I’ll start with a little background for this as I don’t want to assume people know about the history of South Africa. I mean, I only learnt a lot of this because I went here.… More
I don’t know what it is about this week but I’ve realised I am turning 28 this year! I mean it’s three months away so not sure why this is dawning on me now, but it has and here I am sat and my desk wondering where the years have gone. I’m always scared of “getting old”, having not “ticked those boxes”. I’m still not sure I can adult, and I am meant to be a fully fledged grown up right? But as the years go by I seem to realise how much I’ve learnt and age, well that’s just a number right. I mean lets be honest here, I still think I am 23 at heart, even if my creaking knee and back know that I am 27 and can no longer crash on a friends sofa (I NEED A BED).
There are things I wish I could do again but with the knowledge I have now. This is such a cliché but it’s so true. I would love to do my travelling all over again with the knowledge I’ve learnt now. Though I am glad I wasn’t on Instagram, I feel like it would have taken away from it trying to get that perfect pic. And yes I hate that I am that person now!
But 27 years, I’ve learnt a lot, from not leaving your 18 month old at the top of some brick stairs (thanks parents), to how little you can pay for good food (michelin star isn’t the only good food out there)! But here you go, here are the three top things I’ve learnt in my young life. And sometimes still need to remind myself of…
To Wonder and NOT to Plan
I love a good plan, I really do, but not everything has to be planned to a tee. If you decided you don’t like where you are leave. This can be used for the hotel you are staying in, to the country you are in to the office job you hate. Don’t get me wrong you have bills to pay so don’t just quit on the spot but changing it up and trying something new that’s not “in the plan” isn’t a bad thing. It’s scary to think of starting again but you will find something new and better (hopefully). I’ve moved from London, to Edinburgh, to Dublin and loved every city and made some amazing memories. I’ve now got friends in different places and I wouldn’t change a thing. I hated each place when I first moved, it was scary and new, but within a few months I was hooked. It just takes time.
When we first started planning our travels I was convinced I knew the route we would take. After 3 weeks, a country had been dropped and two others added, and several city stops changed! It was fantastic, each day was quiet literally a new adventure. Boarders were closed, so new plan needed, heard about this elephant sanctuary, planned had to be changed, heard how cool a country was, just had to go. Plans change and how you deal with each one will grow you as a person.
You can always learn something new
Any normal person will realise growing up means you realise how little you really know. Remember being 16 and thinking you knew everything and how your parents couldn’t possibly get it, and you are an adult now. Well, guess what, you were so wrong, so very, very wrong. School and your teen years teaches you the basics, but it’s just that it’s the basics! I still struggle with taxes and all those adult things. But also, I am now happy to admit when I don’t know something, and that’s okay. You really aren’t expected to know it all. I don’t think you can ever know everything but take interest in others, what they are trying to teach you because you never know one day it might be help (even if it’s just in your local pub quiz).
By opening your mind and not knowing everything you find incredible places. I had never been to Estonia, and just about knew it was part of the EU (I had a 50:50 guess of getting it right). But I went there to visit a friend and I just started to learn so many things from what they had been though with USSR to foods they cooked. Even my friend who is Estonian learnt more. It’s really worth just listening to others and taking in what is around you. Never assume you know it all.
Don’t compare yourself to someone else – apples and oranges
I don’t know when this happened, but everyone seems to be getting younger. All those rugby players born in the mid 90s, those Olympic gold medallists with their baby faces and all those reality TV “stars”, just wow, and not in a good way. Friends are getting married, buying houses and there is me wondering how to pay for my next flights. I am happy with what I’ve managed, it might not be the norm, and others may still be doing it better than me. But I’ve lived in four countries (or three depending who you ask haha), visited 28 countries and got done a 6 month trip abroad. If 18-year-old me could see where I am today, I think she’d be pretty damn surprised and a little proud of what I’ve achieved. So remember everything you’ve done is for you not anyone else, and don’t let others tell you you aren’t achieving the correct things.
Do you have things you need to remind yourself of? Or some top tips you’ve learnt over the years?
