends Reshma & Desigan who enjoyed a private tour of the golden triangle whilst we attended the wedding)

  1. Firstly 4 days is sufficent time to complete a tour of the Golden Triangle
  2. Be sure to avoid being in Delhi on a Monday. Most of the major attractions are closed
  3. If you already planned your trip and you find yourself there on a Monday go to Gandhi Samandi( Ghandis final resting place) and Humayans Tomb. The entrance fee is Rs. 250 for foreginers and Rs.20 for locals.
  4. All temples do not allow cellphones inside, if you do take a cellphone along you will need to leave it in a locker.
  5. Chandi Chowk is an amazing busy bazaar, but please be prepared to walk among 1000s of people.
  6. Jaipur must do’s include, the city palace, Jaigarh fort, Amber Fort and please do enjoy an elephant ride in the city.
  7. The architectural splendor of the Taj Mahal is closed on a Friday. Tickets are Rs.750pp. If you do the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort on the same day, you will only pay Rs.250 for the fort saving you Rs.50
  8. Camel rides are available from the parking lot to the Taj but they cost Rs.100 and you might end up still be hot and in addition smelly, so think carefully.
  9. Rhikshaws are also available for about the same price; it might be a safer choice, unless a camel ride is on your list of things to do.
  10. Tour guides are dodgy, is it difficult to tell the real ones from the fakes. The cost of the guide is approximatley Rs.1975 for foreginers and Rs. 975 for locals.

We sincerely hope these travel tips help!!!!

Join me again in April, for another escapade, when we venture ‘Down Under’…..

A Middle Eastern Escapade…

The UAE, to me, is simply the ‘Desert’. I could not wrap my head around why most people spend several times returning to the ‘Desert’, after all how much of sand can one see!

So in planning our trip, I decided that 6 full days (20 November 2014 – 27 November 2014) would be enough to see the ‘Desert’ and once again the primary driving factor for us visiting the UAE was the fact that the Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix season was so gripping, that the championship was going down to Abu Dhabi. Since we love combining the F1 with travel, we decided to get our fix of the  F1 and at the same time see what all the fuss of the UAE was about.

Note: When you book directly with the F1 organizers, there are many benefits. Tickets  from the track organizers are only marginally more expensive than sites like gootickets, bookf1.com, goticketsshop etc. but i think that there is more value for money.  Only after booking our flights I had discovered that we had been given tickets for the pit lane walk on Thursday.  Had I known that earlier I would have booked the flights a day earlier. Anyway there is always next year.

Route:

UAE MAP

 

Costs:

      Approximate Costs pp
Flights Emirates www.emirates.com 2 711.67
Accommodation Marriott www.marriott.com 2 748.00
Car Hire Marriott www.marriott.com 275.00
Visa Emirates www.emirates.com 300.00
IDP AA www.aa.co.za 88.33
Pre booked Tours Desert Safari www.oceanairtravels.com 220.00
F1 GP Tickets www.yasmarinacircuit.com 2 301.43
Grand Total   8 644.43.00

Prices are all in AED

Exchange Rate: R3.00 l 1AED 

Note: Once again Googlemaps was used as our navigation system. Cellphone shops are easily found in all of the malls. Sim cards are expensive, expect to pay around 65 AED for the card and an 100 AED for 1 GIG of data. 

Day 1:

The first thing that gets your attention, off the plane, is the heat. This was winter but 35 degrees later I felt as if I was in the heart of a South African heat wave. The temperature takes some getting used too, especially since the hotels, cars, and malls are all air conditioned. So there is this constant hot – cold environment that you are exposed too.

We took flight EK 766 as it is an overnight flight from South Africa. It departs at 22.20 and arrives at 08.20 the next morning and it allows you ample time to relax / sleep and be ready to explore.

Dubai has a variety of 5 star hotels at very affordable prices. In choosing a hotel I would advise that you choose the hotel based on the activities e.g. if you want sun, sand and beach then a hotel in the Palm would be the ideal location. We stayed at the JW Marquis Marriott in the business district. We stayed here for a number of reasons, firstly the hotel opened its doors earlier this year, it is the tallest hotel in the world, our aim was to explore Dubai and it is within a 5 minute walk from the metro station.

On arrival, at 10 am, our room wasn’t ready, so we opted to use the complimentary shuttle service provided by the hotel to venture off to the Dubai mall. On entering the vicinity of the mall it’s hard to miss the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world.

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The view is so mesmerizing that we opted to have breakfast with it in the background. Looking at the menu, I almost fell of my chair, the food prices were ridiculous. Expect to pay 34 AED for simple plain eggs. That translates to roughly R 102 or about $10. The beautiful decorated muffins can start anywhere from 27 AED.

