South Africa Days 8-10

Whenever we go back to South Africa we always try to find a couple of days to ourselves to get outside the city limits and explore the surrounding area. There are many wonderful things to do that are only a short drive from Cape Town, or a slightly longer drive if you so feel like it, but still relatively close. I’ve been to a lot of those places over the years – from all the way out to Knysna and the Red/Yellowwood forests there, to Oudtshoorn (ostriches, caves), Caledon (hot springs), Cape Agulhas (Southern Most Point of Africa), Hermanus (gorgeous coastal walks and whale watching opportunities), the Garden Route. I’ve never had the chance to explore the Karoo though, and neither has my sister. So we decided that for our trip out this time we would head to the Karoo. My sister found us two Game Places to go to, the Inverdoorn Game Reserve and the Njalo Njalo Safari. (My sister did all the planning for this trip, because she loves it and I hate it, so I was really just going with the flow and wherever I was told to. It was quite nice to do this – to absolve myself of any and all responsibility and just sit back and enjoy. Again, I stress, my sister loves being in charge and organising things so she didn’t mind this.)

The drive to Inverdoorn was extremely scenic, and eventually we could get on some dirt roads, and find ourselves properly in the middle of nowhere, and then, finally at the Reserve. It took us ages to check into Inverdoorn – they kept us waiting for our room for a long time, and so we started out not particularly impressed, but things would improve.

We went on our first Game Drive that evening which was nice, we saw many antelope and Zebra etc. and they took us to watch the Cheetahs run – they are a Cheetah rehabilitation center, and part of that rehabilitation is teaching the Cheetah to hunt. They do this by making them chase after their food in the evenings. It was kinda awesome to watch. We came back to camp for the evening and had a nice supper before retreating back to our rooms for an early night.

Lions in the early morning. Apologies for different lighting in all the pics. Taken across both days…
The next day we had to wake at 5am for the first game drive of the day, which was difficult, but worth it to see the sun rising over the Karoo. We drove around their big cat enclosures – they had some barbary lions there, which are a type of lion with an especially long mane I think. The three they had had all been rescued from canned hunting and so cannot hunt from themselves and therefore were rather fat and lazy. Poor things. At least they are clearly enjoying the remainder of their life now free from that horrendous practice, being looked after and with space to roam as they please. We also saw their cheetahs, which were adorable. Cheetah’s make the most peculiar sounds – it sounds more like bird call than a cat.

Top: Cheetah in its enclosure. Bottom: Meeting Lula up close.
Following a delicious breakfast, we had the highlight of our trip, which was a Cheetah Encounter. They bring out one of their young Cheetah’s – the one we saw was a young female called Lula – alongside two of the girls working with the Cheetah’s, and let you pet the Cheetah and talk to the keepers about their work. At first there was a big group but they all disappeared pretty quickly, leaving my sister, her boyfriend and myself alone with the cheetah and her keepers which was brilliant. We were chatting for ages, whilst Lula lazed at the feet of her keeper, purring away. Yes, she was purring almost the entire time. Cheetah’s can actually shift between being relatively tame and being wild, which allows them to hold these encounters, whilst still rehabilitating the cheetah, and eventually releasing it back into the wild (apparently they just need to ensure they release them in a remote enough area as they will still happily approach humans otherwise) So yes, she also let us stroke us. Unfortunately we could only stroke her back and the top of her head – I was dying to play with her tail – but still, it was amazing to get so close to her and the way she just allowed it. The way she purred like a domestic kitty cat as you scratched behind her ears. Her fur was coarse and kept falling out all over me – Cheetah’s do not groom, and roll or scratch to get rid of fur. She wasn’t actually comfortable to the touch like that, but she was warm and purring and you could feel the muscles beneath her skin. She was a very solid kitty.

It was really amazing.

We had the rest of the afternoon free. They had swimming pool that was still filled, somehow, so my sister and I went for a dip. It was nice to have my sister to myself for a bit, without her boyfriend there, and we chatted for ages, half submerged in the cool water until the sun got too strong for us.