You know yourself, sometimes you just find a place that you fall in love with the second you go in – well the Lemon and Duke is mine. Having been taken there by The Boy as Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Rob Keraney and Dave Kearney (Ireland Rugby players if you didn’t know) own it, it has since become a favourite.
The setup is a chic, vintage, cocktail feel. But it’s so much more.
It’s Guinness is smooth, refreshing and most importantly clean. You would be surprised the number of pubs and bars that don’t clean their lines which makes the beer dank and well, gross! It’s the perfect place to go to after work for a couple. Or, as it’s just off Grafton Street, the perfect place to duck into when your shopping, it’s the best form of bribery if you are with someone who doesn’t enjoy shopping! 😉
They have their “Tank Beer”, which they also have in The Bridge 1859, a fresh, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. It’s so nice! Plus, if you go on match day when Ireland is playing you might have a chance of winning an Ireland Rugby signed jersey. They give you a raffle ticket for every pint you buy during the match. When I went we edged our bets and 7 pints later, between two I might add, our number, “126”, was called! Even better that The Boy was wearing is England jersey at the time. They all took it well and everyone had a great laugh. Another thing that makes the L&D so great is it’s staff members. All helpful, kind, and great craic.
Though I know they do food, I have only ever had chips – they are my kryptonite what do you expect! They are AMAZING with their dip and crispiness. My friend has had the children’s (don’t judge!) chicken goujons and chips. She seemed to enjoy them. But more importantly, the staff got them for her, none of this “but you’re an adult”, they just gave it to her as that is all she fancied. I swear we are grownups, even if we only wanted the picking, bad for us, foods.
It’s open seven days a week serving brunch (well they say brunch they open at midday which in my eyes really is just lunch but whatever), lunch and dinner. Their little bit outside gets the sun in the afternoon/evening, making it a fab place for a post work beer.
Head down, say hi and get an ice cold beer (or cocktail, or coffee…..)
I can see why people say that Rome is their favourite city in Europe. It’s full of incredible ruins, food and drink. You can’t turn down a street without find one of these things. We there for two and a half days and it was amazing. I will write about different parts of our Rome trip later on, but this is just about the two tours we did. I feel like these need to be given the recognition they deserve!
So my first bit of advice is to book your tours before you go! Or if you are super keen book your time around the tours you want to do. We used a company call “Dark Rome” to book ours, though when we got there it was under City Wonders. Having just looked at both their prices they appear to be the same which is good having just been and paid for the ones on Dark Rome! Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t cheap but they are 100% worth it! Plus occasionally they have deals on. We got our Vatican City Tour with about 15% off.
This is probably one of the most amazing buildings you will see. And probably one of the busiest. This was pretty hard for us, we’ve been to several “tourist” sites but nothing prepared for these. There were just so many people queuing to get in and so many people just trying to sell you crap. Really does take away from the beauty of the ruins but one of those things I guess.
We ended up doing the Express Colosseum Tour with Gladiator’s Entrance & Arena Floor, the main reason we picked this was because the one we really wanted to do was sold out!! However, this was still fantastic. The tour guide was amazing, knew so much about the history of the building – what it had been used for, what had happened to it etc. It’s also really good as they give you head sets, so as long as you keep up with your group you can hear everything they have to say without worrying that you are stood too far away.
We also entered though the Gladiators entrance, which I have to say, was incredible. You get a real sense of what they went though, and you can just imagine the crowds and noise you would get from 50,000 spectators. In doing a tour as well, you miss the crowds and the queuing which means more time spent doing the things you love. When we were on the arena floor there was probably 2 or 3 other groups which meant there was a lot of space for everyone and you really got to take it all in. The only small criticism I can come up with about this part is you don’t get as much time I was would have liked. But that really is just my view because I’m one of those crazy people that could have stood there for about half an hour looking at it all.
