With last leaves on trees here falling and teaching us how to let go, it’s time to focus on new things or pick up old habits…shall we continue where we left off in the South African road trip blog posts?
Where the previous post left us in Plettenberg Bay it is time to move on. Next stop: Addo Elephant National Park. The first part of the drive leads us through Tsitsikamma NP. If we would have had more time, would surely have planned an extra night(s). It’s where ocean meets jungle, where wild meets wilder and leaves you speechless.
Time to leave Western Cape and Garden Route for now and enter Eastern Cape province. Our accommodation for the next two nights is Gerald’s Gift Guest House in Addo.
Another gem and highly recommendable and, bonus, within a short drive of the NP. But let’s leave that for tomorrow, first up a refreshing swim, garden stroll, lovely dinner, some mingling with the other guests, enjoy the sunset and a good night’s rest (after husband took care of the two giant spiders in the room)
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa’s third largest reserve and malaria free, is of the ‘self-drive’ principle, though if you pay some extra you can opt for having a trained guide accompanying you in the car. You can try to spot the Big Five there, Big Seven if you include the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark at the Indian Ocean coastal belt. Though, as the name suggests, the reserve is most known for the herds of elephants. When the Park started, in 1931, there were only 11 of them, now there are over 600 of these giants! Best place to spot? Near a waterhole, though you will bump into them all over the park.
To spot lions (and/or leopards) it’s best to go early morning or evening (and take a guide with you). Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any.
In total we spent over six hours in the park, just to point out that there’s lots to explore and observe! Stay safe at all time and follow the park’s well-indicated routes and guidelines. Keep distance unless of course some animals choose to observe YOU more closely. The park also offers some hiking trails and picnicking areas.
We had far encounters with elephants and some scary close ones too…
We saw an abundance of zebras showing all hair styles and can confirm they do justice to their name as we often had to stop the car (and enjoy the view) as they were blocking the road…
We saw warthogs and buffalos, wilde- and hartebeest, ostriches, all kinds of birds, and lots and lots of other wildlife.
The park consists out of five different biomes, different ecological areas (like for example fynbos, forest, karoo…) each defined by their typical plants and animals. So many biomes combined in one park is rather unique and offers you as a visitor a great diversity. And, of course, a chance to observe the largest land mammal on our planet in its natural habitat is a wonderful experience.
Join me next time, in the SA series, when we’ll continue our trip and head to Oudtshoorn.
The drive from CPT is around 400 km and many interesting stops are possible along the route. We took a coffee and sweets break (Trends Cafe) in charming Riversdal and had a late lunch in Mosselbaai at trendy Blue Shed Coffee Roastery…
Lovely seaside and beach walks were in very short distance and together with a glass of local wine and some snacks on our outside porch thé perfect way to end first day of our stay here.
Day two and time for some action and see some wildlife.
Reason for choosing Tergniet was actually its proximity to Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. Alternatively you can also opt for a luxurious stay inside the reserve and enjoy its spa facilities, but Tergniet was only a 20’ drive and for us a more budget-friendly option. (Though must say pricing seemed reasonably fair compared to other game reserves)
The 4500 hectare reserve is home to four of the big five (no leopards) and offers a wide range of activities, also for day visitors like us. We opted for a 3 hour guided game drive, where guide Silas safely drove us around and gave lots of intel on the local wildlife.
Sadly no lions showed up that day, but we saw plenty of zebras, giraffes, elephants, springbok (one of SA’s national symbols), the rare black impala etc…… ( there are about 26 different species to spot and over 200 resident bird species).
Had booked a picnic after the drive, which was served on the border of the inner lake, with comfy seating and great views the perfect spot to relax and kill the appetite.
Sleeping outside the domain has its advantages, like in daytime safari-feel, night-time ocean-feel…best of both worlds!
Time to continue this roadtrip! Next stop on our Garden Route discovery will be Plettenberg Bay. So keep an eye out for the next posts! See you then, and in the meantime: stay home, stay safe and above all, stay dreaming!
Yesterday, 22nd of September, was car free Sunday: a (mostly) sun drenched day were streets in city centres throughout Flanders and Brussels were cleared and cars were banned. We decided to visit nearby Mechelen, where innovation goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals and targets for a better and more liveable future.