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Mall of Dubai is beautiful on the inside and out. We walked around for almost 3 hours and didn’t even realize the time slip by. Walking from shop to shop, we started sampling the food, we had a taste of milkshakes from Kim Kardashans, Millions of Milkshakes store, then shared a slice of divine cheesecake, from the Cheesecake Factory, oh so yum. We stopped off at Project Cupcake and passed by Lauduree, where they sell the world’s best macaroons.

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After all that eating, we decided to head back to the hotel and check in.

After a bit of relaxation, we headed out for supper to JBR walk. We took the metro. The card costs 25 AED. You have a choice of silver card or a gold card. The card is free and the 25 AED is loaded onto the card for trip use. The gold card allows you to sit in a special compartment, but each trip costs more. We chose the sliver card as we were still toying with the idea of renting a car. In retrospect we should have chosen the gold card. The metros are packed with the working class and you can barely breathe inside.

Grateful to exit the metro and be able to breathe again, we sat down at a restaurant called Chillies. The food was fantastic! The portions are so large so rather share unless you have a huge appetite. The pricing was also much lower than the prices we paid at Dubai mall.

After supper we headed out to Marina walk. This time we took the tram. Same scenario! We should have really taken that gold card! At the Marina, we walked around absorbing the evening beauty of Dubai.

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We decided to relax at Steffano’s were we could enjoy the evening views over a Shisha ‘special’. The special costs 75AED and it lasts for two hours. I was so fascinated by the dedicated Shisha men who walked around with hot coal pots replacing the coals on the Shisha as they went off. I need to get one of those I thought!

IMG_6827 After a full first day we headed back to the hotel, this time soliciting the services of a cab.

Day 2

Day 2 started with a fantastic buffet at the hotel. Breakfasts at the hotel cost 280 AED pp, but luckily we had this included in our stay. We decided that with two day’s of  driving to Abu Dhabi for the qualifying and Formula 1 race, a hired car would be our best option. The car rental costs 1100 AED for 7 days. When renting a car ensure, you have a copy of your ID, passport and international drivers licence that can be acquired from your local AA store. Do not rent a car from the airport as it is almost double the price rather rent from it from the hotel as the prices are more competitive. With fuel being around 1.75 AED/ Litre I would definitely advise the car hire route. I feel that more of a country can be seen when hiring a car. It’s important to note that they do drive on the right hand side of the road.

On entering Abu Dhabi we decide to visit the Sheik Zayed Mosque. I had read up on this incredible mosque before our trip and I knew this was something that I just had to see. The mosque was built with the intention of seeking positive interaction with other cultures.

On entering the mosque you are asked to collect an Abaya, which is a long closed cloak, from the administration building. There is no charge but they require a drivers licence or some sort of ID to be left on collection.

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Since our friends were of Muslim faith, they showed us the process of wudhu (ablution), the procedure for washing parts of the body using water and explained the reason they do so. I stand corrected but my understanding is that on the day of resurrection Muhammad would be able to recognise his people from the white marks on the forehead and feet created by wudhu. It is also stated that those who do ablution well would be able to eradicate oneself of sins through daily washing.

After completing wudhu, we entered the mosque. I cannot describe its beauty not even the photos do it justice, the energy is just amazing, it’s something you have to experience yourself.

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On either ends of the main Entrance there are two small hall looking rooms. They only have carpet. We sat and prayed it was I highly uplifting and spiritual experience.

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After our spiritual stop we headed to the track. We have been to many races but I have to compliment Abu Dhabi on the event organization and management. Parking was easily marked, at every corner there were people to assist and direct fans. The staff were so friendly and helpful. Once again we opted for the pit straight seating as our friends were attending the F1 for the first time. I always feel that ‘first timers’ should experience the race start, race finish and the pit stops, it gives them he maximum adrenalin rush of attending an F1.  The twilight qualifying was phenomenal. The only other race that comes close to this one is the Singapore night race. I was slightly disappointed as Lewis didn’t get pole.

After the high of the qualifying we headed to the Abu Dhabi Marina mall for supper. It’s situated on another island and took about about 40 minutes to get there.

We had supper at a restaurant called Hatam. Hatam is a beautiful Persian/Iranian designed restaurant that produces mouth-watering dishes. Don’t order too many starters as most of them are on the house. The food was very fairly priced; we paid 250 AED for 4. Stuffed to capacity, we headed back to the hotel. The eight laned highways look even more beautiful at night when its lit up.

Day 3

Race day! Excitement instilled us from the early morning. We tried our best to get to the track early but with all the late nights it was impossible. We got to Abu Dhabi by 12 and decided to kill two birds with 1 stone. We were going to visit Ferrari world! Yay! We parked at the race track and took a bus to the YAS mall. This was also provided by the YAS Marina circuit free of charge. Once we got to the ticketing station we realized that this would take an entire day. As much as we would love to do this at 250 AED pp it did not make sense to enter the park for an hour.

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To bridge the time we decided to grab lunch. Since the mall had just opened very few restaurants were open for trade. We decide to eat once again at Chillies. The food was once again great!