You get to walk around a lot of the ruins, though there were still a lot of areas you can’t get to unless you are on another tour. It’s amazing how much of the buildings features are still there. One of the reasons so much was lost is because the Popes of the time stripped the building of the metals that was holding it together! There was then an earthquake where half of the Colosseum fell down. But despite this, you can still see some marble seats, full pillars and the basement where the gladiators were held before the flights. Another reason I would suggest you get a tour is because they don’t really have too many signs around so you wouldn’t learn as much about the history of the building. We wouldn’t have had a clue what 90% of the stuff was, or how old it really was, or how it ended up in the state it is now.
A small side note, and not related to the tour, but make sure you walk past the Colosseum at different times, in the evening it’s obviously still a little busy but nothing compared to the daytime. We spent about 20 minutes or so one evening post dinner just relaxing out side it! It was pretty special, and no people selling us stuff!!
We were up early, super early, 5.30am to be exact. We arrived at the Vatican at 6.15am, with our booking not opening until 6.30am we had a wonder around the walls, which is where we came up to the front of the St Peter’s Basilica. AND IT WAS EMPTY! It was just incredible to see it like this. I’ve only ever really seen images of it packed. This made it feel magical. So get up early and go down, even if you don’t have an early tour, it’s worth it.
Our tour was breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard, followed by a guided tour of the Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The breakfast was good, but nothing really to write home about, there were pancakes, food breakie, pasties etc, the things you would expect at a hotel breakfast. The view and setting is really what made it.
Same as before with the Colosseum we were given headsets which was perfect. The amount our guide knew was amazing. They also had a flip book to show you some of the paintings original sketches so you could compare the original idea to the final master piece. One of these being Raphael adding Michelangelo into his fresco in the Papal apartments, The School of Athens; something you would miss without a tour guide! I loved every minute. I could have stayed looking at all these paintings all day, but the Sistine Chapel was calling. When we got there, it was busy but to crammed together. We could still find space to move around and not bump into people. It was about 10am when we got in, so the museum had been open for only an hour by this point. I have to say the number of people rushing past as to get to the Sistine Chapel was sad. It’s hard to understand why people would just walk past so many just as fascinating paintings to see one –especially when you have paid for it all!! But each to their own.
The Sistine Chapel was breath taking. I did get emotional which I was surprised by. I have been dreaming of seeing these paintings for as long as I can remember. It honestly took my breath away. I know other people say it’s not worth it, but it so is. Get in early, book a tour and take it all in!! the craftsmanship of the men that painted them. The stories behind each fresco. Pure genius. We had 20 minutes in here, which to me was a good amount of time. Don’t get me wrong I could have probably spent a good few hours just in that room looking at each master piece but let’s be honest your neck would start to hurt after a while. Oh and BTW Michelangelo didn’t do his paintings on his back, he created his own contraption to be able to do it standing up apparently.
From here, it was onto St Peter’s Basilica. It was beautiful. It’s the largest Catholic church in the world, and no other is allowed to be bigger. The dome is actually directly above where St Peter is apparently buried. The art work, which is all made out of mosaics are amazing. The smallest details are so impressive. And many look as if they are paintings until you get up close to them. If someone hadn’t pointed this out I don’t think I would have noticed.
Again, like the Colosseum, once we were in and the tour was over we were left there to enjoy ourselves. We climbed to the top of the Basilica, and it is well worth the 500 ish steps. It was an additional €8 each, or for an extra €2 you can miss the first 200 steps by getting the lift. I can tell you now it’s not worth the €2. Those first lot of steps are by fair the easiest you could do. If you suffer from claustrophobia, this is probably not for you, as you can imagine the walls curve in. Take your time and enjoy yourself once you are to the top. The view is incredible. Thankfully on the way back down you go a different way so you don’t have to squeeze past people. You come out on the roof where there is a small café and toilets. Grab yourself a coffee and put your feet up for a bit. It’s really just an amazing place to relax for half an hour!
I couldn’t recommend these guys enough! Everything about them was so well organised.
Have you been to Rome? Did you do a tour at all while you were there? What did you think?
