Berlin Part 1: Hot Rods and a Favourite Place

There’s something quite magical about waking up in a new city. I didn’t need much help from my alarm that morning, as I had slept like a dead person the night before. I was also really excited because I had 2 things planned for that day – the Hot Rod City Tour at 11 and SeaLife Berlin at around 3pm.

I was up at 7 and took my time getting ready. I was quite hungry since I hadn’t really eaten much at all the previous day, so I was eager to get breakfast. The restaurant/bar was on the 2nd floor (I think), and was actually really cool looking. It was very relaxed, and quite busy already. As I walked in, the entire left side was occupied. I had no idea where to sit because the tables with single seater couches around them were really small, so it would have been awkward sharing one with a couple strangers. My salvation lay towards the back, right next to the second buffet area and coffee machine. It was a long, high table with at least 14 bar stools around it – perfect for people watching.

Motel One Berlin dining area

I put down my bag and removed my jacket then went over to the buffet area closest to me. It was a continental buffet so they had the usual things there. I wanted to eat a proper breakfast because I didn’t know what time I’d be able to get lunch, or where from. The coffee machine made whatever coffee you wanted at the push of a button – of course I was going to get a cafe mocha. Normally I have instant coffee in the morning, or a cappuccino once I get to work, but since I was on holiday, why not get the alternative I usually only turn to once a month at most?

A couple other single women came and sat around me. We didn’t speak to each other but I think we all found a bit of comfort in the fact that we weren’t the only female solo travellers in the hotel.

Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz

Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz

I had a little less than an hour to get to the Hot Rod tour, which was plenty time. My plan was to get the Berlin Welcome Card which basically covers all transport and most attractions, so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting tickets every time. I took a leisurely stroll to the Potsdamer Platz station down the road and tried getting one there, only to find out that the ticket machine only accepted Mastercard (I had a Visa card). I only had about €22 in cash with me, so I wasn’t sure what to do since time was now a becoming a problem. I tried various other machines in the station but none of them accepted anything other than Mastercard. I knew that if I took a bus to the main station, I’d have no issue acquiring the Welcome Card or getting to my destination.

As I approached the exit of the station, I heard a man shouting and got a little scared because he was clearly angry, so I didn’t know what to expect when I went round the corner. When I saw him, he was shouting at the ticket machine, and I mean really shouting, as if he wanted to kill someone. He banged the machine with his hands and kicked it several times while shouting “AAARRRRGGGH, WORK DAMMIT!!”, not to mention the profanities in between. He was obviously experiencing the same issue I had. Some locals were walking close to me as they had just arrived from their journey, and I heard the guy in front of me tell his girlfriend (I assume) that the man was shouting at the ticket machine. They were visibly amused.

A family of 4 bought some tickets inside the train station but left 2 behind, so I handed it to them as they started walking away. The father thanked me profusely in what sounded like Russian, before exiting the station. I didn’t know where the family was going; I assumed I’d never see them again. After realising that the only thing I could do was take a bus to the main station, the bus stop was where I decided to go. I assumed that all busses went to the main station, but I just had to make sure that I was standing on the right side of the road. When I got to the bus stop, there stood the family yet again. I couldn’t understand them much at all but I tried to somehow figure out where they were going, which sounded like the Hauptbahnhof. There were already less than 30 minutes left before 11, and my tour was nearly 7km away, so there was no way in hell I would have made it there on foot. My gut feeling, not to mention a suspicious looking sign next to the bus stop, told me that the bus was not operating that day. When the bus failed to come after 10 minutes, I made the decision to call for a taxi. There was no way I was going to get to my Hot Rod tour in time otherwise, and €22 should be enough to cover a 6.5km trip. At least, I hoped.

There were many taxis passing the bus stop I was at, so I easily flagged one down (I’d never done that before so I was chuffed). The driver flashed her lights at me to acknowledge that she had seen me. When she pulled over, I asked roughly what it would cost to get me to my destination, and she said it’d be around €15 depending on traffic, give or take a Euro or 2. I told her how much I had so I was praying it wouldn’t come to more than that. She assured me that it shouldn’t, so I got in.

We appeared to be heading into a slightly dodgy part of the city, and I wasn’t so sure I was in the right place. The buildings were dilapidated with tonnes of graffiti on them, and the people were dressed like street thugs. For a moment I questioned what I had just gotten myself into, but I figured I’d find my way out if something got wrong because I knew which general direction to head back to.

The Hot Rod Tour

The driver turned into a quiet street and stopped outside my destination: Revaler Straße 99. I could see the number 99, but there was just a high brick wall on either side of it and the entrance seemed to head down onto an open area covered in sand. There was a guy leaning against the wall, smoking. I felt like I was being dropped off at some kind of drug hole. For those few minutes I was in the car, I trusted the driver, so I knew she hadn’t taken me to the wrong place. When I got out of the car, I went through the entrance and turned left towards what appeared to be a flea market. Only, it was for hipsters and goths (no offence to them). I felt very out of place.

I came across another entrance to my left and saw two cops having a coffee next to their car, so I decided to go up to them and check if I was in the right place. They told me to go back in and carry on walking left, and that I’d eventually see it. Thankfully they were right – there was a big sign painted on the wall that said Hot Rod City Tour, just as I had seen it on their site. There were a couple other people there, and some guys showing them around. The cars were parked just outside.

Hot Rods

I told one of the guys that I was there for the tour at 11, since I was 15 minutes late, and he promptly took me into their office to confirm my booking and to give me a bandana and helmet. He also asked me if I wanted to pay the €250 cover fee for insurance, otherwise €10 that somehow covered some things. There was no way in hell I was going to pay an additional €250 on top of the €55 I had paid for the trip, so I opted for the €10 option, which I was still a bit annoyed to have to pay because the tour charge should have covered it. I didn’t want to complain, however.

Since the other 5 people were already briefed on the basic safety rules by the other guy, myself and 2 guys were given individual talks since they spoke German. After that, we were all told which car to sit in and how to operate them.Revaler Straße parking

They weren’t like usual cars, as you can see, so the brake and accelerator could not be operated by the same foot like we’re used to. They were kind of like go-karts in that way. We were told to always have our foot on the brake to remind ourselves that it was there, in case we felt the urge to accelerate instead of braking. The indicators also had to be manually switched off – something I forgot to do quite often once we got on the road. The rest of it was pretty standard.

Hot rod selfie

We then drove our hot rods into the flea market’s dirt road parking area so what we could practice the formation we’d have to maintain once we took to the streets. We had to stay in a zig-zag formation behind the leader, with me leading, and stay in the same lane since 2 cars could fit within one lane. The back wheel of the car in front had to align with the front wheel of the car behind it, whenever we stopped. Otherwise, the usual traffic rules applied. For everyone else it was fine, but I was stressing out a little because I had never driven on the right side of the road before. Thankfully I had someone to follow, so that gave me some comfort.