As all exploring requires some starter fuel, first stop: the newly opened neighbourhood cafe Grá
Where ‘Grote Markt’ was the place to be for cultural info and activities, ‘Bruul’ showcased police force’s horsepower and ‘Ijzerenleen’ was stage for sportive demonstrations…
Vismarkt and local pub ‘t Ankertje are always a welcome stop if you need to re-fuel again…
And if your energy tank is really low you can always head to the De Vleeshalle food court that opened this year…
Being in the neighbourhood, the Lamot centre housed the Joker Africa travel event that day, and as we will be visiting Western Cape next year, thé place and time to gather some useful info and tips.
And of course, historical buildings à volonté in city centre…
Events like these (mobility, cultural activities, citizen interaction, etc…) fit perfectly into where city sees itself by 2030, comitting to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Recreational domain De Schorre is inevitably linked to Tomorrowland… however, when madness and beats fade, the original function of the area returns: a lush green site where hikers, children, day tourists and locals can exhale and enjoy nature. The 75ha park is also often used for recreational or sportive events. Since last edition of TML some mythical creatures made the domain forest their home: at the request of the festival the Danish artist Thomas Dambo has brought seven giant trolls to life and this using recycled materials.
Together with my friend Kathleen I had a wonderful stroll in the forest, on the hunt for these friendly giants. Ask for a map at the domain’s information point. They are happy to point out the secret locations of the mythical residents, or just let the trail surprise you and discover at own pace…
Located in a former clay pit, the area is now a green oasis of peace and quiet.
With his unique creations the artist hopes to inspire people around the world to recycle and carry our precious planet and nature in their hearts.
Leaving the domain and heading for our on site lunch spot we got treated to yummy surprise gift and totally in line with the green environment: thé most delicious apple tarts, made by local bakery ‘Den oude kneeder’
Third and final part of our Puglia-trip brings us back where we started: to Bari, but not before exploring the region south of it, which is dotted with picturesque towns, inland or seaside, and the oh so typical trulli houses…avanti!
Our first stop after leaving Salento region is Ostuni, nicknamed the white city, wonderful town with lots of dining and strolling options. La città bianca shines in the sun, though that requires its effort: inhabitants are obliged to maintain and re-white yearly…
On route to our lodging for the next two days we passed Monopoli, another stop obligatorio! And as we already discovered earlier on this trip, another town with Greek roots. ‘Monos polis’ means unique and singular and even many centuries later the city still proudly wears this name. Lively atmosphere near seaside and colourful shopping streets, though time pauses and all sounds ebb away when further exploring the tiny city streets…
Time to check out our b&b! Home for these two remaining nights of the trip was the lovely Dei Balzi-Dimore de charme in medieval-vibe town of Conversano… what.a.gem! Both city as the lodging! We had the very spacious suite Lavanda on top floor which comes with room-wide terrace and city views. Yummy breakfast and warm welcome included, what more do you want?
Conversano is about a 15 to 20 minute drive from both Monopoli and Polignano a Mare and an excellent choice if you need a central location to visit the area. On top of that the city on itself with medieval trapezium-shape castle and lovely squares and alleys is worth a visit.
Another highlight, Polignano a Mare, birthplace of the father of Italian singers, Roberto Modugno, and his epic classic ‘Volare’. Dramatic and breathtaking views with the city centre perched on rocky headland overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Lots of viewpoint terraces to admire the caves and creeks carved out into the limestone. Might become bit crowded in tourist season but nevertheless a must ‘sea’ 😉
Last stop of this trip…charming Alberobello: trulli wonderland and inevitably attracting many tourists. Trulli are limestone dry wall and conical-roof houses. The roof is often decorated with, mostly, Christian symbols and sometimes topped with a pinaccolo. The ancient dry stone building technique is characteristic for the Itria Valley region with a very high concentration (around 1500 trulli) here in Alberobello which is listed Unesco World Heritage since 1996. The town is built on two hills and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. Tourist shops, trendy bars, etc…can be found in Rione Monti district, however, head to Rione Aia Piccola district if you want to escape the crowds.
It’s already a month ago that we returned from our Puglia trip and finally found the time to gather some photos for this post. My mind and body often being held prisoner by all the medical stuff going on it sometimes is a struggle to break free from it all and hit that relax button, even on holiday. As much as it is fun and energizing, it also takes away a lot of energy and the backdraft always follows, always.
But, here we are again, slowly and step by step, and kicking off with first part of this Puglia trilogy.
If you’re now trying to locate in your mind where to situate this Italian region, just think of the heel of the ‘imaginary’ boot shape at you’ve found it! Region of ‘masserie, mare, orechiette, trulli, tradizione, tutti sotto il sole italiano’!