We all have those lists, things we wish we could do tomorrow but work, funds and well general life stop us. This is my top 10. Some have crept onto this list in the last 6 months, some I have been dreaming of for years and others, well, these are dreams…
1) Visit Antarctica: I mean who doesn’t want to do this – penguins, wales, stars, ice burgs! I’ve had a guide book for about 3 years now, maybe even longer. If I ever get married this is the only destination I want for my honeymoon.
2) Go interrailing: or at least see a lot more of Europe, it’s on my door step and I feel like I have just not seen enough of it. There is so much history there, so much culture, and I have only seen such a small fraction of it.
3) Trek Machu Pichu: it’s old, it’s beautiful and there are LLAMAS. I mean come on, llamas, who doesn’t want to see these guys with an epic back drop.
4) Road Trip Canada: Two months, a campervan, wildlife, who could say no! Yes I have been planning this is my head for a while now… stupid work, stupid funds.
5) Head back to Cape Town for Robben Island: I was gutted that I couldn’t go when we were there so it’s definitely on the list of places I want to see now. The history of South Africa has fascinated me. I just can’t get over how this happened, and how it really was not that long ago.
6) See the Northern Lights: they just seem so magical, and I want to stay in one of the glass igloos! “the skies awake so I’m awake” – I just want to be able to say this to The Boy!!
7) Visit Switzerland: It just looks gorgeous! literally ever part of it looks amazing.
8) Be a giant child at Disney Land or World for my birthday: who says just because you’re an adult you can’t do these things!
9) Lake Bled: okay, let’s be honest here this is because of Instagram! I’ve seen so many photos that just make it look like the most romantic place!
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10) The World, with my backpack and my boy……
This list could go on so much!
What are the places you dream of going? Do you chase the sun, or happy to have all the layers on? Is it just more, or does work get in the way of all the fun?
In mid-April, my family and I went to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Safari has been something I have always wanted to do. I love elephants, to the point that I shake when I see them. I get so nervous and excited all at once. I think they are just the most majestic animal, so wise and massive and if you look into their eyes you can see into their souls… okay, I digressed a little then. OBSESSED is the word you are looking for. But basically, I’ve always wanted to see them in the wild, so a safari has always been one of the top things I want to do.
The Kruger National Park is situated in the most North East of South Africa, bordering Mozambique’s national park, Limpopo. They have a partial fence between the two, most of it has been taken down to encourage natural migration of the animals. It is 19,485km², making it the largest game reserve in South Africa. It was originally established in 1898 by Paul Kruger, the President of Transvaal as the Sabie Game Reserve. Later in 1927, it merged with Shinwedzi Game Reserve, and became the Kruger National Park.
We were collected from our lodge by Donald, who is one of the owners of Chasin’ Africa at 5.20am – an early start but 100% worth it. They get you in before the gates open so the park is quieter and you don’t have to queue to do all of the fun paper work. Something you don’t really think about when on safari, but everyone has to go through the same gates and have the same checks which can take a while to do. We were off and through the gates by 5.50am. Only 10 minutes before the rest of the crowd, but this really was our own fault as we weren’t the fastest at leaving the lodge, ooops! Either way though, we were in! We were also incredibly lucky in the fact that there was nine of us, the exact number that fit in their trucks! So it felt more like a private tour. We were also provided with blankets to snuggle under as it was a little chilly (okay not UK chilly but still!) that early in the morning which was great.
Donald was AMAZING! I must admit, I was mostly interested in the mammals that live in the park – elephants, cheetahs, lions etc but he got us looking at all the birds, the plants and the bugs. All these animals and foliage help make up a remarkable eco system. It’s easy to forget that even the smallest of creatures make a massive difference to the Kruger. It also helped that when we didn’t recognise a bird he put it in context by using the Lion King – red-billed hornbill aka Zazu! It was just brilliant that he knew the best way to get people to take note of the smaller, but just as important, animals. From then on, we looked at so many different birds – fish eagle, lilac breasted roller, saddle billed stork. It was great to see so many different animals up close, that otherwise I would never have known about. His knowledge and professionalism definitely made the trip, it just made those stretches where we didn’t see much just as great as when we save the wildlife. I’ve learnt so much from him and loved every second of it. Though gutted we didn’t get to ask any questions that stumped him, next time!