Once the guide was happy with the way we were handling ourselves, he lead us out of the car park and onto the streets. The guide mounted the GoPro on the back of his car which was a bonus for me because it meant I would be in the entire video.

The drive was loads of fun. The only downside was the fact that the cars were so low – it meant going over any bumps was a little sore and would make the car shake. The hard steering wheel required the grip of both hands, too.

We drove all the way to the Berliner Dom (at the end of the video) before turning around and heading back. I think it is evident from the video that I was really happy to see the Berliner Dom. The actual street drive lasted about 30 minutes in total. I expected it to last longer so I was slightly disappointed, especially because it was so much fun. Many locals and tourists alike took photos of us, and at one point these 2 guys from India took turns to take pictures with me. It was hilarious!

When we got back to the flea market, we got out of our hot rods and parted ways. I of course wanted a copy of the video, so I went into the office and asked for it. They charge €12 for the flash drive and the video, which I considered a bargain. I was very thirsty by then so bought myself a bottled water and a Red Bull while I waited for the video to copy. Once we were done, I asked the guy where the nearest ATM was, which, thankfully, was down the street towards the train station and away from the dodgy flea market side of the road.

Back to the City

I drew enough cash for the next 2 days then walked to the train station. It didn’t matter what station it was, as it would most certainly be going to the main one and that’s all I cared about.

Until I got to the bridge from which I could see the Warschauer Straße station, I still felt as though I were in a dodgy area. Warschauer Straße station was basically just a platform with a ticket machine and a bridge which I had to cross over to get to the correct side of the platform. The bridge had some street vendors selling random items and snacks. Even though I was hungry, I wanted to get out of there.

One of Berlin’s signature yellow trains arrived and I happily got on. I had about 6 stops to get to the Hauptbahnhof, but I wasn’t really counting because that was the train’s destination. I passed some familiar-sounding stops like Alexanderplatz and Freidrichstrauße. As I passed the Berliner Dom again, considered stopping at Freidrichstrauße so I could go back, but I needed to get that Welcome Card from the central station since I was familiar with where to get it from.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

I felt good when I arrived back at the central station, because I knew where everything was. I went straight to the place where I could buy the Welcome Card and stood in a fast moving line. The office was jam packed with tourists, but there was order in the chaos. I got the 3-Day pass, and the guy told me to validate it on my first train journey and it would start the counter from there.

I had some time to get something to eat, so I went to the food court to check what was popular. There were lots of takeaway places there including Pizza Hut and Burger King, but I didn’t want something I could get at home. There was another place which had a special with currywurst and a 0.5L beer for something like €4.10, so I went for that. After all, currywurst on its own is about €3, so €1.10 for a draught of beer was a bargain.

Sea Life and the Aquadom

I checked my map while I was eating and decided to take the train to Alexanderplatz, since it was one of the closest stops to the Sea Life aquarium. It was a little difficult to find even though I had the address on hand. I expected bolder signs, but I guess I was on the wrong side of the road for a reason – to get another glimpse of the Berliner Dom.

Berliner Dom

Once I crossed the street, the aquarium was right in front of me, not to mention an open WiFi spot. Since I was about 20 minutes early, I lingered outside a bit and caught up with my friends at home before going inside.The AquaDom

It was like any other aquarium so I breezed through it in less than 3o minutes. My main mission was to get to the Aquadom – a 25m high glass aquarium filled with a million litres of water. I was given a separate ticket for it when I entered the aquarium, and had to give it to the lady in front of the Aquadom, who, as it turns out, was the one doing the tour as we went through it via the lift.

Nemo inside the AquaDom

The lift is quite wide and has 2 levels, so you can stand on either one. They only allow around 15 people in at a time, so it’s not too crowded and you can see in all directions. The ride up was quite an experience, and the guide alternated between German and English so that everyone would know what was going on.

The ride up and back down lasted about 20 minutes, so we saw quite a lot. I didn’t expect it to go on for that long so I was pleasantly surprised.

Once the tour was over, there was nothing else to see in the aquarium, so I was literally in and out of it in less than an hour. That was what I found a little disappointing.

My Favourite Place

If you haven’t already guessed it, my favourite place in Berlin (before even leaving South Africa) is the Berliner Dom. Since it was literally a 5 minute walk from the aquarium, it was the most obvious place for me to go to next. I had the entire evening free so I could glare at it for as long as I wanted to, and that’s exactly what I did for over an hour.

Since I had been walking for hours, my legs were pretty sore, so I sat on a bench a couple metres in front of the entrance. This was my view.

My view of the Dom

To my delight, there was open WiFi there too. Let me just say that it was damn fun being able to immediately post that picture on Facebook and check in at the Berliner Dom. Some friends of mine said that they wanted to live my holiday through me, so I should check in wherever I could. That is exactly what I had done on the entire trip. I also used some time to charge my phone – power banks are a lifesaver when you’re on holiday and can’t get enough photos.

While I was sitting taking in the general splendour of the architectural beauty in front of me, a local man suddenly came and sat on the other end of my bench and immediately started chatting. He reminded me of Stephen Hawking not only because of his face, but the nerdiness too. He was very friendly, and I don’t mean in a forward manner. At first I thought he wanted something or was going to try to sell me something, but he actually just wanted to chat to someone that clearly looked like a visitor.

We ended up speaking for over 30 minutes about things ranging from where I’m from to why I came to Berlin, and even about the refugee crisis. His view on the refugees was totally different to the Czech woman I had met on the train the previous day in that he thought that it was a great thing for different cultures to get together and learn from each other. He even encouraged me to come work in Berlin because he felt the city needed people like me to improve its diversity, among other things.

Once again, the awesomeness of Germans was revealed. They really are some of the nicest people in the world.

After we said goodbye to each other (poor guy, I don’t remember his name), I went further back to get better views of the Dom. I simply had to go up the stairs of the museum next to it so that I could see it from the same perspective that The Piano Guys had seen it from when they shot their music video for Berlin.

The Dom from the Altes Museum

I tried asking 3 different people to take photos of me with the Dom in the background, but all of them failed miserably. The photos were either askew, or they’d cut off part of the Dom. You’d think all working-age people would know how to operate a camera phone, but apparently that is not the case.

