Monday, 10 April 2017

East from Cape Town

I had wanted to visit South Africa since seeing the film Cry Freedom many years ago. The scenery was spectacular and the colours, especially of the flowers, were so vibrant. At that time apartheid was in force in South Africa and it was also a long way from the UK. Now apartheid has gone and the world has become a smaller place.

We flew to Cape Town, where we had this magnificent view of Table Mountain and the V&A (Victoria & Alfred) Waterfront from our bedroom window.

For our first full day in Cape Town we had booked ourselves on a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of the 27 years that he was held prisoner. The whole tour takes about three and a half hours including the 6.9 kilometre ferry journey there and back. The island is inhabited - mainly by former prison warders. In addition to the prison there is a museum and a shop. We were taken around the island on an old coach before our tour of the prison by an ex-convict. The conditions in the prison were harsh and the diet poor. Here is Nelson Mandela's tiny cell.

Nelson Mandela's  presence is everywhere in South Africa. His image is all over the place and there are endless streets and squares etc. named after him.

While in Cape Town we took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain from where there is an amazing  view over Cape Town and out to Robben Island, which unfortuneately is beyond the view of the photograph below.

After three days it was time to hire a car and leave Cape Town behind. Travelling east our next stop was Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. While here we did a Vine Hopper tour of some of the local vineyards.This is a similar concept to the hop on hop off buses and meant that we did not have to worry about drinking and driving or getting lost on strange roads. We visited three vineyards and could have done more if we had been really keen, but after you have tasted a few wines they all start to taste the same and it was a very hot day. We saw grapes on the vine just about ready to be harvested, vats, barrels and bottling lines and the stunning scenery of the Cape Winelands area.

From Stellenbosch we moved on to Swellendam, which was really just somewhere to stay for the night as we made our way further east, along the Garden route. The next morning we took a detour down to Mossel Bay, where we had lunch and got our first view of the Indian Ocean.

In the afternoon we drove inland to our next stop of Oudtshoorn, where again we only had one night - we could have done with more. My expectations for Oudtshoorn we pretty low and I was pleasantly surprised by the place. If we return to South Africa we shall go back. The next morning we were back in the car again and had not gone far when we were slowed down dramatically by hundreds of sheep being herded along the road. We just had to be patient!

That evening we had another one night stay. This time in Wilderness, where there is not much apart from a spectacular beach. From there we moved on to Plettenberg Bay where there is another expanse of beach washed by the Indian Ocean. Beaches are great to look at and I could watch the sea all day, but I would rather not get sand everywhere. So instead of sitting on the beach we went sight seeing. First to Bloukrans Bridge to see bungee jumping.

If you look very hard you can just see a line hanging from the centre of the bridge. I wasn't tempted to have a go. We then stopped off at Storms River Village for lunch, where we ate at the fascinating Marilyn's 60s Diner. The decor is 50s and 60s, with neon -rimmed signage, Elvis and Marilyn Munro memorabilia and vintage American cars and motor cycles. Suitably refuelled we set off for an afternoon in the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park aiming to see the dramatic Storms River Mouth where the river meets the Indian Ocean and it did not disappoint.

For our final day of sight seeing in the car we drove to Knysna, where the lagoon is quite a contrast to Storms River Mouth.

The following day we drove to Port Elizabeth to meet one of husband's friends and his wife, who have retired there. As the name suggests it is a port and industrialised by comparison with the other places that we had visited. I did not have my camera with me as I had not expected that there would be much worth photographing. However, I was wrong as we were taken to a small game reserve not far from where they live, where we saw zebras and giraffes along with other animals native to South Africa. Then we had a drive around Port Elizabeth, which is not a particularly memorable place followed by an excursion into a township called France. By now it was dusk and the light was starting to go. The street lights were few and far between. There were black people and children milling around in the road as well as dogs on the loose. We were three white people in a shiny white car and it was scary. Even though apartheid has gone the black people still live in their townships, the coloured people live together in their communities and the white South Africans live in their estates.