The skill of Donald also meant we got to see the Big Five in one day. An old hunting term referring to those animals most dangerous to hunt ie they kill the hunters – Lions, Rhinos, Elephants, Leopards and Cape Buffalo. It was pure magic seeing them all. Obviously, elephants were my favourite, they always were going to be, but seeing the others (and the cubs of the lions and buffalo) was extraordinary. I never really believed we would see them all. Apparently if you drove every road in the Kruger and could see 500m either side of the road you would still only see 5% of park! Isn’t that just crazy!! You then realise how fortunate you are to see ANY animals.
The lunch available in the park is fairly average – sandwiches, pies etc, almost what you were expect in an airport. I advise you take your own, and DO NOT forget water! Super important! And mozzy spray for the sunrise and sunset part of your dive, you don’t want to be eat alive. Would take away from the joys of the Kruger if you are scratching the whole time.
We were out in the park for 12 hours! Initially supposed to be dropped back off at our accommodation at 4.30pm but Donald gave us more time so that we could we a Leopard and Lion cubs right at the end. We ended up leaving at 6.30pm!!
Hopefully I will one day be returning to the Kruger and if I do I will definitely be booking another trip with Chasin’ Africa, and I really think you should to.
Have you been to the Kruger before? Would you love to? What would be your favourite animal to see?
The great debate – what do you really need on a plane. If I am going just to Europe I have everything, my clothes, my camera, books etc but this is because they tend to be city breaks so I don’t check anything in. But I am talking long-haul flights where you have your clothes and sun cream all packed away in your check-in luggage.
Backpack – obviously to hold the items in, and I find it easier if there isn’t enough space over head or worse you can’t get out of your seat, you can fit it under the seat in front.
Passport – can’t really go anywhere with out this now can you!
Purse – you will need those cards and cash for the airport shopping, whether it’s food or those duty-free treats.
In-flight Entertainment –
Kindle – I always have my kindle with me, I don’t always use it but it’s great as it’s so light and gives me so many more options than just one heavy book!
Noise Cancelling Earphones – these are the best investment you will ever make!! Just trust me they drown it all out – engine noise, children, your other half whittling on at you…
Tablet – whether it’s an iPad or Samsung or something else, they are great. You can download your own programs so you aren’t stuck with the airlines choice. You can use it as a note book, I write blogs sometimes and other times use it for last minute research notes on the place we are going.
Phone and CHARGER – let be honest you wouldn’t leave without the phone. But it’s more the charger not to forget. A lot of airlines now have a place you can pop your phone in so you are full of juice for when you land.
Little Extras –
Sunglasses – saves you having to look for these in your case when it’s glorious sunshine when you land.
Camera – same logic as the sunnies plus you shouldn’t leave your valuables in your check-in bags.
Moisturiser – whether its face or hands it nice to refresh your self and stops your skin felling so tight. Plus it smells nice which will make you feel better after that 10 hour flight.
Toothbrush and Toothpaste – because no one likes fury teeth!
So there you go my little essentials that I try to remember to take on all long-haul flights!
What times do you take? Is there one thing you can’t live without?
At the beginning of April I was lucky enough to go to Cape Town! We were there for five days and everyday was JAM BACKED! It was hard to pick a few top things but here they are…
There are lots of different routes for you to choose from, depending on how long you wish to take and your fitness pick accordingly . We took the Platteklip Gorge route, right around the corner from the cable cars. It’s hard work, but the views you get make it worth it. In total it took us about 2 hrs. We range in fitness but I would say we are all average or above. We never rushed and did take loads of water breaks! That’s one thing you need to make sure you have lots of- WATER. This hike is said to be the one that gets the most sunshine! Try to avoid doing it in the midday sun (something we failed at!). Take your time up at the top, the views are incredible. There is a place you can get more water, food and ice cream. Plus all the other facilities you need after a long walk. There is also a gondola you can take up and down. We had planned to take it down but some one had set four fires along the mountain so it was closed. For some crazy reason we decided rather than waiting we would walk back down. Something my legs regretted for the next four days! Try to pick your timings when you go up – you’ll want a clear day though this can sometimes be unpredictable. If you are in Cape Town for a few days try to stay flexible so you can pick the best time to climb up.