My Other Favourite Place

I took a stroll to the Freidrichstrauße station and decided to head back towards my hotel. But since it was not quite dusk, I still had time to see more. Instead of going back to Potsdamer Platz, I took the train to Brandenburg Tor (Gate), after doing a lot of running around trying to figure out whether to take the U-Bahn or the S-Bahn, since they have different stations for each, and consequently different directions that they go in. That for me was the biggest pain in the ass in Berlin, and cost me a lot of time in the days to come. I constantly wished it was as easy to navigate as Munich’s train system (not to mention everywhere else I’d been) where there’s just one station per stop and all had ample signage. Anyway…

The Brandenburg Tor station comes out right in front of Brandenburg Gate, and it was only about 1.4km from my hotel, so I could easily walk back. As I mentioned before, it was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, so there were tonnes of celebrations going on on the other side of Pariser Platz. I assumed that one would need tickets of some sort to get in, so I didn’t join. I kick myself for not doing it now because I should have went to see what was going on. It’s not everyday that you’re in Berlin for such a historic event.

Brandenburg Gate

Since I wasn’t about to go looking for anything to eat, I decided to get a cup of coffee from the Starbucks at Pariser Platz. €4.70 (basically, an arm and a leg) got me a tall cafe mocha. My Starbucks cafe mochaI didn’t want to waste my time by having their cappuccino again. Their cafe mocha however…that was a different story. It was probably the best I’ve ever had. It was the perfect temperature too. They also spelled my name in a way I’ve never seen it spelled before, and trust me, my name has been spelled in many different ways.Behind Brandenburg Gate

It was dusk at this point, my favourite time of day, and I wanted to stick around the area more. I walked towards Brandenburg Gate to somehow get a glimpse of what was going on behind all the barriers, and little did I realise that the Reichstag lay just around the corner. It really was by chance that I stumbled upon it, as I had not checked the map to see exactly where it was.

There were queues of people outside it, and dozens inside the dome at the top. I enquired about tickets, but was told that I had to have booked in advance and that I could try getting tickets from the offices across the road, but the queues would take hours. It’s such a pity I didn’t look that up when I was planning my trip. I instead did the stupidest thing of assuming I could buy tickets at the door. Tip: Never assume!

Reichstag

I was quite exhausted by then; I had walked nearly 13km that day according to my S Health app. It still wasn’t close to the 18km I had walked in Prague a few days before, but it was a lot. I still wasn’t tired enough to use the train back to my hotel though. Walking isn’t something you get to do much at all in Johannesburg, so I wanted to use that opportunity to the fullest.

I did so by taking a different route back to the hotel, one that passed the Jewish memorial. I didn’t walk through it because it had started to drizzle and I figured I’d be back if I succeeded in booking a Third Reich tour.

Jewish memorial

There were quite a few people hanging out in and around it, something I didn’t expect. I thought it to be a bit disrespectful for people to be sitting on some of the blocks, but it appeared to be acceptable.

I just knew the general direction in which to walk so I kept on going until I reached familiar territory – the Mall of Berlin. It was early, but dark. I was starving because I had walked off whatever coffee and food I had consumed that day, but wasn’t sure where to get something.

I went back to my hotel and eventually decided to take a walk around Potsdamer Platz and the other side of the Mall of Berlin which seemed to have some cool lighting around. After walking around for at least an hour, I gave up looking for something to eat. I didn’t want a big meal so I wasn’t about to go sit in a restaurant. It ended up being one of those days where lunch had to suffice!

I went to bed watching more news of what was going on at Brandenburg Gate, as well as some British news – I had actually missed hearing English. I didn’t have anything planned for the following day; I was free to wander. Not that I was complaining.

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Bohemia Part 4: Letna Park and a Vltava sunset cruise, Prague

On my last free day in Prague, the one thing I had left to do was visit Letna Park. From what my tour guide Derek had said the previous day, the view from there was number 1 on his list of Top 5 Views. Upon observing it’s position in relation to the city, I figured I could also get the view of the city that I was looking for – one where I could see all the bridges along the river, better than what I had seen the night before from the Vyšehrad Fort.

That morning, I wanted to take a different, longer route towards Prague Castle. I had walked over Charles Bridge plenty of times from the side of the river that my hotel was on, so this time I wanted to cross over the Vltava via the bridge right outside my hotel, adjacent to the Dancing House. I had already made plans to meet up with my new friend Tyrone later that afternoon at Letna Park, but I had several hours to get myself there. Judging from where I stood outside the Dancing House, I figured it would take me that long to walk there anyway.

Outside the Dancing House

Clearly, it was another perfect day. Then again, of course it was – the universe knew I bought a scarf just 2 nights before so it didn’t want to make me wear it again. Not that I’m complaining.

Vltava River

Bridges along the Vltava

The other side of the Vltava

While strolling along the riverside, the first destination  I had in mind was the tram stop I had taken the previous day. This time, however, I was going to take it passed where the Castle Tour had started and get off at Belvedere Gardens. I passed some interesting things on the way, including another sculpture by the quirky local artist, David Černý, known as the Tower Babies. David Černý is the same artist who sculpted the rather odd looking naked woman you can crawl into.

David Černý's Tower Babies

There were some other things you don’t see everyday, like a row of plastic yellow penguins with Charles Bridge in the background.

Yellow penguins?

There are just too many beautiful things in Prague, so it would be a shame to not share as many photos as I possibly can.

It took a little over an hour to get to the Malostranská stop after leaving my hotel. Again, it was Tram 22 to the top of the hill. Since I had the passes from the American couple I had met the previous day at the monastery, I didn’t have to worry about getting tickets. I took both with me so that I could give Tyrone the other once I met up with him at the park.

I took the tram up to Královský letohrádek, the stop right outside the Belvedere Gardens, which are basically the palace’s Royal Gardens. Even though I had been keen to walk rather than take the tram up, there are times when you need to save time. There was no way I would make it on time to meet Tyrone if I had walked up, because judging from the same tram ride I had done the previous day, it was quite a long climb.

When I stepped off the tram, I felt as though I had travelled to a place out of a classic book I read as a child, or a Van Gogh painting. Prague, what have you done to me?

Královský letohrádek

I didn’t know what to expect at the Belvedere Garden, just the direction in which I had to go – generally, left, since right was back to Prague Castle. I knew that there was no way I’d have time to walk all the way to the Castle, and then back again to the beer garden I so much wanted to visit. At least, not in time to meet Tyrone wherever I was going to meet him. I was literally just going with my gut on that.

I didn’t spend too much time in Belvedere Garden itself, since it’s rather small, so I took a leisurely stroll towards the city and ended up being pleasantly surprised as St Vitus Cathedral rose up over the trees.