We landed in Bari after a short smooth flight, rented a car through Sunny Cars (Kia Stonic, which was ok but hard suspension) and decided to drive to Bari’s city centre before heading to our first real planned stop.
We party-crashed a funky international Volkswagen meeting and were immediately immersed in Bari’s colourful and laid -back style.
And some centro storico exploring of course…
Time to really kick off this trip and get this show on the road! First flagged destination on our route: Matera, which ironically for this trip isn’t in Puglia but in neighbouring Basilicata, however should not be missed when visiting the region. This year being European Capital of Culture is of course an extra bonus.
Matera is best-known for its Sassi, (with Sassi meaning stones) ancient cave-dwellings inhabited since Paleolithic period . Matera is located on top of a canyon, on the other side you will find Parco delle Murgia Materana, ideal for hikes. All along the edges of the ravine you will find caverns and grottoes in the limestone layers.
In 1950s the Italian government due to the unhealthy living conditions decided to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to another nearby city, leaving the caves abandoned and nature taking over…until late 1980s. By then, tourism also started to reach this part of Italy and local authorities promoted the return to caves, financially supported provided that the new owners renovated and made habitable of course. Supported by Unesco and rewarded World Heritage site since 1993 the caves house now private properties, as well as hotels, restaurants, B&B’s, etc. There are guided walks to follow or you can follow an itinerary at your own pace. There are two districts : Sasso Caveoso with the houses caved in the rocks and Sasso Barisano where the houses are built on top of the rocks.
We stayed two nights at Airbnb Le Ferule lying comfortably within a two-minute walk of Sassi entrance. The appartment was very clean, spacious, breakfast goodie basket and fridge filled with refreshments. It had a modern decor so if you want to be kept immersed in the Sassi-feel, then would look for lodging inside Sassi-perimeter, but for us, this was fine. Downsize perhaps was that the terrace looked out on street where three communal garbage containers (for glass etc) were installed and there was always the odd neighbour during our stay dropping glass at 6 am 😉
Ready for some more exploring?
Cobblestones, steps and more steps, not thé most ideal combo when you’re a long time chronic back pain sufferer and MS patient, but hey, we survived ( a lot of resting, gelati and lemon granita!)
Ideal is to stay overnight…when sun sets and temperatures become bearable: enjoy an aperitivo and al fresco dinner followed by the obligatory passeggiata (see and be seen) and admire the wonderful twinkling of warm-coloured lights at one of the viewpoints. So much more relaxing if you know a comfy bed is waiting for you, right?!
Next destination on our trip was Lecce and exploring Salento region, where we were staying three nights in an Agriturismo, so keep your eye out for the next post 😉
Have you already visited Bari and/or Matera? Think both cities have so much more on offer and feel we only scratched the surface, so as always, feel free to comment or add tips!
The art of living a happy, balanced life…they should teach fulltime classes in it…I bet Pascale Naessens would pass all of them with flying colours. For those abroad where the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, she’s the best selling culinairy author in Belgium and for many years has been on a crusade to promote a simple pure lifestyle. Next to pure, simple ingredients and healthy living she’s a passionate ceramics artist, furniture and kitchenware designer and extremely keen on anything outdoors. For almost a year she had set her mind on throwing a huge garden party where all her passions would merge and could inspire others. Partnering up with selected like-minded partners and brands past weekend Kappelen’s Wolvenbos was the perfect green stage to host Pascale & Guests…
together with my friend Kathleen we immersed ourselves in the world according to Pascale…both chronic pain patients we both know how important it is to maintain a healthy body and mindset. We had every fibre, pore, and all our senses open to absorbe the good life…hope below photos give proof we did to the fullest!
Lots of workshops could be followed, some needed pre-registration, some were free accessible like this ceramics try-out…had to post Kathleen’s work of art, mine was a disaster ;-)))
Throughout terrain plenty of cosy corners to relax, follow interesting lectures, have a healthy snack or drink,…
Hoogstraten Belgian tomatoes
Self organic beauty brand
Feeling hungry, time for apero and snack
Stands were implemented into domain with respect for existing green structures and great eye for detail and host and her husband took time to have a chat…
…and if you felt an afternoon nap was necessary after all that fresh outdoor air, nothing beats a Velda bed in open forest, right?!
Biggest wow to us was the ‘Secret Garden’ area, stage for the yoga classes and more zen and nature inspired sessions…we had a relaxing treat in the Rituals corner where hammocks and skilled hostesses awaited us…
Need I say more? We had the most wonderful day and returned home with a big outer and inner smile!