We got to the track at 3. We had missed the driver’s parade. We sat in the hot sun for almost an hour before the race began. For the first time I experienced the heat of the Middle East. The race was fantastic, once again organization and event management at its best! I love the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 and would advise anyone who wants to experience a Grand Prix to attend this one. Lewis won! Would be amazing to meet him :) Maybe next time

P.S I know I’m wearing a Ferrari top, the Mercedes ones are just not as beautiful as the Ferrari tops.
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After the race we returned to the Dubai mall to continue our celebrations and have what was now becoming my daily dose of Shisha. The view of the Burj ,at night, is spectacular!

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Day 4

The late nights were now starting to catch up, so we slept in and barely made breakfast at 10.30. We took the shuttle to Dubai mall and done some shopping.

In the evening we headed to the old town. We used the car but parking was such an issue. You can, as an alternative, take the metro and exit at Al Ras Metro Station in Deira using the green line. No visit to Dubai can be complete without a visit to the souks. We continued shopping at the various souks (markets). At the Knife souk, costume jewellery, perfumes scarfs and make up can be found in abundance and the prices are relatively cheap but you need to be prepared to bargain hard. You can pay almost 40 per cent off the original asking price.

The Gold souk is a must. Never in my life have a passed through rows and rows of shops with beautifully designed gold jewellery. I am not a fan of gold but it’s hard to resist its obvious beauty.

After the excessive shopping at the souks we headed down to the river for a dhow ride. Once again parking was a nightmare. The dhow costs 1 AED pp, the gentle movement of being carried on wooden boat is very relaxing. We ended up in Bir Dubai and engaged in more shopping! At the end of the evening my hands could carry no more and we headed back to the hotel.


Day 5

The morning started out hectic, we rushed for an early breakfast and took a cab to the mall as the bus service only starts at 9. We were finally going to the Burj, to see the view from the top! It was pretty easy to find the entrance which is near the Bloomingdales home store. We had pre purchased the tickets over the web (www.burjkhalifa.ae) the day before and collected the tickets right next to the entrance elevators of the Burj. Purchasing tickets on the web is the most ideal way to guarantee the time of your viewing.

With a height of over 828 meters together with holding the records for the highest observation deck, the highest habitable floors and the tallest structure, makes this a site that cannot be missed. The view from the top is breath taking, what’s even more astonishing than being on the 122nd floor of the tallest building in the world is that through the telescope you can view the development of the city.

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After the excitement of being ‘on the top’ we headed back to the hotel and I decided to try out the spa. I kept reading about the famous Hammam experience (a Turkish bath) and thought I would give it a try.

The treatment costs 850 AED. I was led to an area which has two rooms. The treatment is conducted in both rooms. Firstly the therapist lathered my entire body in olive soap. I was then taken to the steam room and left there for 15 minutes. On return to my room I was scrubbed off. I had a vision, in that moment, of being a young child and my mother vigorously scrubbing my body after playing in the sand. I was quickly brought back to my present environment as warm water was poured over my body. I then indulged in a 30 minute full body massage, infused with rose scents. Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated I returned to my room to get ready for our pre booked tour.

My husband and I were collected at the hotel by the tour company, Ocean Air Travels and we were whisked away in an air-conditioned luxury 4×4 vehicle to the middle of the desert. We opted to pay an additional 20 dollars each to have the vehicle exclusively to ourselves. First stop desert quads. The place is overcrowded and I felt like I was in India at a local bazaar, with people who had no concept of a queue and took advantage of tourists. I opted to buy a scarf, as you are required to wear a helmet that’s probably been worn by several people who have been sweating in the hot desert. The quads are not included in the tour and we had to pay an additional 250 AED for 15 minutes. However, it is important to note that the clock starts when you get the ticket not when you hop on the quad, so we actually only got 10 mins! It was still an amazing experience.

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Next stop ‘Desert Safari’. We entered the dunes in convey with 4 other vehicles. These vehicles were from various tour companies so this gave me comfort in knowing that all the tour companies provide a standardized service and we weren’t being ripped off by this tour company in particular.

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It was a great idea that we choose the exclusivity of the vehicle as the turns, twists and slides on the dunes could send you crashing into people you don’t know…. That would be quiet uncomfortable. Around half way we stopped to view the sun set. Words cannot describe the moment. It felt like sheer magic to be walking in the sand dunes while the sun set in the background.

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We were approached by what looked like an Arabian man walking around with a falcon. We were given the option to hold the falcon and take a picture, for 10 AED. Obviously, I could not pass up the opportunity.

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We exited the dunes and proceeded to another desert site where we were welcomed for supper. All alcoholic drinks are charged for. The henna which is a non-permanent tattoo, is also done on a tent on the premises, the standard shapes are not exciting so in the name of enjoying the experience I opted for a longer design for an additional 20 AED. The design is done free hand by the very talent lady.