St Vitus Cathedral from Belvedere Gardens

Just behind me stood a gate to Letna Park. At least, I thought it was. I wasn’t sure how far I had to go, just that I had at least another 1.5 hours to find Tyrone. The moment I walked through that gate, I was surrounded with crazily green trees. It felt more like spring as opposed to what it really was – autumn. I eventually used my phone’s GPS to get a sense of the distance from my beer garden destination, and as I walked, I noticed that the city became visible through some of the trees (and bushes). I walked closer and moved some branches aside as I stepped onto a bank overlooking the city. There it was – the view I had come to see.

City View

There was no way, though, that I had to fight my way through dry shrubbery to see this, or that this was the best version of the view I had come to see. Letna Park was too big to let that happen. Once I stopped smiling, I found a less threatening way out (one with less shrubbery), and hurried out before anyone could see me and wonder what I was doing in a bush. I found 2 benches only 10 minutes away, and I can honestly say that it was one of the best views I’ve had. It was in line with the street visible on the bottom left of the above photo. I sat there for a good 20 minutes or so, in the company of some European travellers until I couldn’t deal with the heat and glare of the midday sun on my face any more. How did I know they were European? They interrupted the song I was listening to on my iPod to ask if they could sit on the bench next to me, and their accent sounded European. That’s literally the only way I could tell, since I carried on listening to my music once they sat down.

I didn’t realise that I would have to cross over a bridge to actually get to Letna Park. There were plenty signs, including ones for where the bicycle trails were. There were actually a number of winding routes one could take, so I just went for the one that appeared to go to the right. My plan was to actually stop at the Hanavský Pavilion, as that was a a high point from which I could get the view I wanted.

I found a map of the park which highlighted all the main points, so I took a moment to try to read it. There was a woman in front it who was not only making it physically impossible for anyone else to have a decent look, but who was also arguing with the other lady she was with while stabbing the glass with her finger. Clearly they were disagreeing on where they were meant to be going. I decided to rather continue using the old fashioned way to find my way around i.e. by reading the signs.

Hanavský Pavilion turned out to be a restaurant. I was kind of hoping that Tyrone would show himself somewhere around here, since it was a major landmark, but he didn’t. I figured I’d risk having a look at the menu anyway, in case we decided to come back here to eat, even though I knew the prices would be sky high due to its location and popularity with the tourists. Once I had a look at the menu, I realised I was wrong. The prices weren’t sky high, they were from outer space. I promptly closed the menu and scurried away before a waiter could approach me.

I walked round the corner to get to the side of the pavilion and was rewarded. Oh, my precious…

Prague from Hanavský pavilion

Prague panorama from Hanavský pavilion

After taking at least a dozen photos, I made my way towards the Metronome. On my way there, I passed a Chinese bridal couple who were having their photo shoot done. It was not the first couple I had seen having a bridal photo shoot in Prague. The first one was outside the Rudolfinum a couple days before.Bridal shoot

They say that it actually represents the city’s rhythm, since it is actually a functioning metronome. Once upon a time, it was a Stalin monument, but it was destroyed a few years after his death. The metronome was built as tall as the Stalin monument was – a staggering 23m. I felt rather small looking up at it from where I was standing. Prague Metronome

There was some graffiti on the wall below the metronome that caught my particular attention. When we picture graffiti, most of us tend to think of bright colours, comic-style script, and bold outlines. Most times it ruins the structure on which it is done, but the graffiti that I saw here was quite the opposite. It was done in black only, and it was actually the portrait of a girl. There was something timeless about it; I hope it never gets removed.The girl in the park

The Metronome was not at all far away from the beer garden. As I approached it, I saw a familiar face. It was Tyrone! Boy, was I happy to see him. It’s funny how we actually hadn’t planned where to meet at all, and despite the size of Letna and the odds of me taking some other pathway, we still managed to find each other on time.

Tyrone had only just arrived so we did a quick survey of the area and found that there was actually a rather fancy looking restaurant literally right next to the beer garden. I didn’t mind what kind of beer I had, as long as it was there.Venison with dumplings and honey sauce

It turned out to be hunting season, meaning the restaurant had very interesting items on the menu such as venison (which is not something I was used to seeing on a menu back in South Africa). Everything sounded fantastic, and it was actually reasonably priced considering what they offered and their location. But seeing as the restaurant at Hanavský Pavilion was so full, I figured most people don’t realise that there’s more to the beer garden than just the beer. Clearly, you pay for the view that Hanavský Pavilion offers.

Tyrone and I spent a good hour or so enjoying our lunch while chatting about where we were from, our jobs, and how much we love Prague and the excellent weather. Prague’s perfect weather for 2 days in a row was something I wish would never end.

With Tyrone

There is one thing I cannot leave out. Now, I am not one of those people who take photos of their food so that they can upload them to Instagram, but if it is something that is presented in a spectacular way then I will take a photo to show my friends. In the case of my dessert (since we thought we’d spoil ourselves on our last day in Prague), I am so glad I took a picture of that too, because it was without a doubt the best damn strawberry cheesecake I have ever had in my life. I am a huge cheesecake fan and this one was the Queen of all cheesecakes. They should build a shrine around it for other cheesecakes to worship.

The best strawberry cheesecake in the World

For the curious ones, below is a picture of the actual beer garden:

Letna Park's beer garden

After we freshened up, we went to the end of the beer garden to have a look at the views. Tyrone still hadn’t seen the castle, so I gave him directions on how to get there from where we were. He also told me where to catch the tram back down, but agreed to walk me there since it sounded confusing. We then parted ways, agreeing to meet a little later for one of the cruises along the Vltava.

After he left and I gave him one of the 24 hour passes, I ended up taking the wrong tram and went further east instead of back west. It was a classic case of my gut telling me I had done the wrong thing the second I stepped onto that tram. I actually had no idea where it was going, so after the 3rd or 4th stop, I decided to get off. I walked a little west, then south in order to get to the river, however I knew that I was way too far out of the city to walk back. There’s tram lines everywhere, so I stopped at the first stop I came across and noticed that the tram that was approaching me was labelled Narodni Divadlo (the National Theatre), which I was thrilled about because it was going to exactly where I needed to be. I hopped on, and decided to get off just before Charles Bridge so that I could walk across it again. I didn’t know whether I’d get the chance again, so I took it. I started to feel sad because I didn’t know when I’d ever see Prague again. When it looked this beautiful, who would want to leave?

Tyrone and I met again at around 17:30 in order to scout around for a river cruise. The place I had passed everyday was closed, and we didn’t want to spend so much on a dinner cruise. We then took a walk towards Charles Bridge, and noticed some guys dressed as sailors. We checked the price of their cruises, and it turned out to be more reasonable than the other ones. It also included a beer and an ice cream – 2 things I couldn’t refuse.