If you have a bit of interest for arts or some creativity running through your veins this is the place to be: a succesful marriage of heritage and contemporary arts in a breathtaking setting. Art galleries, festivals, shops, musea, amphitheatre, golden masjid, restaurants, planetarium, too much to mention. Do check out their website for upcoming events if you are planning a visit and would definitely advise to spend at least half a day (if not a whole day) there.
In the Centre of Katara you can find Gandhi’s Three Monkeys by Subodh Gupta, a series of three sculptures with military headgear. Each piece is made of cooking instruments, used pails, traditional Indian lunch boxes and glass bowls. Together, they recall Gandhi’s famous visual metaphor-the three wise monkeys-representing the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ proverb…
Don’t miss the pigeon towers…Poop collection: smelly(probably) but in this case very attractive(definitely) business and another win(g)k to the region’s cultural history. Like in most Middle-Eastern countries, in the past, pigeon’s poop was considered liquid gold as its composition made it an excellent fertilizer.
scyscrapers: tall, taller, tallest
You can find the tallest building in Doha in the Aspire Zone. 300m high this one offers 360-degree panoramic views and a cantilevered pool on the 19th floor in case you want to find out what it feels like to float 80m above ground.
‘Sometimes you gotta zig when eyeryone else is zagging…’
…One (there are two of them) of the ‘Zigzag towers’, or dancing towers. Close to our hotel and Lagoona mall.
Highest and most colourful towers can be found in West Bay area and can best be observed from the water, during a typical dhow boat cruise.
‘all that glitters is not gold…’
Without any doubt jaw-dropping infrastructures, the more reason the extremely dangerous conditions the builders work in and their ridiculously low pay should continue to be brought under attention.
show me your green (and blue) zones
Did you think Doha was only sand? Well Qatar definitely is but its capital tries very hard not to be. The city focusses on implementing green zones with a versatile function: playgrounds for children, picnic areas, green hills, tracks for joggers or cyclists, etc…
Where Aspire Park is Doha’s biggest park (and next to Aspire Zone’s Stadium and Villaggio Mall shopping complex) and has plenty of green zones and even an artificial lake, it is its vastness that may effect the ‘cosy-factor’. All depends on your personal interests. We were rather fond of the Al Bidda Park and walkway. After our visit of MIA (see part 1) we walked part of the Corniche and Corniche Park (7 km waterfront promenade and green zone offering Doha Bay vues) upto Firestation, a creative hub and great place to have lunch. They offer residency projects for upcoming artists. From there we did the walk back to old city centre through Al-Bidda park which runs pretty much parallel with the Corniche.
The Pearl monument and fountain can be found on the Corniche at the entrance of the dhow harbour. Where Qatar nowadays gets its wealth from oil and gas, it used to be from pearl diving and fishing industry.
More green? MIA Park, Dahl Al Hammam Park, Oxygen Park, hotel parks and many more…
and yes, if you insist, some sand too…
From Doha a short drive to Al Wakrah and then further inland plenty of sand dunes await. We drove in the dunes behind Sealine Beach. If you want to go dune bashing yourself and you are not familiar hire an experienced driver (safety first, always) and avoid weekends. Fun road side distraction: camel rides, falcon tête-à-tête and photo opportunities.
Both Sealine Resort and Al Wakrah souq definitely worth a stop, only make sure your visit does not overlap the souq shops’ closing time early afternoon as we found place rather desolated then.
Since early May 2019 Al Wakrah and Doha city centre are connected through red metro line which will make travel between them a lot easier. This is the first line implemented, three more planned to become operational.
Skipped due to lack of time but still on our to do list for when second time around:
visit State Grand Mosque
visit the planetarium at Katara
inland sea Khor Al Adaid
National Museum (that officially opened just after we left)
Banana Island Resort
Al Shaqab tour – breeding and training centre Arabian horses
Like I said in the intro of my first post, Doha, and Qatar in general, has probably not highlighted (yet) on your travel radar and yet it should…though you will find numerous articles telling you there is not that much to see or do, I strongly disagree and hope both my posts helped showing that.
Some practical info:
Doha is the capital of Qatar, located on the Arabian Peninsula. It shares borders with only one country, Saudi Arabia.
Time to go: November upto March (too hot and too humid outside this period)
Currency: Qatari Riyal
Language: Arabic is official language but most people speak English.