Top: Two male giraffes fighting. Yes really. Next: Scenery. I was trying hard to get a picture of the lightning, and that one lame shot is all I managed. Photographing lightning with a basic point and shoot, whilst in a moving vehicle, is not easy OK? Bottom: Cheetah run with storm brewing in the background.

Then we went out for another game drive. It had suddenly gotten colder and clouds were building in the sky. A storm was coming. We got our game drive in – the ominous weather making it all the more beautiful to drive around as, eventually, we could see lightning beginning to strike down in the distance over the Karoo mountains. We had just settled to watch the Cheetah run again when it began to rain. They cut the run short and got us back into the car and the ranger drove pell-mell as the rain came slashing down towards us, we couldn’t see a thing, it hurt as it cut into our skin. I was laughing, remembering Malaysia, how it rained like that there. We had called it “End of the World Rain”, because it came so suddenly, drowned everything so completely, and how the power and internet would often go down at the same time. We got back to the reserve and ran to our rooms, taking off our shoes at some point to splash through the streams of water that had covered all the paths. I dried off, put on some fresh clothes and then went to sit out on the covered veranda outside our room, to watch the lightning cutting through the night sky and breathe in the fresh, wet smell of summer rain. When I was a child and we were still living in South Africa we used to do that – my father and I – we would sit out on our veranda and watch the storms together. I used to love it. I loved it then too, was grinning wildly, remembering being a child, loving how wild it was, loving the smell. I was still damp but it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter at all. It wasn’t that cold, just a slight chill, and I was protected in the veranda where I sat. It was perfect.

The next day we woke up early again for our last game drive, then left Inverdoorn to go to Njalo Njalo.

Overall, it was a good experience. The service during mealtimes could sometimes be a bit hit and miss, but the rangers were all excellent, as was the cheetah experience. The rooms were lovely – big and spacious and comfortable (the bathroom was also HUGE with a rainfall shower YES) the food was delicious, particularly the breakfast, though I was surprised by how little game meat they had on offer – I was looking forward to trying something crazy. Oh well. The game drives were all nice although before we went we were told not to spend longer than we did there, which I do agree with, as the place is actually quite small, so once you’ve been on a few drives, you’ve kind of seen everything. I think we spent the right amount of time there. I was really glad that it rained when we were there too – that was fun.

“He stands in front of the mirror with a net, hoping to catch something.”

I decided to test out my driving skills again today – I decided I would go check out Bolton Abbey and the surrounding areas so I could take advantage of the nice weather and go for a good (and I hoped scenic) walk. I’ve not been feeling well these past few weeks so I was a little bit nervous venturing out on my first day of really feeling better, but I thought to myself that there was no contractual obligation to complete the whole walk I had planned, I could turn back at any time if I started feeling weak again.

Of course I didn’t really want to turn back.

I set off at noon and the drive was much shorter than that to the Yorkshire coast, yet managed to be 100 times more stressful. The roads were narrow, and busy, and there were a million cyclists out and about to try and overtake, or worse, cyclists on the other side of the road causing traffic that side to verge into my lane. There were also many pedestrians and bikers… basically everyone was out in all forms today. That, with the narrow roads, and my unfamiliarity of the route, meant I was soon talking back to my sat nav and muttering under my breath at various hazards…stress relief ;) In the end, the sat nav took me to a random farm so I had to turn around and find my own way for the last couple of meters which was also stressful, then I had to pay £10 (!!) entry, only for there to be no parking anyway, so I had to squeeze myself into the tiniest space ever and after recently crashing during parking, I was so nervous, and there were so many people around, passing around and behind my car making it so so difficult. It was horrible. But I felt pretty proud once I eventually got myself into the parking space, without crashing, and got the engine off.