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As we walked around soaking up the atmosphere, I opted to rather remove my shoes instead of being slowed down by the grains rushing in through the open holes. Note to self: next time where shorts and closed shoes. Whilst waiting for supper to be served we decided to have what has now become my daily dose of Shisha. Sitting on the cushions in a Boma styled area, Shisha in hand, under the moonlight with hypnotic music in the background in the middle of the dessert is a once in a lifetime experience.

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Dinner was served, it consisted of a nice ensemble of Indian curry with barbequed chicken and lamb skewers, the South African word would be ‘sosatie.’ During supper we were entertained by belly dancers.

Honestly speaking the tour ended up costing much more than the initial $60 pp. and although you know you being ripped off, the experience is still incredible and I would gladly pay the price again to relive the stunning experience.

One would think after the tour we would have called it a night but instead we decided to have light snacks and Shisha at Wafi Gourmet at Dubai mall whilst watching the Dubai Fountain. So the show was a bit of disappointment, although the lights were mesmerizing it was over in 10 minutes, I guess after seeing the lights at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and this being Dubai I expected something much… ‘longer’…. I know… I know such an anti-climax :) exactly how I felt.

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After supper my friend informed me that she had met a Brazilian crew and cast who were filming in Dubai and was invited to the set to watch the soapie being filmed. Although I have been to Hollywood set, I have never seen a set on location. We opted to tag along with her especially since it was being filmed at a well renowned hotel at the Palm.

On entry into the palm a feeling of excitement filled me as I realized that part of the bridge that we were driving under, was actually under water. I think the Palm itself needs a dedicated day or two! The excitement of watching the set being filmed soon wore off, as firstly, I don’t speak Portuguese and secondly, each take took forever, but not to ruin my friends obvious excitement we decided to let her enjoy it and we took a cab back to the hotel. The cab can cost roughly 50 AED from the Palm to Business Bay. I was happy to end the exhausting but fun day.

 

Day 6

We decided to take our last day at an easy pace and found ourselves viewing Dubai’s outlet mall; I didn’t find the outlet mall too exciting. However if you must go, pass by the entrance because I found the best ice cream in the world, Turkish ice cream! It’s not just the ice cream it’s the way he makes it and serves you that completes the experience.

We also visited the local Chinese mall but I didn’t find it very different to the ones we have in South Africa. Think the Chinese malls are quiet becoming standardized. We left the malls empty handed.

Now, let’s talk about our last meal! Food throughout the trip had been incredible, but surely we saved the best for last!

The Cheesecake Factory

The prices on the menu are on the expensive side but each and every item that we ordered from the menu was cooked to perfection!

We ended the evening sitting outside Wafi Gourmet and having our old faithful Shisah  and watching the sunset, I think a fitting end to our trip.

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Day 7

We woke up feeling like there’s still so much to do:

  • Experience Sky diving in Dubai
  • Spending a day at the Palm
  • Spending a day at the World
  • Relaxing on the beach
  • Visiting the clubs
  • Enjoying Water world
  • Visiting Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi
  • Spending more time smoking Shisha!

Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be explained as cities of glamour, glitz and technical innovation in the Middle East! I almost want to say that it’s the new Europe! :)

We left UAE with a promise to return

Coming up in January: Food for my Soul: An Indian Journey!

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Happy Holidays!

Week end Adventure

All

An adventure can mean many things to many people. For some an adventure would mean doing or attempting to do something that is terrifying, something that would take them out of their comfort zone (fear), while for others it could mean an exciting or fun filled, adrenaline pumping experience (excitement) and either way it would mean that the person who is seeking the adventure would be audacious, daring or bold as the activity/task is almost always is associated to some degree of physical danger.

Bearing this in mind, a group of us decided to embark on an “Adventure weekend,” some for excitement and others to banish their fears.

Since it was a group decision, the most crucial element would be timing. And since we were bordering on brink of the festive season, amidst hectic work schedules, pre-planned business trips and family responsibilities, it would be imperative to get this right.

It took us about a week to finally decide on a date and as the decision making requirements grew, so too grew the length of time to reach a conclusion. If you planning a weekend away with friends like mine, start this process as early as possible… :-)

Once we had a firm weekend date next was the actives that we wanted to do. Since there were 6 of us we decided that each group of 2 would nominate 1 activity to do with optional activities available to the group. Our activity list finally came down to this:

  • River Rafting
  • Quad Biking
  • Abseiling
  • Clay Pigeon Shooting (Optional)
  • Sky Diving (Optional)

Next on the list was where to stay. In deciding on this many factors were taken into consideration. Firstly, since it was just a week end, it had to be easily accessible from Johannesburg, it had to cater for all the activities that we wanted to do and the accommodation had to suite everyone’s budget.