We had a few minutes to kill before the cruise started so we decided to get ourselves a bite to eat. There was a hot dog stand round the corner from Charles Bridge which I had walked passed everyday, so Tyrone agreed to try it out with me. It looked so tempting every time I walked passed that I just had to get one before leaving Prague. I didn’t want to regret not doing something as silly as that. I got a chilli one, which had a bit of a kick to it, but it was really nice. I’m a pretty slow eater (my friend’s husband says that his dead grandmother eats faster than I do) and the fact that the hot dog was tongue-burning hot didn’t make my life any easier. I had to try to gobble it down as fast as I could as the entrance to the boat house was through the Charles Bridge Museum, so I couldn’t enter it with food in my hand.

The boat house was like an underground grotto which required us to descend some steep stairs. It was very well lit, and there were a couple wooden boats docked together. There were 2 ladies who gave everyone an ice cream and a glass of beer as we boarded the boat, before we could head off with the driver. It was dusk when we left, and the cruise lasted about an hour. There were times when we stopped so that we could hear a bit of history about the Vltava River and how it had flooded so many times. It was fascinating seeing so many old black and white photos of the city when it was flooded, especially Charles Bridge which was reduced to basically just the piers. This was quite an engineering feat, even to this day, since all other bridges were totally washed away. Charles Bridge was the only one still standing.

There could not have been a more perfect way to spend my last night in Prague. There were times where I wished that there was no one but me on that boat, so I could just listen to the water and swans rather than be interrupted by the engine noise and chatter of the noisy people at the back.

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After the cruise, Tyrone and I thought of taking one last walk into Old Town Square to see what was going on. But before that, we noticed so many people walking passed us with some kind of ice cream dessert. We had no idea what it was, but it looked like it was in some kind of cone that was made out of dough. We simply had to go investigate, so we looked for the source.

We went about 50m down a familiar street that was leading to the Square when we found it: a Chimney shop. It was teaming with people, and there were only about 4 ladies handling everything. They were clearly making a killing as it was as if this was the most popular spot in the city. I honestly don’t know how they made the chimneys fast enough. We simply had to give it a try, especially since I have such a weak spot for ice cream.

We joined the queue and quickly found that there were several to choose from, all at pretty reasonable prices. Some had strawberries, while one even had ham. I wanted a dessert though, not a savoury breakfast, so I decided to go for the chimney blizzard which was just the cone with ice cream. We had to pay for our orders before they were made.

What did it taste like? Heaven. The cone itself had the taste and consistency very similar to a Cinnabon, and even though I thought it would just be filled with ice cream, there were fresh strawberries and chocolate sauce at the bottom. I didn’t expect that kind of surprise. It was very filling too, and I actually struggled to finish it as I got to the end. If I had space, I would have gotten another.

With our Chimney Blizzards

After that, it was time to say goodnight to Prague by enjoying the live music in Old Town Square. There was a one man band who had some crazy speakers that allowed his music to beam across the entire Square and beyond. It started to get a little chilly, but nothing I wasn’t used to. I loved how clean the air smelled even though I was right in the middle of a city. There were people dancing around and hundreds gathered round the man to appreciate the good performance he was giving us.

Tyrone and I eventually parted ways, and promised to stay in touch. The next day I would be leaving for my last stop, Berlin, whereas he still had another fortnight or so of travelling left to do. I must admit, I was a little jealous. I made my way back to the riverside and decided for once to catch a tram from just across the Rudolfinum back to my hotel. At least, for as close as it would take me.
Prague Trams

I was very sad to have to leave Prague the following morning, but I knew I’d be back. It was just too beautiful for me to never see it again.

Bohemia Part 3: Prague Castle and the Strahov Monastery

There are very few times in my life of which I can remember experiencing absolutely perfect weather; 1 October 2015, the day I went to Prague Castle, was one of them.

The previous day, my Free Walking Tour guide, Derek, convinced me to take the Prague Castle tour. When he said that visiting the castle by ourselves would be a waste of time unless we didn’t care much about its history, I knew he was right. After our free walking tour, my new found friend Tyrone and I went straight to the Discover Prague tour offices, where we had met earlier that morning, and booked our tickets at the counter at the cost of a mere 300 Crowns. I thought it was well worth it.

Like the free tour, the Castle tour started at 11am, which meant that I could again wake up at a reasonable hour and enjoy my breakfast. The moment I stepped outside to go to the other boat, I knew that the weather was going to be fantastic. I really could have gotten used to the view from my breakfast table. While I enjoyed some slices of cheese, I stared at the view for as long as I possibly could. More than once, the thought of how lucky I was crossed my mind, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself and shake my head in both awe and disbelief. This was the Prague I had come to see.

The view from Botel Matylda

After breakfast, I still had some time, so I popped back to reception to drop my humongous brass key off before relaxing for a few minutes at the coffee table with my map. I still had the entire afternoon and evening to explore, and I had marked off several places on my Google Maps which I just had to see. I didn’t want to use my phone unnecessarily and honestly, using a traditional map really cannot be beaten. I marked off what I wanted to and headed out.

Day planning

The meeting point was the same as the previous day, and as luck would have it, Derek was my guide again. He kept counting the number of people who had arrived, and I told him that Tyrone was the one that was missing. We waited a while but Tyrone never arrived. I suspected he was hammered after the previous night’s pub crawl, so I was a little bummed that he was missing the Castle Tour. It would have been nice to have company to take my photos again so I could avoid that damn selfie stick that my friend had given me for this trip.

We strolled over the cobblestone roads towards the Vltava, but didn’t go across Charles Bridge like I expected. We instead went to the one next to it, Mánesův Most, from where we could see Charles Bridge. It was at that point that our tour began.

View of Charles Bridge

Derek told us some of the history of Charles Bridge and the Vltava River. What shocked me was the height at which the water reached during the floods, and the number of times that the bridge survived. Built in 1357, it is, after all, the oldest standing bridge in the city. He explained the reason construction started in 1357, at 5:31 am on 9 July, due to the Holy Roman Emperor’s strong belief in numerology. It would form the perfect numerical bridge of 1357-9,7-5:31. He also told us some of the legends as to why the bridge had survived for so long, like how the workers not only drank beer while constructing it, but also included it in the cement, since it was available in abundance.

War Memorial, Prague

From there, we made our way across the bridge over to the War Memorial in Kralov Square, roughly 50m from the Winged Lion Memorial. Derek explained more history about the Czech Republic’s involvement in the war, which made me sad because I could not imagine such a beautiful place being subjected to the things that it was. It really has come a long way in the last 7 decades.

For those who don’t know, the Czech Republic’s coat of arms is depicted by the double-tailed lion. The Winged Lion Memorial was a gift from the British to honour the Czech  airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during the war.