I changed into my walking boots and slathered myself in sun cream then set off. From the car park, I wanted to head to the Valley of Desolation, then from there head onwards to the Barden Moor and finally, ascend Simons Seat. I started off well, the route was sign posted initially and busy. Eventually, as the signs petered out and the walk became less pedestrian, I missed the turning to the Valley of Desolation and had to circle back to get to it. It was worth it though, as the valley was beautiful. Despite its name, it’s actually a lush forest, and there were two waterfalls, one really quite impressive one. It was also blissfully cool and quiet in the forest. (Outside of the forest, I was melting. And probably burning despite the sun cream.) I took a million pictures and then completed my circle and set off again towards the moors. Unfortunately, I started to get tired, even though there was barely any ascent. I made it out of the forest and onto the moors and then the walk started to very slowly, very painfully, start to ascend and I could feel myself struggling. I felt so tired.

I stopped, then pushed on, then stopped again, had something to eat, then pushed on again. But eventually I had to admit I could go no further – I still needed energy to get back, and then to drive, and I just couldn’t keep pushing myself on like that. I was so annoyed. I was close enough to Simons Seat for it to be frustrating, but far enough that it wasn’t just a case of pushing forwards for a short while more. It would have been a long, painful slog to complete my journey.

I reluctantly turned back, and then my mood lifted when I stumbled upon a big group of Grouse. My only other encounter with Grouse, I thought I had gotten a video of them flying, only to find I had not pressed record. So then I lingered, taking many pictures and videos. Unfortunately I couldn’t get them flying, but I was still amazed at how close they were, and how photogenic they were being. I was holding back and being as still as I could, but they didn’t seem afraid at all. I was amazed by them, and their incredibly funny bird ‘song.’ They are fascinating creatures. I laughed at the way they would sit amongst the heather with just their heads visible. It really felt great – to have turned back from what I wanted, to find something possibly even better. I observed them for ages, following them down the road as they migrated from the heather into the bracken. Then I lost them. But after carrying on for a while I found another one. Finally, I carried on further down where I would encounter one more.

I walked back the way I had come, which wasn’t too boring, as I got to go past the waterfalls again. This time, I tried to climb to the top of the big waterfall and I got pretty close. It was quite exhilarating, if not a little scary! I got some interesting pictures though.

I made it back to the car park just as the ice cream parlour was closing, and therefore wasn’t accepting any more customers :( Then I drove home, which was still stressful, although the amount of cyclists and pedestrians had thankfully decreased. It was a good walk, I think. I am super disappointed I didn’t get to complete the whole walk, but on the plus side I did get to see the Valley of Desolation, I got to see the Grouse (which I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t turn back when I did!), and I did walk a good 4.5 miles which is not bad when still, probably, a little sick.

I did realise though that I paid £10 and didn’t even use it to go see the Abbey itself! I’ll have to do so next time… I’m definitely going to have to go back and make it to Simons Seat then too.

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Today I decided I was going to take a day trip to the Yorkshire Coast again. The difference this time was- I was going to drive it. I set off very early in the morning, grabbed a Starbucks, and then headed across to the coast. I had just a single high-speed road to take before a set of narrow, twisty country roads so it wasn’t beyond my abilities – that, and the roads were very quiet early on a Sunday morning. It was just very long.

My trip started with a visit to the RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Context: The RSPB is the Royal Society of Birds. The Bempton Cliffs are a long stretch of sheer cliffs part of the Yorkshire coast which serve as a key nesting site for thousands of sea birds, many of them rare (especially in these parts) such as Puffins and Gannets. I have been wanting to go there for the longest time, because I want to see puffins (because who wouldn’t want to see Puffins.) Although the drive did get stressful on the approach to the cliffs, because of aforementioned twisty country roads, I got there OK and even managed to park OK. It was just past 10 when I had arrived, so the drive was just over an hour and a half. Bearable, especially with my excitement about the puffins to motivate me!