Choices

Finally we decided to use our holiday home in the Vaal, situated just inside the province of Orange Free State, on the banks of the Vaal River, one of the largest and oldest rivers in South Africa. It’s just an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and all our activities could be done in Parys (that’s a 40 minute daily drive). There are many places (B&B’s and lodges) that offer accommodation in Parys. They Range from about R 200-600 per person per night. If we had not had a holiday home, an excellent option would be Stonehedge, It is strategically placed on the banks of the river and is close to all the actives.

Parys is not short of adventure companies as all.

There is a variety to choose from, (Earth adventures, Real adventures, Taylor Made Adventures) all prices are similar.

We chose a one stop shop (Earth Adventures) to handle all the arrangements with exception of the sky diving (Taylor Made Adventures)

The pricing for the adventures were as follows:

Saturday 9 NovemberWhite water rafting 9h00-12h00 6  R220pp R1320-00
Potjiekos 13h00-14h00 6 R100pp R600-00
Quad Biking 14h00-16h00 6 R300pp R1800-00
Sunday morning 10 NovemberTandem Sky Diving 8h00 2 R2300PP R4600-00
Clay Pigeon shooting 10h00 4 R200PP R800-00
Abseiling 12h00 6 R250PP R1500-00
Dvd 2 R100 R200-00

 

With our planned schedule in hand, we headed out for our adventure week end away. What we should have realized is that, during an adventure, one should always keep an open mind… what is generally planned can sometimes not be achieved. You will understand as my story unfolds

Day 1

We were told to arrive at 9 and to bring:

Our Checklist
Sunscreen/ Lip ice. Hmmm
Shoes/ Closed sandals. (optional ) Some of us were prepared
Windbreaker/ Hat. Oops!
Sunglasses (with strap). Nope not this one
Personal medication. Atleast we got this one right
Snacks and refreshments We don’t really need this!

NB: As per usual nobody read the requirements

The experience

White River Rafting

We left the Vaal at 8:25 and reached Parys at 9, on entering the parking of the premises there was neither signage nor representatives directing the adventurers. We walked along a path which eventually led to, what looked like a house with an outdoor area. There were tables and a bar, we approached one of the people there and advised them that we had booked activities for the two days. We were advised to sign a form and wait. We waited in the hot sun for what seemed like for ever, eventually we were directed back to the parking to collect jackets and hats (they really needed a wash). A truck that looked like it was about to break down collected us, I felt like we were cattle. We drove for about 10 minutes and then were off loaded, we were told to get a partner and jump into a raft. Firstly I was shocked to be a two-seater raft. In previous rafting experiences we always went in larger boats and we were expecting to go as a group. Note to self, in future, we should enquire on the specifics of the activity and not just assume.

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The guide started explaining the safety features of the raft and a description of the experience that we would encounter during our raft. He was hilarious and made the introduction both petrifying but at the same time intriguing. We launched the boats into the water, brains in front (me of course) and brute at the back. The brute, you need for paddling… It’s not negotiable….. Even though I probably only paddled 50% of the time, my body is still paying the price. The rafting itself was fun for the first hour to an hour and a half. Even though water rafting is hectic, somehow our friend Lindwe managed to nap for 10 minutes on the rapids…. Not sure how but wish we had a camera!

Pre check the activity time, we assumed we were booked for a two hour rafting experience; we spent 4 hours on the river and although that might sound extremely exciting, my back, shoulders and legs beg to differ.

Around half way we stopped to have our snacks, ensure you take snacks, we thought that because we included lunch, we would be fine. Wrong, the water makes you extremely thirsty and hungry. Also carry sunblock and reapply at the half way point. Having it in the bag out at the car doesn’t really help when you are burning on the river.

At the end of the 4 long hours we finally reached our destination. Hungry and exhausted we followed the path to the outdoor area where we pleasantly met with pleasant aromas of our lamb potjie….

Food

After being fuelled up we were ready for our next planned adventure… however we were told that only 3 quads were available. We were unhappy about splitting up so we asked for a refund for the activity; however they were reluctant and asked us to rather complete the quads on the next day. Since we were all exhausted from the rafting, we reluctantly agreed.

Aching bodies forced us to look for a spa. We thankfully got a booking at the spa at Emerald casino. The massages were nothing to rave about but we were desperate…

Day 2

The experience

For day two we split into two groups. My husband and I wanted to do the Sky Dive and the rest headed off for clay pigeon shooting.

The Sky Dive

Firstly I had to commend Taylor Made Adventures for such a professional experience. The cost of the Sky dive was R 2300 per person and included (video footage, photographs and a certificate). It was worth every cent. No words can express the sheer exhilaration, excitement and adrenalin rush that I felt during the 23 second free fall paced at 185kph….. I cannot wait for my next dive!

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The Clay Pigeon Shooting

This consisted of 2 rounds of 5 shots of ammunition per person. The guns have real bullets (I am not sure whether that is legal). Our sharp shooter, Reshma, managed to shoot 2/10.