We didn’t have time to actually approach the Winged Lion Memorial, so we headed directly to the tram stop from where we’d catch Tram 22 to the top of the hill. Derek had already given each of us a ticket before the tour started, so as we approached the stop a few metres from the War Memorial, he explained that we’d need to count 5 stops before getting off at the Pohořelec stop. Since we were all English speakers, we couldn’t remember which stop he said, or whether he meant that we must get off at the 5th stop, or after it.

The tram journey was actually longer than I expected – almost 10 minutes. I didn’t realise we’d cover that much ground in between stops, and because our group was rather large, it was a bit of a squash even though we distributed ourselves over 3 cars. Derek was in the car behind me, so I made sure I looked back at every stop to make sure that he wasn’t getting off. The ride required quite a steep ascent, and there was even a hairpin bend – something I hadn’t experienced while in a tram. It might sound silly to mention, but I remember it as if it were yesterday, thanks to the stunning greenery on either side of us as well as how the city began to open up once we rounded the corner. It was as if we were going towards a secret garden because our surroundings just kept getting greener.

Eventually we got to the 5th stop, Pohořelec, where we had to get off. There was an announcement before and after each stop, so by the time we got to Pohořelec, I realised it sounded close enough to the stop Derek said we should get off at. Some of the ladies from my tour who were standing near me were very paranoid that we’d miss the stop, so we all waited a few moments for Derek to disembark before we did too.

The area around the Pohořelec stop made me feel as if I had been teleported to a different city altogether. The buildings looked slightly more modern than in the city centre, and the roads were much wider, not to mention confusing.

We had a short uphill walk before I saw a sign for the Strahov Monastery. I was super excited about that because it was one of the places I had marked on my map, though I wasn’t sure what we’d get to see or how long we’d spend there.

After a quick bathroom break, we gathered under some trees, some 20m away from the Monastery’s library. Derek gave us a chance to sit as he told us a bit about the monastery and how it was founded by King Vladislav II. There is a lot of history associated with the monastery, which comes at no surprise since it was founded way back in 1142. The St Norbert Brewery, which sits within the monastery walls, was founded in the 17th century, and produces beer up to this day.

The brewery was the reason why I wanted so badly to visit the monastery, because the beer that is produced there cannot be attained outside the monastery walls. They do not produce it for commercial use, so it is very exclusive. Derek told us the story behind St Norbert, and explained how, to this day, seasonal beers are produced in his honour and in very limited quantities. I was there in Autumn, and there were signs around the vicinity advertising the seasonal beer: the Antidepressent Autumn Dark Lager. Since we were clearly not going to stop for a drink, I knew I had to find my way back after the tour.

Towards the exit of the monastery lay a vantage point from which we could get great views of the city. Derek rated it number 3 of the top 5 views of the city, and it was clear why.

View from the Strahov Monastery

From there, it was time to go to the Castle. We went back the way we had come in, passed Pohořelec and continued further down the road. Derek let us stop for about 30 minutes to get a bite to eat from a little cafe, and take another bathroom break. I got myself a salami roll and some iced tea before finding a spot to sit outside.Prague Ministry of Foreign Affairs

When we were done, we went towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was once controlled by the Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich. It was easy to visualise the Nazi flags hanging down the front of the building, as they once did.

Our first glimpse of the Castle was from a massive open area. Do not expect it to look like a castle, because it definitely does not look like one. The only thing castle-like about it is its elaborate entrance archway and the guards standing in front of it. It is easily comparable to the Royal Palace in Monaco, which doesn’t seem to have any fences at all.

Prague Castle entrance

The most popular attraction, due to its visual appeal, is without a doubt the St Vitus Cathedral, and it was the first thing to greet us once we passed through the palace gates. I’ve seen several cathedrals in my life, but this one blew me away.

After spending a few minutes inside, we met up on a small staircase outside before stopping at what is now a children’s toy museum. There is some history attached to that too, of course, but I think the thing people will remember the most is the bronze statue of the 12 year old boy outside the entrance to the museum. I must say one thing – there’s a reason why a certain part of his anatomy is shiney, so people, stop being ridiculous and thinking that rubbing that part is going to bring you good luck; that is a myth, just like that spot on Charles Bridge. It is unacceptable to touch that part of a child anyway, so don’t think it’s any different with a statue.

Once we got to the back entrance, we got to what Derek termed the second best view of the city. As if Prague couldn’t get any prettier…

View from Prague Castle

That was the end of our tour, so I took the opportunity to ask Derek about the cab services and which he would recommend, not wanting to pay another 600 Crowns to get back to the station the day after next. He recommended the AAA taxis, saying that they were the most reliable, not to mention reasonable. There was one other that he mentioned but I couldn’t remember the name.Strahov Monastery

After taking more photos, my next move was a no brainer – I had to go back to the monastery to try out their beer. The only problem was that I would have to retrace my footsteps through the whole castle.Side entrance to Strahov Monastery

That trip seemed to take forever, and once I got back to the the Pohořelec stop, I totally lost my bearings. I didn’t go back up the ramp we had gone up earlier, but walked around it instead, following the signs. I had a gut feeling that I had taken the wrong way, but according to my phone’s GPS, I was walking along the boundaries of the monastery. It was the long way round and all I could do was continue walking until I got to an entrance.

I was pretty hot and bothered trying to find an entrance, and it was an uphill climb too, however I couldn’t complain about the quiet and scenic road that I was walking on.

Antidepressant Autumn Dark Lager ingredients

After accidentally walking into a tennis club, I again had to retrace my steps to the road, but after that it was not long before I found the ‘proper’ entrance. I had already been walking for at least an hour, but still had to go through some gardens before getting to the restaurant I had seen earlier while on tour. Eventually, after 1.5 hours, I was able to sit down and order the beer I had travelled so far to taste. I met a friendly middle-aged American couple there, who sat at the next table. We smiled at each other when their food order came because they looked so excited when the waiter put it on their table. They asked me to take a photo of them, then they exchanged the favour. They were also sweet enough to give me both of their unused 24 hour passes, which would cover all my transport.

Tasting the Antidepressant Autumn Dark Lager

I didn’t have anything to eat, since I was still full from lunch, but I took my time to enjoy the beer. It was definitely worth the trek. I actually should have tried another one, but since I had to get myself back to the hotel, I opted out.

I walked back to the Pohořelec stop and waited for Tram 22 to come, in the opposite direction of course. While I was waiting, I had a look at the Tram map and noticed that it stopped at Narodi Divadlo (the National Theatre), which was not far from my hotel. Bonus!

Outside Narodni Divadlo

Almost a whole day had gone by, and the weather remained perfect. I was absolutely and irrevocably in love with Prague by now, so much so that I started walking slower and taking deeper breaths just so I could absorb as much of it as I possibly could. I literally enjoyed every breath of being there – there was beauty in everything.