At the entrance to the nature reserve a very nice man from the RSPB talked me through my visit and what I could expect to see and he provided a helpful handout – for free no less – with detailed illustrations of the birds to help identify them.
I entered the reserve and began my walk along the cliffs, stopping at all the viewpoints to look for puffins. There were thousands of birds coating every available surface of the cliffs, sitting on the water and flying around the cliffs. (They were incredibly noisy too.) There were a lot of people there too, and I felt quite inadequate compared to the sheer number of them carrying all manners of binoculars, tripods, telescopes and DLSRs with what looked like a meter of lenses attached to them. A lot of people there were clearly Very Serious about birdwatching, and were planning to spend a long time at it. (I even spotted a man asleep, and snoring, on a bench and I imagined him spending his morning at a viewpoint, taking a noon nap before carrying on.) I felt a little sad when they could spot puffins and no matter how much I scanned with my camera on full zoom I just couldn’t. Looking for tiny little puffins among all those thousands of birds was a very strange, frustrating game of ‘Where’s Wally?’, with the picture far away and constantly shifting.

But, I did manage to see some puffins. Maybe not as many as I wanted/expected? But I was so close to the ones I did see which was absolutely amazing. I definitely agree with the RSPB information that they are slightly comical in looks, but I also found them incredibly cute. I could also see Gannets, Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls, Guillemots and Razorbills. (Basically all the birds listed on the sheet bar two!) I saw the very young, very fluffy babies of the gannets and kittiwakes, nestled in under a parent (Interestingly, and luckily, when I look over my photos I can zoom in and spot things I never picked up with my own eyes – an extra puffin, more babies. It’s pretty cool and I can see why most people were carrying about such heavy equipment – their photos must be incredible.) It was absolutely amazing and it would have been worth the drive just for that, but my day would get better.

My sister is in holiday in Scarborough with some girlfriends at the moment. So I asked her if I could crash their holiday for the day so I could see her- and she said yes :) I drove into Scarborough from the Bempton Cliffs, getting a little lost trying to find the car park I had chosen thanks to my GPS going wonky, but again just about managing it. I met my sister and her friends at a small, out of the way restaurant where we had food like hot sandwiches, burgers, chips, salad and nachos for lunch. It was all freshly made, very simple but flavorful and reasonably priced. 10/10. After a filling lunch we made our way to the beach, where we set ourselves up for the rest of the afternoon. I waded into the water with my sister for a bit, but then we both just lay down and chilled in the sun. Although the day had started out a bit grey, and I had started out wrapped up at the cliffs, it turned into a gloriously bright and sunny day and I was hot even after shedding all my extra layers.

It was really relaxing, lazing about in the sun with my sister and her friends, talking about nothing in particular and soaking in the warmth.

We then went into one of the arcades and wasted only a small amount of money playing the 2 pence a go games, then we did some quick souvenir shopping and headed back to the car. The walk back to the car was unfortunately uphill most of the way and I don’t think anyone was impressed with my choice of parking. :/

Although this was my first time taking passengers, thankfully the nerves about that didn’t get me too much and I drove everyone back safely to their accommodation. I pretty much dropped them off then set off back home. The drive back was way more tiring and I had to stop for some caffeine – even though it was late and I knew it would affect my sleep, I was getting worried for myself and my concentration. After getting a shot of caffeine in me I was OK for the rest of the drive. Thankfully the roads remained quiet and I got home in good time. I am interested to see how I will sleep tonight, if I will manage to wake up tomorrow morning, and how driving will be tomorrow… I’ve had a great day though and I’m feeling pretty proud for all the “driving firsts” I ticked off today, successfully.

Copenhagen Day 4/Hamburg Day 1

German ICE Train
Tuesday 11th October 2016, 21:48

I am now in Germany! I got a direct train from Copenhagen this morning and arrived four and a half hours later in Hamburg in the afternoon. I was a bit nervous about the journey before hand – I had been keeping an eye on the information boards at Copenhagen central station to see where/which platform the Hamburg train leaves, but I couldn’t see a Hamburg train at all. Thankfully I managed to get to the station early enough that I could ask at information. They confirmed my platform number, seat reservation and the directness of the train. Sure enough, Hamburg HBF was listed at that platform as the service after next. I waited around, munching on Danish pastries which tasted much the same, very disappointedly, as those you get in the UK, feeling quietly excited for the journey to come. As soon as the Hamburg train became the next I went to the platform, I got out my phone and readied to video the train coming in. I was so curious as to what German public transport was like.. the train came right on time. It was a fairly small train, but then it has to be I suppose as it has to fit on a ferry (wait for that), and there didn’t seem to be too many passengers. There was a mix of people travelling but most actually seemed Danish or German.