Shooting

The Quads & Abseil

After reuniting we attempted the quads, this time round they only had 5 available, 2 additional bikes gave up en route to the abseiling.

Quads

On reaching the foot of the quarry, we were told to leave the quads there and walk up the mountain. We definitely did not expect an impromptu mountain climb, but in the sense of adventure we done it. Once we reached the top, we were briefed on the safety and the abseiling began.

Abseil

 

Two out of the six made it down successfully when a hail storm suddenly expressed interest in our mountain! Everyone ran for cover, not like there was much. We decided from a safety point of view that we would not continue with the abseil.

The quads were also cut short as half of the equipment was not working. We were not refunded for this and it was extremely disappointing. We had also paid and received photos and footage of another groups rafting experience, instead of ours. All in all, I found Earth Adventures to be extremely unprofessional and unorganized. I would not use them again nor refer them to anybody.

Drenched we left back for the vaal

Back at the ranch we spent the evening with Bubbly, Hooka and a Braai…. No they are not additional people we picked up along the way….. We spend the rest of the afternoon, laughing, drinking and forming stronger friendships. At the end of the trip I had a new idea of what adventure is…..

As Bear Grylls, a British adventurer and writer, once said… “Adventure, has always been to me, the connections and bounds you create with people when you’re there. And you can have that anywhere.”

Simply Italy…

Italy is a country embodied in great history, mystic mythology, rich culture and amazing fashion… The attraction to travel to this country is endless… It is a country so rich in variety that it can cater to just about any tourists needs…. The combination of history and motorsport (F1) proved an irresistible mix to us and we found ourselves planning 12 days in Italy…(29 August 2014 – 09 September 2014)

Route:

 

Italy

Costs:

All cost are shown in Euros, however some were purchased in Rands and US Dollars

Approximate Costs PP
Flights Qatar Airways www.flightsite.com €707.91
Accommodation 4 STAR www.expedia.com €706.22
Car Hire    (4PAX) LOCAUTO www.rentalcars.com €248.26
Visa CAPAGO www.myeuropevisa.com €107.96
*IDP (International Driving Permit) AA www.aa.co.za € 18.88
Pre – booked Tours Collosseum at Night www.tickitaly.com € 27.50
**Omina Vatican & Rome Card www.ceetiz.co.uk € 85.78
Leaning Tower of Pisa www.tickitaly.com € 23.50
Formula 1 Tickets www.gootickets.com €306.28
Grand Total €2 232.29

Exchange rate: R14.04 l €1

*An international Driving permit can be purchased at an authorised AA store, it cost R 265, there are several stores throughout the country, please have a look at the website for more information on obtaining an International Drivers Permit)

**The Omina Vatican and Rome Card allows you to skip the line at the Vatican museum and St Peters Basilica, 3 days free metro, bus and tram travel a hop on off bus and 2 museum entries, we maximised the use of these cards….

Trip Highlights:

Day 1: Collecting the car from the airport proved to be extremely simple; all directions were provided on the collection slip we received from rental cars. Hiring a large vehicle in Italy is not the greatest idea, as the streets are narrow and the highways have only two lanes. It is also important to note that they drive on the right hand side of the road; Italian drivers generally speed and can get very annoyed if you are lost or driving slowly…. Thankfully I have a multitalented husband who managed the driving perfectly.

Note: Before we set out on our journey we decided to find a cellphone shop as we had made a conscious decision to refrain from the use of roaming on our trip(based on our previous travelling experiences), we also decided against renting a GPS and decided to use Googlemaps( I find it very user friendly and cost effective). Cellphone shops in the airport are non-existent. You can buy a world card but the costs are exorbitant (€ 60 for 1 GIG of data). After a short hunt, we found a Vodafone shop in the airport train station. Sim cards cost approx. 30 for 2 GIGS of data, 300sms’s and 300 local free minutes. If you are going to purchase a sim card, I would advise that you ask the shop assistant to set it up, as the phone settings require changing. It is also important to note that checking balances can only be done telephonically and is impossible if you do not understand Italian.

Back to our trip… We reached the hotel at 12 and kindly asked them if they could keep our bags until check in at 2. We used the time familiarize ourselves with the city, finding the closet metro, bus and tram, collected our Omina Vatican and Rome Card situated near St Peters Square.

In the evening we visited the Tivoli Fountain…. To our amazement they were restoring it. I wasn’t able to throw my 3 coins, HOPEFULLY SOMEDAY I’LL STILL GET TO RETURN TO ROME AGAIN!!!

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To cheer us up we ordered some Gelati (Italian ice cream €2). One taste of this and your hooked. I can attribute the 5kgs I gained solely to my daily dose of Gelati and Lasagne! Thanks Italy….