Penguins, penguins and MORE penguins! What is not to love. It costs R65 to get in, but this can be used at any of the 3 entrances so you get to see as many penguins as you want. The first gate we went through went onto the beach. Here you can actually, paddle/swim with the penguins. But remember these are wild animals. They will bite and they do get stressed. Try to keep a safe distance and NEVER cut off a penguin from his buddy. It’s not fair on them, they are only little! Also, whatever you take with you make sure you take away, think plastic bags/bottles and wrappers. It’s hard when you get excited to remember these things but it’s better for everyone if you do. The second entrance we went into takes you along the boardwalk. It takes you right up to the beach where (during April) you can see the baby penguins as well as ones sitting on their eggs. It’s an amazing site! You’ll see nature at it’s best. I loved just watching them all. I could have stayed for hours but the entrances close at 5pm during April and varies throughout the year so make sure you get your timings right.
So we actually ended up here for the day as our tour for Robben Island was cancelled due to poor visibility . Apparently this is quiet common. Something you should remember when you book your tickets. We were all gutted that we couldn’t go but it means we will be back! But as we couldn’t make it we did Jerry 1, which is only small but still moving. This is actually the original site where people were taken before they were taken to Robben Island. It’s full of letters and people’s requests to see loved ones on the island. Really powerful stuff.
The waterfront has a fair amount to do. We started with breakfast at the V&A Food Market. Literally heaven. Has something for everyone and seating where you can all reconvene when you’ve picked your food! Plus it’s cheap! A win win in my world! I personally loved the coffee from the Coffee Power Station. And if you bring your reusable cup coffee only costs R20!
Just behind this is the Water Shed – a huge hall filled with craft bits. There was some lovely stuff here from cushions to clothing to jewellery. You’ll definitely be able pick up some nice items for people or something for yourself of course.
If you enjoy your rugby the Springbok Experience is a must! You start with fun games where you try to get on the team (remember those sore legs from our hike… This did not help). But we had fun looking silly and laughing the whole time. You then move on to learn about the history of the sport in South Africa. With the Apartheid being such a prominent part of the sports history it’s incredibly interesting to see the changes it went through. The most moving part is South Africa beating the New Zealand favourites in the 1995 World Cup and the handing over of the cup by President Mandela to Peinaar, the Springbok captain. The embrace and smiles reverberated through all of South Africa. An incredibly moving piece of history. Oh and if you’re an adult you get a free beer with your ticket to have down on the Water front she you’re done.
If your lucky or bold enough like my sister and brother-in-law were try to get up to the rooftop bar at the top of the Silo Hotel. The views are incredible! The perfect place for an afternoon drink in the sun.
Wine Region – Franschhoek and Paarl
This is the perfect day out … wine and (hopefully) sunshine. There are so many different vineyards you can choose from. As we had locals taking us round, we let them pick as they definitely know what they are doing. We started at the Haute Cabrière vineyard in Franschhoek, where for about £3 you get a tour, wine tasting for 4 wines (red, whites and sparkling!) And you get so see them open a bottle in the old French style, Sabrage, they cut the top off with a sword. It’s great. Plus the view is pretty spectacular.
Once you are done here head into the town. It’s fill of small shops and there is a great little coffee shop, The Hoek, where I would recommend you get an afrogatto from. It’s incredibly refreshing after all the wine. Plus gives you a little boost to carry on.
A little further out is the Spice Route in Paarl. A vineyard with so much more… They pride themselves on having other small independent business all in one place, where neither two are the same! Here you can do more wine tasting, beer tasting at CBC brewer or even ice cream tasting!
I would love to go back soon, I feel like we only scratched the surface of this amazing city. Have you been to Cape Town? What was your favourite thing or things to do?