We flew Qatar Airways and thumbs up on all levels. Taxi is fastest way to reach city centre. We always used Karwa Taxi and found them reliable and cheap.
Doha is not exactly pedestrian-friendly, so be careful when crossing the street.
The implementation of the state of the art metro system will be a huge jump forward when it comes to connectivity. And of course looking towards FIFA World Cup 2022 all stadiums will be linked.
We stayed at Grand Hyatt Doha, close to Katara and The Pearl. Luxurious rooms with large balcony and a great pool area. One of the capital’s top Thai restaurants, Isaan, is located in the hotel. You can opt for breakfast in the hotel or go to opposite Lagoona Shopping Mall for a quick snack or to get your daily supply on fresh fruits or snacks.
As for food and drinks, know that the only place you can drink or buy alcohol in public is in five star hotels (except Ramadan) and it is very expensive. Opt for one of the tasty mocktails, you won’t regret it. Foodwise, the world will come to your plate, no worries. The choice in restaurants and world cuisine is endless: Armenian, Lebanese, Thai, Italian, Turkish, Persian,…
Last weekend we found ourselves immersed in Flanders’ fields, in the green region that stretches out from the North Sea coast, over the Flemisch hills and all the way up to the French border. A region where the landscape is silent witness of its sad, loud and violent past, where poppies colour the fields and the wind gently rustles through the hop bells…welcome in the Westhoek!
We started off our two-day break at the newly opened Bar Bernard brewery St-Bernardus Watou offering a 360 degree view on the surrounding landscape and a range of heavenly bears of course.
As it was almost lunchtime, a little snack was allowed…
Next stop: Poperinge with at the time of our visit the culinary festival ‘Lekker Westhoeks’ to promote regional produce…hop all around of course!
Time to check out our place to stay for the night which we booked through Vlaanderen Vakantieland where to stay…Nicely tucked away in the fields of peaceful village Krombeke, part of Poperinge, lies ‘Ons Content’. A true gem: the room has everything to offer you could possibly need and more, the views are amazing, the hosts welcoming with a warm genuine smile and open heart, garden full of life and colours and the breakfast beats any breakfast I have ever had before! One of those places one would rather keep to themselves, so, shhh, not too much advertising 😉 Ons Content
We had a lovely dinner in local restaurant ‘t Hommelhof. Chef Stefaan Couttenye is one of Belgium’s pioniers when pairing beers to gastronomy and he proudly uses local produce whenever he can.‘tHommelhof
Time to lay feet up and head to rest,…
…You can’t stop birds from singing: I’m a morning person, even on weekend breaks…after a good night’s rest this early bird had a short morning walk, though long enough to watch sunrise and see some hares playfully chasing each other in the nearby fields.
Good thing I had that morning walk as, remember, there was that 5-star breakfast waiting with a wide range of sweet and savoury goodies! Needless to say we took our time to enjoy to the fullest!
After our goodbyes, we’ll be backs (without a doubt) and some top tips from our hosts we set off to provincial park Palingbeek (near Ypres) and land-art installation ComingWorldRememberMe by Koen Vanmechelen. Tourism Ypres Palingbeek
During four years thousands of people spread over Flanders and the rest of the world joined forces and together made 600.000 sculptures out of clay. Each sculpture representing one of the 600.000 victims who lost their lives in Belgium due to WWI. There is a walkpath up to the Bluff and a viewpoint over No Man’s Land…you are standing on land representing some dark pages of history…This unique memorial installation can be visited until 11th of November. You can read more about the project and artist’s vision hereCMxRW
Almost noon and we decided to head to Ypres…our visit coincided with Flanders Fields Triathlon and Car Free Sunday resulting in a very lively city. We went from cheering on the swimmers on the ramparts…TourismYpres
…to thumbs up for all those who biked their way to the top rewarding them with the best views on Ypres’ Lakenhalle and Market square.
No visit to Ypres without a walk on the ramparts and stop at the Menin gate…
This memorial was placed here in 1927 and is inscribed with the names of over 54000 soldiers without a grave…they passed through this city entrance, where the gate now stands, never to return…makes one silent no? In remembrance of those men, the Last Post, by local buglers, sounds every evening at 20pm.
Making it time for our last stop on this weekend break and we are staying in the ‘quiet’ zone…Tyne Cot which is the largest British war cemetary on mainland Europe with almost 12000 tombstones…
The Westhoek left a great impression: surrounding nature soothes what lies in its past, though never forgotten…