Gelati

We walked around the side streets and stopped at a quaint little restaurant. Many of the restaurants have tourist menus. These menus provide a starter, a 1st course, 2nd course and dessert. It costs about € 20 PP, it works out much cheaper than ordering items individually but it requires an appetite.

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Day 2: We woke early and decided to head to the Vatican City using our Omina passes. The lines were not long at all. We actually wasted time waiting for the guide to let us in, I personally think it would have been faster to go ourselves. St Peters is stunning and undeniably beautiful and not a place not to be missed.

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It was my bright idea was to walk up the 323 steps to the St Peters Basilica Dome. Luckily we used the elevator (€7) instead of walking the additional 231 stairs (€5). When we reached the top, we were breathless, not just because of the view but because we were literally exhausted. Once on top, the view is absolutely amazing.

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After a small break we headed to the Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel. We sneaked a pic of the chapel, even though guards say you not allowed to, so many people were happily snapping away! I think modern technology makes it rather difficult.

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Later that evening, after a much needed rest, we headed down to the Colosseum to do the dungeons by night tour. We found a stunning little cafe just outside with stunning views of the Colosseum. It was certainly supper at the Colosseum for us. The lasagne was good! :)

The tour was excellent and it’s a different experience from the day tours. It also gives a lot more insight into how the theatrical performances were staged at the Colosseum. I think that one should add this to the list of things to do in Italy.

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Day 3: We used the metro to get to circus Maximus …… It was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome used for chariot racing and it is situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills! It’s not hugely popular, but it is remarkable to be able to stand where the chariots from the great Roman Empire once road.

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The sun was scorching; we decided to use the hop on off bus pass…. If it’s a free bus you need to ask for the head phones as they do not hand them out voluntarily as you hop on the bus. Also check before you buy the ticket if the bus has a shaded top, in September it is hot and the view and the wind needs to both be enjoyed. We used the Roma Christina bus, we waited no longer than 15 minutes at a time at any given stop. The route passes through the Roman Baths, the Santa Maria Church, Vatican City, Colosseum and Palatine Hill just to name a few of the stops. It’s a great way to see the city and learn about its rich culture, especially if you don’t have a lot of time.

We stopped at the Colosseum for a day view and then headed down to Palatine Hill and the Roman forum.

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According to Roman Mythology, the Palatine was the birthplace of the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome), who were raised by a she wolf. The ruins form some of the most ancient parts of Rome.

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On the exit of the Roman Forum we walked into a Church, the church was beautifully decorated but the electronic candles that required a donation to light up made me feel like I was doing a transaction rather than praying and making a donation. In the evening we headed out to Piazza della Republica! The restaurants were all expensive. Prawns are generally not de-veined in Italy! Yuk, imagine my surprise, spent the rest of the evening trying to de-vein the 4 prawns on my plate. Luckily the bottle of wine helped wash it down.

After spending the evening fighting with my supper we walked around the bustling streets, shopped a bit and had our pictures drawn. We used the buses to get back to the hotel; buses later at night take slightly longer to arrive so you need to be a little patient.

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Day 4: We said out goodbyes to Rome and headed out on the road. The road trip was about 4 hours long. Petrol stations along the way are generally self-service; the bigger service stations only have attendants. Fuel costs about €1.65 / litre of diesel…RIDICULOUS, considering we pay about half that price in South Africa. Keep in mind, if you are going to rent a car, that you will need to budget for tolls. We spent about €18 (rounded) from Rome to Florence. The tolling system is very fair as you pay for what you drive, in other words the tolls booth will issue you with a slip on entry of the highway and you will pay for it on exit of the highway. We stopped at a service station to grab a quick bite. The food consists mainly of bread with a variety processed meat! It costs about €10- €15 for a sandwich, by the way these sandwiches don’t come with any trimmings, just bread and meat and if you lucky sometimes cheese! We also stocked up on some treats for the rest of the road trip. We bought some Italian wine retailing at 3 bottles for €10. We purchased 6 bottles. Restaurants charge about €20 for a decent bottle of wine.

Scenery is amazing! Florence is a busy little town we stayed just outside the main area. A 20 minute walk or a bus stop situated 2 streets away would get you into the heart of Florence! Florence is a night city, if we realised this earlier we would have booked in the heart of the city, the hotel prices are only marginally more expensive and if you trade conveinience for the time you spend travelling , it will be worth it.

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Customer service stucks! Waited over 45 minutes to be served at the Vodafone shop, they skipped our number(eyes rolling) the only thing wrong were the settings! Missed the Santa Maria church and the David! (Luckily we had all seen this on previous vistis to Italy).

Day 5: Trip to Pisa: we decided to do the day trip to Pisa, we got there around 11. We pre purchased the tickets through tickitaly! Such a waste of time, we could have stood in the line as it moved so quickly and done the tour that day. You will need to leave bags in the lockers before entering the tower, also they will only allow you in at the said time reflected on your ticket if you arrive late the ticket is cannot be used. We encountered more steps! It’s a good thing there was plenty of walking in Italy otherwise I might have come home 10kgs heavier!