The next day we drove to Port Elizabeth airport, where we handed over the hire car then caught a flight to Johannesburg. We had two nights here, giving us one day for sight seeing. As we were not sure which areas were safe to go to and where the no-go areas were, we played safe and did a hop on hop off bus tour. Like any other big city Johannesburg has it impressive buildings

and the inevitable statue of Nelson Mandela in the square named after him.

Now we just had the final leg of our African journey to negotiate. Our flight from Johannesburg was at 9.40 am. Because of a protest which had closed the main road to the airport,we had to be collected at 6.30 am for what should have been a journey of about 25 minutes. Fortunately our taxi driver was well aware of the situation and took us via a different route, but he was still concerned that we might miss our flight. As it happened our journey took about 45 minutes. So we arrived in plenty of time. Again we were heading east. This time to the island of Mauritius for a few days of rest and relaxation before returning home.

Mauritius was the icing on the cake and was just what we needed after two and half weeks of sight seeing. The location was stunning - surrounded by palm trees, next to a white sandy beach caressed by warm turquoise sea. The weather was mainly sunny, hot and humid - although we did have some tropical storms. I had thought that the UK was the only country where people sunbathed in the rain, but umbrellas can protect you from both the sun and the rain.

We were both disappointed in the hotel. Despite having oodles of staff the service was often poor and the evening buffet in the main restaurant was just awful. We did not choose the hotel. It was the travel agent's suggestion and he will not be doing that again.

On our final morning we had breakfast, then packed. Husband always packs more quickly than me. He then amused himself by watching the hotel's gardening staff pruning the palm trees outside our room. No safety precautions - just a ladder up a tree.

I had intended to entitle this post From prison to paradise but after receiving a comment in Arabic on my previous post Another day in Paradise decided that maybe such a title was not a good idea.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Another day in Paradise

When we mentioned to friends at New Year that we were tagging a few days in Mauritius on to the end of our trip to South Africa, they commented that Mauritius was Paradise. With its' palm trees, white sandy beaches and warm turquoise sea it certainly fits the bill, but there is room for improvement.

We have one more day of rest and relaxation after today, before we fly back to the UK. Arriving back in Manchester at 7.00 am on Friday morning is going to be hard, but we are both looking forward to getting home after three and a half weeks away.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The road to Wilderness

After several days on the road driving through the Cape Winelands and the Garden Route we ended up at Wilderness, where we had this fantastic view of the Indian Ocean from our bedroom window.

This was for one night only before we moved onto somewhere with a much more mundane view. Since then we have moved on to Port Elizabeth and are now in Johannesburg where it is currently raining.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Coming in to land

As we approached our destination last Wednesday morning I had this magnificient view from the window by my seat. We were on the right side of the plane and this was the side with the view of Table Mountain. Cape Town was everything that I had expected it to be.

After unpacking and freshening up we went off to the Mount Nelson Hotel for afternoon tea. The next day we went to Robben Island, where we did a coach tour of the island followed by a tour of the prison by an ex convict and of course we saw Nelson Mandela's tiny cell. The following day we visited the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, which unfortunately was not at its best as it is late Summer/early Autumn here now. On our final day we took the cable car up Table Mountain and enjoyed the amazing view from there.

We have now moved on from Cape Town and are heading along the Garden Route.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Spanners in the works

Sometimes life can be so boring and mundane that you just long for something exciting to happen that might be worthy of writing a post about. Then there are other times when life gets in the way of your blog and there is more happening than you can write about and you simply do not have the time, because you are busy with life's goings on. I have been elsewhere recently, busy with life's ups and downs.