Outside Narodni Divadlo

Bridge outside Narodni Divadlo

Alongside the Vltava

One thing I didn’t mention was the fact that my hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Dancing House, which I later found out is just an office building.

Botel Matylda and the Dancing House

After relaxing and taking a few minutes to freshen up, I took a walk to the Vyšehrad Fort, roughly 25 minutes away, in the direction opposite to Prague Castle which I hadn’t ventured to before. I didn’t realise there would be something like 200 steps to get to the top, but I knew that the view would make it worthwhile. It was sunset after all.

View from Vyšehrad fort

I walked around the fort a little and sat on one of the walls overlooking the city. The church bells went off at 7pm and because I was practically next to it, it was a beautifully thunderous sound. I sat there for at least another 30 minutes or so, admiring the view, before heading back down the way I came.

For a change, I walked along the riverbank, below road level, to get back to my hotel. There was a street performer dazzling the crowds by dancing while hanging from the bridge by a strong piece of cloth. It reminded me of the dance Isha Sharvani did in the movie Kisna, which requires an immense amount of strength.

I didn’t eat proper food when I got back to my hotel, as I was just too exhausted to go around looking for something. The closest place I knew of was near Charles Bridge, but I was in no state to walk back all that way again. I ate a mini pack of Oreos instead, since I still had some from Salzburg, and that seemed to do the trick.

I went to bed wondering how I had actually managed to make this holiday happen. Every day was better than the last, and to think there was still more to come?

 

Austria Part 1: Salzburg

Salzburg was a place I grew up wanting to visit for several reasons, and after seeing Innsbruck in 2012, I was even more keen to see another Austrian city.

Like the other cities I went to on this trip, I spent 4 nights in Salzburg, which was actually too long. I never cared to look at the population or size of Salzburg before visiting, so it was only when I got there did I realise that it’s more of a town than a city, with a population of barely 150 000. Its so small, in fact, that even 2 days is enough to see everything you need to see.

Getting there

I had pre-booked my train tickets before leaving South Africa so I’d have one less thing to worry about, and also so that I’d be able to time myself better. I had done some research on different train lines and decided to go with DB Bahn, since I was travelling from Munich. I wanted to get a direct train because I didn’t want the hassle of changing trains when I had a large bag to lug around.

MunichSalzburgTicket The ticket I got indicated that the route would be direct, however, only at my second to last stop did I find that it was not the case. Because of the refugee crisis, trains were being diverted to lesser known towns in order to control where the refugees would enter from, since their main means of entering was via train.

The train was marked as being en route to Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, but it was actually going to a small town roughly 11km out of Salzburg called Freilassing, and is actually the border town of Austria. While on the train, there was an announcement that all passengers had to exit the train at Freilassing as service would be terminated there. I was a little nervous about it, being alone and all, but I knew that there easily were about 100 other tourists that were definitely going to Salzburg. It only made sense that tourists were going to Salzburg and not Freilassing, so I made sure that I stayed close to them when disembarking and then standing in a queue outside.

All the passengers that stood around me spoke in a language that I could not understand – either Mandarin or Spanish, so I tried to listen as carefully as I possibly could for any signs of where the line we were standing in would lead us. Even German would have sufficed, but I could not hear a single person speak it, so I decided to trust my gut and continue to wait in the line.

About 15 minutes later, to my relief, 3 buses marked Salzburg Hbf arrived. Until I got on that bus, I had no idea that I was just in Freilassing (because all I got from the announcement on the train was that I had to get off at the next stop, not what the next stop was) since I couldn’t get any GPS signal on my phone. I had no idea how long the journey would be to Salzburg, and was not impressed that I had to stand the whole way. I checked Google Maps while on the bus in order to somehow determine where I was and how far Salzburg was, and judging by the time I had been on the bus at that point, Freilassing was the only place that made sense for me to have been at a few minutes before.

Due to the construction on so many of the roads, as well as the patches of refugee camps we had to drive through, the bus ride was about 30 minutes long. It took us directly to Salzburg Hbf, so I arrived there just after 2pm, which was great because that was about the check-in time of my hotel.

I stayed at Hotel Krone, which was in an extremely convenient and popular location.

The Locals

I had never really interacted with Austrians before, and I had a rather good first impression. I took a little time to settle in to my hotel before setting off for an afternoon walk into town. I was absolutely starving, so decided to head into the Altstad (Old Town) in the hope of finding something that would keep me going for the rest of the day.

It was super easy to get from my hotel to the old town, since it was literally down the road I was staying on, and across the river. Once I got to the foot of the bridge, I got my first view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the most iconic building of the city. There were so many people on the bridge, that the one time I was able to almost fully extend my arm to try to take a photo of myself, I had to withdraw it immediately as someone was about to crash into me.

When I was about to try again, a local girl suddenly showed up in front of me and immediately started yacking in German. I could barely understand a word coming out of her mouth, but she looked so friendly that I couldn’t help but smile at her and try to make sense of what she was saying. I got the gist of it though – she was basically saying that it is difficult taking a picture of yourself and that I should let her take it for me. When I said “oh, ok!”, she realised that I was talking in English, which immediately prompted her to switch to it too. She took my phone, told me to smile as she took the picture, and happily said “Its my pleasure!” when I thanked her, then disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared. I don’t know where she came from, but that was such a wonderful first impression of Austrians. Thank you, whoever you were!

Salzburg

The Food

Austrian food is probably the most bland that I’ve ever eaten, although they do have some good things here and there. Schaumrolle is one of them. Upon entering the old town market, I saw a long queue of people at one particular vendor. Curiosity got the better of me and I know better than to mistrust the locals. It was the first thing I had eaten that day and although it wasn’t a proper meal, it certainly made me happy. It was a puff pastry roll filled with warm fresh cream. It was actually to die for. I highly recommend it!Shaumrollen

Mirabellplatz

I had a favourite place in every city I went to. In Salzburg, Mirabell Palace was it. A mere 10 minute walk from my hotel sat the palace where some of The Sound of Music was shot. The gardens are perfectly manicured, and one of the best things about it is that there is free WiFi. I was able to make several Skype phone calls from the gardens, and spent a lot of time just relaxing there and absorbing the beauty, with the Hohensalzburg Fortress as a backdrop.MIrabell Palace gardens

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Being the most prominent structure in the city, Hohensalzburg Fortress is definitely worth a visit. The climb to the top is quite steep, but should you choose to take the funicular, it is easy to find as it is clearly marked on most maps. Since I was already exhausted from the previous week of walking and cycling far more than I had done in years, naturally I chose the easy way up. The ticket price included the entrance fee into the castle.