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Out of the Pisa we managed some shopping. Walking back to the car park you will be harassed by bag hawkers, no matter how stunning the bags don’t show any interest. What many tourists may not know is it is illegal for to purchase knock off bags in Italy and if found doing so you can attract a hefty fine of up to $1500 dollars, its not worth it! On the way back we decided to stop for lunch in Livorna….at 3 the restaurant had run out of most items on the menu, so the choice was pizza or lasagne!

In the evening we wondered aimlessly around the streets, It is a def must do. We sat at a restaurant perfectly poised with direct views of the Santa Maria church! The food was phenomenal; the Florentine steak is a must! It is a T-bone steak, seasoned with just salt and pepper but oh so delicious!

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Day 6: Before heading off to Venice, we detoured to Marenello , also known as the home of Ferrari (my husband being an avid Ferrari fan, it was not negotiable). The Ferrari museum displays their top sports and racing cars. Just outside the museum, if you fancy, you can take a spin in a Ferrari for just €130.

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Next stop Venice…. Parking in Venice is not an option we opted to make use of the airport parking. They charged €20 a day. We took a ferry from the airport to St Marks square. There are 3 Ferry’s, they run different times and different routes. It was a great idea to pack smaller bags as walking from the docs to hotel , bags in hand over bridges, can be a cumbersome exercise. There are plenty of restaurants around St Marks square and in the little side alleys, my advice, walk around and enjoy the evening views. Venice is not really a night city, so if you want to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, without the running into the hoards of tourists then an evening stroll should be on your agenda.

Day 7: We spent the day wandering the city. Venice also marked our first taste of ‘Limoncello’, the national drink of Italy. You can find it in most general stores and restaurant’s and is best enjoyed as a shooter after having your meal. The Gondola rides were overpriced but it was on ‘my must do list’! We ventured into the church at St Mark’s square, it is breath-taking, I think it is one of the most beautiful churches in all of Italy and they had real candles. It had such a beautiful energy to it! We steered away from the infamous glass factory as all of us had been on the tour on previous trips to Italy. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Rialto Bridge, shopping and eating. At the end of the Venice part of our trip our overnight bags were stuffed!

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Day 8: Beach Holiday here we come…..Headed to what we thought would be a beach holiday, oh boy, were we surprised, we should have researched this part a little better…. Genoa only has rocky and pebble beaches, not the type we are used to at all… so, so much for the beach!

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Day 9: We spent the day relaxing at our hotel. We booked executive suites at the hotel, so we the rooms had a bit more space. The Holiday Inn is situated near the harbour and the views from the hotel were picture perfect. It’s also a 5 minute walk to the metro and a 2 minute walk to a small shopping complex where one can get regular shopping items and a bite to eat. And if you want to go to Genoa’s City Centre its 3 stops away.

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Day 10: Race Day… Part of the reason we chose Italy for our holiday was the…… Formula 1.

We departed Genoa for Milan in the early morning (6am)… way too early if you ask me…. But I was out numbered… We found a parking spot near the train station; they charged us €20 to park the car for the day. The train station Milan is gorgeous for shopping, no breakfast places though! So we had to settle for Burger King. There was a dedicated train to Monza for the day, which we had to purchase tickets…. took 20 minutes… Once at the track we found it a bit difficult, the track had no proper signage and with language being a barrier finding our seats became a bit of an issue. Eventually we found our seats, the seating was perfect, we sat at the finish line. It was hot and although we bought the covered area tickets, the sun was in the opposite direction! Once the race started we quickly forgot about the heat… The Race was amazing! I’m a Lewis fan, so I was delighted when he won. The food at the track was fantastic!

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Day 11: Agenda…. Explore Genoa! Took a metro (€2) to town, nobody actually collects the tickets but you really don’t want to be caught in a foreign country for not paying for your train ticket, so we bought one anyway. Note that these machines don’t always have change so make sure you have the exact amount or else you end up with a credit note that you cant really use anywhere. We decided to find out where the locals spend their time, so we wondered around until we found their local market.

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As we passed a bakery, the smell of freshly baked bread was just too irresistible… we stopped to have a bite…. the locals didn’t understand English but they happily tried to understand our order.

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We spend the rest of the day walking through the town and engaging with the locals… we got a little shopping done too :)

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Day 12: On the last day of trip we took a scenic drive back to Rome along the coast and said goodbye to our car.

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Rome was an incredible experience but I am so happy to be back in SA. I am happy to have our vast variety of good, affordable food, six laned highways and friendly faces…. I do however miss the convenience of having an efficient public transport system and the safety of being able to walk in the middle of night in the towns….

Till the next escapade….

Prenita

Coming up in November: a taste of adrenaline fuelled local travel and then off to Dubai for a desert adventure…