First Class Seat in German ICE Train

Inside the Train
I had treated myself to first class as it wasn’t more expensive than standard, so settled in to my spacious seat…after taking many pictures. I was so excited. And impressed. The train was spacious and clean and well aired and at a comfortable temperature. We got going and sped our way through Denmark down to Rodby, at which point the train was driven onto a ferry. I don’t know the logistics, but there is a compartment/section on the hull of the ferry with tracks, and somehow these are aligned to the tracks on land, they must be, as we drove slowly but surely into the hull of the ferry. There were trucks being driven in either side of us. It was so surreal and so freaking cool.

Disembarking from the train, some views from the Ferry
As soon as the train stopped we disembarked and climbed up to deck for the crossing. The ferry seemed huge. There was the hull with our train, and two columns of trucks either side, and what seemed to be two levels of cars above that. Then there was an indoors level with restaurants, shops (duty free even, but only about…I think it was 18 minutes into the journey? Clearly we had to pass into international waters first / beyond the authority of Danish maritime authorities) and seating areas, and then a top area divided into indoor and outdoor seating. Sadly it has been a gray, cloudy and damp day so the views were rather dreary and it was drizzling. I started to feel a little seasick, so overpaid for some coke and chips. I sat out on the deck in the rain, sipping coke and breathing in the cool air, tinged by diesel fumes and cigarette smoke, but clean enough and still better than indoors for my queasy stomach. I must have looked a little crazy sitting out in the rain but oh well. Soon enough we were called to embark. I didn’t waste any time and joined the small trail of people heading back to their cars and to the train. I managed to get some pictures of the train in the hull but as much as I was curious as to the logistics if it all I was wary of lingering, fairly certain there would be no headcount. There was none. The train started up and was driven off the ferry in about five minutes after we were called. There were trainspotters watching us coming us off the ferry and I badly wanted to see what they saw. I don’t really understand how DB Bahn was pulling this off. It was the coolest nonetheless.

Train in the hull of the ship, tracks on the base of the ship

Puttgarden was our next immediate stop and our first in Germany. It was then another rush through Germany down to Hamburg. I felt tired and queasy and although the scenery was pretty, with surprising wildlife (herons, deer, birds of prey) I kept dozing off. My first class seat was very roomy and very comfortable . Although the train got a bit busier at Puttgarden it was still lovely and quiet.

Danish Scenery versus German Scenery. :| There were a lot of wind turbines on either side.

We arrived into Hamburg at 14:21 after leaving Copenhagen at 9.37am. I disembarked and went up to the main station and immediately had my senses assaulted with the rush of people and noise. Hamburg is crazy. So much busier than Copenhagen was, though I do recognise I was in Copenhagen predominantly over the weekend, and Hamburg now in the week. Thankfully it’s well sign posted so I could find the tourist office and pick up a map and some leaflets. I hadn’t really planned this part of my holiday at all and wanted to do some while resting and being still.

Sad little hotel room.
My hotel was thankfully just over the road from the station. It’s great location is pretty much it’s only standout. The room is cheerless and sparse. Tired and lacking in any kind of decoration. There isn’t even a coat hook, or a nice seat. There is a bed, a table and stool and a wardrobe. There is an aging bathroom, clean enough, but also so tired looking it makes you feel a little tired and depressed to see it. What a sad, dreary room. It’s no smoking but it was definitely smoking at one point – there is the unmistakable smell of it sunk deep into the surroundings. Worse, the door is flimsy, the lock flimsy, the front desk never seems to be manned, so anyone could come up here, give the door a good kick and get in. There’s no safe or locker. It’s a tiny bit worrying. Oh and the walls are thin and I am acutely aware of my neighbours. It’s like being in student dorms again. Oh well… the location is amazing and that’s what I need. (Also the room is warm. The hotel in Copenhagen the heating refused to come on making for a slightly chilly stay. So now I am warm. Yay for small victories?)