If we go back to the period between Christmas and New Year we had our first little hiccup. We have always seen husband's family over the Christmas period to exchange presents and enjoy a meal. Invariably it was us doing the five hour round trip from Chester to Northampton and back for this get together. Two years ago at the last minute, the possibility of snow was forecast for the day of the planned get together. We decided to take the risk and hoped that the forecast would be wrong, as it often is. Of course it wasn't wrong and we endured a nightmare drive home in the snow, which led me to decide that we were not doing the five hour round trip again over Christmas and that we would find a pub or restaurant to meet up, somewhere about half way between Chester and Northampton. A year ago that worked well, but this time the traffic was very heavy and although it did not actually hold us up, it definitely slowed us down. After an enjoyable meal and a brief walk we were back into the car for the return journey. The traffic was still bad so the sat nav was programmed to avoid the motorway, which had looked so busy on the way down in the morning. This meant that we were in unfamiliar territory. By now it was  twilight. The road was empty, but winding and not very well lit with very few houses on it. The side of the road appeared to be a grass verge, but was in fact a concrete curb that the grass had grown over.  This became apparent to us when husband, who was driving, accidentally clipped the curb. Within a few minutes the tyre pressure warning light, on the dashboard, was flashing and we realised that we had a flat tyre. There was no chance of stopping where we were and in any case the mobile phone signal was coming and going, so we had to keep going until we got to the point that the car was running on the rim of the tyre. We managed to find a lay by, which according to the sat nav was ten miles from Market Drayton. Husband phoned Green Flag who promised to be with us in about an hour. So we sat there and waited in the dark and cold, luckily it was dry. Slowly the minutes ticked by and when the recovery vehicle had not arrived after an hour husband phoned Green Flag again, to be advised that the police had closed the road ahead because of an accident, consequently the recovery vehicle was having to find an alternative route to get to us. Shortly after that a recovery truck with orange flashing lights appeared. The flat tyre and spare wheel were inspected. Then it was announced that the necessary nuts were missing (actually they were not missing) and the wheel could not be changed, which meant that our car would be transported back home on the back of the truck. We got into the back of the cab, which was very high up and gave us a good view of the road. Eventually we arrived home about two hours after we should have done. All things considered that was not an experience that I would wish to repeat and I now think that meeting the in laws between Christmas and New Year is off limits, as the roads have just got so busy. I am sure that we can find a quieter time for our get together.

Now we had two days before we went away to celebrate New Year. Husband had to arrange a replacement tyre for the one that was in shreds and I had get myself a GP appointment to get a prescripion for antibiotic eye drops to treat the conjunctivitis, which I had had hanging around for about two months and which had flared up with avengence on Christmas Day, leaving me looking as if I had drunk several bottles of neat vodka and smoked about 100 fags. Then the Christmas decorations needed to be taken down and packed away, as we would not be home until late on Twelfth Night.

The next thing to cause a problem was our landline and broadband. We had been home from our New Year trip about 24 hours when we started to have problems with our computers. Initially we thought that the problem was with our broadband. Then we realised that our landline was dead. By now it was a Saturday evening and although we reported the problem straight away it took several days, three visits from two different BT engineers, a cherry picker and a special plastic ladder to access a pole, which carried electric cables in addition to the BT lines, to get us reconnected and working again. It is amazing how quickly you adapt to not being able to surf the Internet and look at e-mails and find other things to occupy your time. My good intentions of writing a post went out of the window.

Since before Christmas the cooker's small oven had been misbehaving, but I had put off doing anything about it until after New Year. The problem that I had identified was easily resolved, but the repair man managed to find fault with the main oven, which required a new top element. It has taken five weeks to get that ordered and repaired and now he says that the bottom element needs replacing.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this mayhem  we saw a concert advertised that we decided we would like to go to. To my surprise I managed to get through to the ticket sales website at my first attempt as soon as tickets were available and had jumped through all of the necessary hoops -name, address and credit card details etc when the credit card company decided to decline the transaction. The tickets were lost. This was not the first time that this credit card company had done this to me. I cursed myself for being so stupid as to use their card again. This was the third time that a transaction had been refused for no good reason. After the second time I had decided that if it happened a third time that the card would be cut up and that is exactly what I did. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we would not be going to the concert, but I do not give up easily and had another attempt at buying tickets a little later and managed to be offered tickets, which were nearly as good as the tickets that I lost. This time I used a different credit card. The concert is not until October, which is months away.

And after all of that we go away again next week. I'll try to keep you posted.