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.

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 :/


Copenhagen Day 2

Sunday 9th October 2016, 9.58pm

Today started out quite late as nothing opens very early here and we were confident our plans didn’t require an earlier start. Today we wanted to go to the National Museum, Christiansborg Palace, do a free walking tour and go to the Copenhagen street food indoor market. Unfortunately we didn’t realise that a museum we wanted to go to on Monday closed on Mondays until this morning, so we had to have a small reshuffle in our plans and include a bit more journey time as we’d have to go out our way to include it. We took out the National Nuseum and decided to go to the other museum today after the palace and before the tour.

We got going, buying a packed breakfast from the hotel and a smoothie from a cafe for brunch. Danes are so health conscious. Salads, alternate diets and juice bars are everywhere. (Even the convenience stores sell paleo bars and gluten free snacks!) I wanted just a normal fruit based smoothie and the menu was packed with green smoothies (even ones with peas!) We found one that was just juice and fruit and it was very expensive and not so great? The juice bar I go to at home mixes sorbet into their smoothies for a thicker, creamier texture. This smoothie was more watery and slightly bitter.

Anyway, we ate huddled on a bench along the way. Which was no fun. It’s so cold here.


Christiansborg Royal Reception Halls

Then we carried on to Christiansborg Palace where we explored the Royal Reception Halls. It was stunning. The rooms were large, bright and airy. It felt modern and fresh, and honestly you could see people using it and enjoying it. I loved the way that you could see into all the rooms through the doorways, and the way that so many of the items had been repurposed from something else- oak flooring from a sunken ship, dining table from the queen’s staircase of the second version of the palace which burnt down (there were about five previous versions of the palace , all of which had been destroyed) etc. In the great hall they had put up a series of modern tapestries commissioned in 1990 and completed in 2000 (commissioned for the queen’s 50th birthday and ready by her 60th!) And although the bright colours and bold, modern designs weren’t my thing I thought it was a fun touch that added to the sense of usefulness and modernity of the place. Also it took a team of sixty ten years to create them which woa


More Christiansborg Royal Reception Halls

Afterwards we walked to the David Collection. From the outside it looks like a small museum, but inside was a labrythinth of ancient Islamic art. Unusually, they provided tablets for us to get English information on the items. We hovered over a point on the collection casing or on the wall near the casing and this brought up text to read. We barely even got through one floor in two hours. It was so interesting. I know nothing of Islam or the influence of Islam on western culture so this provided a fascinating insight. The ceramics, tapestries and other cloth work was so beautiful in particular. Everyone else there was quiet and interested. The staff were nice. The information provided was detailed and informative. It was a lovely place and it’s a shame we only got one floor done. But honestly, there’s so much to see (and read!) I don’t think even a full day would be enough to get the whole place done.


Various random shots from the walking tour

We then walked to the meeting point for the walking tour. The walking tour was quite interesting. They pointed out the statues under the water of the canal- very creepy! – which are based on a traditional Danish fairytale Agnete and the Merman. The statues show the merman and his children reaching out to land, as if calling to their lost wife/mother. Apparently in the winter when the canals freeze over, all you can see of them are their fingers or part of their hands. D: The tour carried on to Christianshaven, where we could see the gamblers church (so called because the German merchants who built it could not get government funding for its construction, so raised the money themselves by opening gambling halls), and the Church of our Saviour (traditionally the church spires are built clockwise as a defense mechanism, giving the defender room to swing their sword but the offender would hit the wall, but this was built anticlockwise in protest) and some of the older buildings that exist there, ending at Christiana Freetown. I didn’t feel comfortable going into Christiana Freetown but my sister wanted to go so I reluctantly followed her. It was uncomfortable. Afterwards we checked out Noma – why not- and then went to get street food at the Copenhagen Indoor Street food market. It was not as cheap as the name would imply but it was tasty. I had bibimbap, Danish apple pie and lemonade. Yummy.

We walked back to the underwater statues to see if they would be lit up. They were, but not particularly dramatically. Then back to hotel. Last day tomorrow…

Copenhagen Day 1

Saturday 8th October 2016, 8.59pm

Travelling to Denmark yesterday was uneventful and took up much of the day. My sister and I arrived into Copenhagen very late. Thankfully our hotel was close to the main station, which meant getting from the airport to there was a quick and painless process – one train with a 20 minutes ride, then a couple of minutes walk. My sister and I had booked a dorm at the Urban House Copenhagen. At least we thought we had. We were very relieved when we arrived and there was no one else there. (The next morning we could confirm that no one else would be there too. Phew.)

The room was a good size, with disconcertingly uneven floors. It was rather sparse, not particularly clean, but not dirty (there were suspicious marks on my bedding and a funny smell in the room, most likely coming from the bathroom) and quiet enough. The heating did not work. Outside the window there were some ‘gentlemens facilities’, and there was no dead bolt on the door, so it didn’t feel 100% safe, but it was OK. Atleast there were lockers in the room where we could place our sensitive documents – though we had to use our own padlocks to shut it. Finally, we made up our beds and settled down to sleep.

Changing of the guards at Ameliaborg Palace

Changing of the Guards at Ameliaborg Palace

The next day we took the train to Østerport to explore Ameliaborg Palace and the marble church. The marble church was both closed and the tours of the tower cancelled, but we were able to see the changing of the guards at Ameliaborg, and then went into the palace itself to explore.


Items from the Royal Attics

There was an excellent exhibition on the royal attic(s) showing all the typical junk the gets lost in the bowels of family houses – old clothes, appliances, crockery, linens, toys etc. – but all actually worth something because of their association (with royalty) and origins. Many of the items were accompanied by signs written in the first person/from the items point of view to explain the items history, which was oddly hilarious. It was a fun and playful exhibition that showed a very human side to royalty – the hoarding, the pictures of the royal children playing on their toys, a bright pink toiletries case, experimental art created by the royal household. After that we walked to see the little mermaid. She was a lot smaller than expected – it was actually a bit anti climatic. But she was beautiful, with lovely detailing. There were hoards of other tourists to compete with for photos though… of course.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid, and scenes from walking through Kastell Park and Copenhagen

We started to head back in the direction of our hotel, which although conveniently close to the main station, was actually far from many of the main tourist sites. On the way we explored Kastell island, which was pretty and interesting, and reminded me in its star shape of the Goryokaku Fort in Hakodate. We also went back to the Marble Church, which was open by then so we could have a look inside, even if we couldn’t go up the tower still. We carried on back to our hotel, just taking in the ordinary streets – the different architecture (to the UK), the many buildings with plants crawling over the walls, the cafes advertising fresh juice and coffee and all kinds of alternate diets. We passed the National Museum, and Tivoli Gardens, and found a small garden that was amazingly still in bloom, which we could look around in. Then we went back to the hotel, where we bought food at the Urban Bar. We had burgers with curly fries and it was delicious – although there wasn’t enough bacon on my burger. (I really like lots of bacon.) But it was significantly cheaper than any of the other places we had seen, so there was that too. (We had fully expected to starve whilst on this holiday, due to how expensive it is in Copenhagen.)

Thinking Man