Hamburg Art Museum

Hamburg Art Museum
After a little planning I ventured out for a quick poke around the art museum. There was no map available, none I could see, so it was quite confusing and a little overwhelming trying to make sense of the maze of rooms. I found myself going back on myself and getting lost. It’s a weird experience getting lost in a museum. After that I went to check out Lake Alster but I felt tired and still fairly queasy so although I did see the lake I didn’t do much walking around it as planned. I headed back instead, treated myself to a bratwurst and chip supper takeaway. Then holed up in my sad, dreary little room to finish planning and rest.

Hamburg HBF

Copenhagen Day 3

Monday 10th October, 10.31pm

Today it was raining heavily, but at least it was slightly warmer. My sister and I started our day by visiting the National Museum. Or rather, trying to. It was unexpectedly closed. My sister was so bummed, because she had done the research and nowhere had told her this would happen. Seeing her feeling so responsible, I tried to cheer her up by suggesting a visit to a nearby church that was mentioned on the walking tour as being worth visiting. Alas, it was closed too. Wet and now both bummed out, we headed on to Rosenborg Castle, which was thankfully open. It is older than Christiansborg, and was much more dour, but still interesting. We got to see the crown jewels!


Rosenborg Castle from the outside

Then we made our way to Nørreport Station where we would part ways, my sister to go and pack and get ready to go to the airport, and myself to the National Aquarium Denmark. My sister was heading back home to the UK whilst I would be carrying on my holiday in Germany. Before that, we hunted down someplace to get lunch and found ourselves at an amazing cafe “Cafe au Lait”. I had crispy ciabatta with egg, salad, crispy bacon and dressing. It was a hefty amount of food, but utterly delicious. I also broke my diet in four ways (milk, coffee, alcohol and cream) to have a Bailey’s latte which was amazing and probably all the more amazing by being so sinful. The cafe was quiet and the woman who was running it was very friendly. She recommended us the apple pie as a dessert, and we shared it as we were both quite full – but too tempted to say no! We then parted ways which was pretty sad. I was enjoying spending time with my sister and wished she was going to Germany with me :(


Delicious Lunch from Cafe au Lait

I took the train from Nørreport Station to the aquarium – which was actually pretty close to the airport… really quite far out. The aquarium was amazing though. They had these digital touch displays where you could explore what habit they had modelled the aquarium on and what fish were in it. I saw a lot of fish you can buy as a home aquarist like cichlids, discus and tetras! They, of course, had a shark tunnel you could walk through. I had so much fun. (Also, outside the aquarium you could look across and see, just about, The Bridge to Malmo i.e. the one from the TV show. YES)


National Aquarium Denmark

Getting back was not as much fun as the train was a little delayed (only 3 minutes, but still this is Europe I didn’t know they could get delays here! ;) ) I went back to the hotel…I was staying in the same hotel but in a different room. The new room in the hotel is so much better. To no one’s surprise a more expensive room is of higher quality. Although being right above the bar meant I would face a lot of noise later on. Anyway, I got to see my sister again! I got back to the hotel and her stuff was there. Which freaked me out a little, as I couldn’t see her anywhere. Then I remembered she said she wanted to go eat at the hotel bar before leaving. I ran down to restaurant downstairs and found her preparing to eat supper. As she has no checked in luggage and the trains are frequent she was having a relaxed start to her travels back/was leaving later. (Imagine trying to pull the same thing off in the UK…no chance! A 3 minute delay would be magical, here.) We ate supper together then I walked her to station to actually say goodbye :(

I am off to Hamburg tomorrow…no idea how the journey is going to work and quite nervous :/