My main reason for wanting to go to the castle/fortress was for the views. And boy, did it exceed my expectations. I got to the top just before midday, and was able to witness the midday church bells going off all around the city. It was music for the soul, and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.

There is also free WiFi in the fortress grounds, and as long as you don’t abuse it (as in make long Skype calls), it should last your entire visit. I spent a good 3 hours at the castle, at least. After wandering around and seeing as much as I could, I saw that there was also an audio tour that I could do with my entrance pass, which ended at the fortress’ watch tower. I simply had to join the tour as not only would it give me a nice history lesson, but 360 degree views of the city, too. Luckily for me, the sun came out for a quick 5 minutes the moment I stepped out up onto the watch tower.

View from Hohensalzburg's watch tower

After the audio tour, since I hadn’t had lunch, I went down to the castle’s restaurant. However, since it is a tourist magnet, naturally the prices were sky high, so I decided not to get something to eat. I opted for a draught of the local beer instead – Stiegl. German beer had set a new standard for me, so I was pleased with Austria’s contribution. The stop also allowed me to take an even more incredible photo of the surroundings since the weather had returned to its dull state, making everything appear dramatic again.

Fräulein Maria's Alps

Salzburg Cathedral

If you enjoy the baroque style of architecture, the Salzburg Cathedral is a must. The cathedral is very impressive inside, so take a little time to sit and admire the detail in the architecture. You can also go down into the crypt (an opportunity I couldn’t miss, since you can’t go into the crypt in St Peter’s Church at the Vatican), where you are also allowed to take photos.The ceiling of Salzburg's Cathedtal

Mozart’s birthplace

Salzburg is known for 2 major things: The Sound of Music, and Mozart. No trip to Salzburg is complete without visiting Mozart’s birthplace. You can get an audio tour of his entire house, which I found extremely informative. I had no idea that he had a sister, Nannerl, who was a musical genius before he overshadowed her, nor had I any idea of the fact that he was barely 1.5m tall. I spent about an hour in the house which I think was worth it. There are guards walking around all the time, so if you want to take a photo, you need to be extremely sneaky about it. I felt as though I were using my Assassin’s Creed timing skills on one of the guards when trying to take a photo of the living room which housed Mozart’s piano and violin. I have since deleted the photo as it was so unclear; it wasn’t really worth keeping.

Some may wonder why I visited Salzburg and not Vienna. The answer is simple: The Sound of Music. I would be a shameful fan if I included my story about that in this post (as if this post needed to be any longer). Till then, so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight.

 

Looking back at 2014

Up until the end of May, 2014 was quite a blur for me. I’m not quite sure how time progressed as fast as it did in those 5 months; all I know is that it was only after that did I get my life back.

Burns Evening with my friend Sharon

Burns Evening with my friend Sharon

I was going to speak on nearly everything that happened this year, but that could cost me hours of writing time. So, after writing about 5 paragraphs, I decided to scrap the lot and redo the entire thing cos at the end of the day, no one really wants to read a saga (unless you really like me a lot, in which case, you’d know the details anyway).

Since the highs far outweigh the lows, I think its best to start with the bad and end with the good!

Things that belong in Isengard (because Mordor is a little extreme):

  • Family. So bad that I’ve cut ties with some of them!
  • The project that started in Mid-February and ended in the first week of June. I experienced the highest amount of stress and worked the most overtime I’ve ever had to do. This project, however, was also one of the year’s highlights.
  • A close friend leaving the company.

Things lit up by the Phial of Galadriel:

  • Burns Evening. Pure Scottish delight – bagpipes included.
  • The project mentioned above. It gave me new friends and an immense amount of exposure and recognition.
The Iron Throne

The Iron Throne

  • My friend Anine got back from maternity leave. She was lucky enough to have missed all the chaos of the mad project.
  • Meeting Brooke Saward, founder and author of World of Wanderlust. She is my biggest travel inspiration and I am proud to call her my friend.
  • Rowan, a.k.a my brother-from-another-mother doing his yearly pilgrimage to visit me
  • Pre-birthday drinks with my good friends from work
  • Sitting on the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones
  • Road trip to the Drakensburg to celebrate my 30th birthday
  • An evening at Montecasino for about 7 hours which consisted of playing games, eating, drinking, and just having fun till 2am. It was probably the most fun I’ve had all year.
  • Bonding with friends at the company year end function.
  • Meeting up with Cristina, my American friend who I hadn’t seen for over a year, for catch-up drinks
  • Being introduced to my favourite song by someone who barely knew me at the time – Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi.

 

  • The births of my high school friends’ babies, both in August – my birthday month!
  • My high school friend Natasha’s wedding.

I think its safe to say that 2014 was, without a doubt, a great year. Of course a great year cannot go by without equally great photos to prove it. Here’s some of my favourites:

Year end function with Anine

Year end function with Anine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gallivanting with Rowan

Gallivanting with Rowan

 

Taking a selfie with my favourite 2 year old, Katherine

Taking a selfie with my favourite 2 year old, Katherine

 

Attending Natasha's pre-wedding celebrations

Attending Natasha’s pre-wedding celebrations

Lesson learned this year: throw out the bad and focus on the good. The negative isn’t worth thinking about. If you can count the good on only one hand, there’s still more to come. Things can only get better!

 

10 Photos to Make You Want to Stay in a South African bush

A few months ago my friend and I booked a weekend away to the Mongena Game Lodge, about an hour out of Pretoria. Having grown up in South Africa, neither of us have actually explored it, and often we miss what’s right under our very noses.

 

Here are some of my favourite photos from the trip:

Breakfast outside, if you want

Breakfast outside, if you want

 

The "accidental" photo bomb

The “accidental” photo bomb

 

What are you looking at?

Curious deer that come almost within touching distance

 

Birds you can share the peace and quiet with

 

The shy giraffe

Baby giraffes that think you can’t see them if they hide their bodies behind trees

 

There was an endless fear that this guy would fall off his seat

The tracker that never seems to fall off his seat

 

The Boat House

The Boat House

 

Hiding elephants

Elephants that care only about what they’re eating

 

Reflections from the sky that make you forget the World

Reflections from the sky that make you forget the World

 

Early morning visitors that show up by your window before you've really woken up

Early morning visitors that show up by your window before you’ve really woken up

 

2013: What a year

Its been a while since I blogged, I know. Thing is, its difficult spending 8 hours on each post I did about my Contiki tour last year; no I am not finished with that! I actually have about 6 days to write about (3 Contiki + 4 in London which I still don’t have all the photos for). But I’ll get to that as soon as I find enough time.

So, back to the point of this post. What has happened this year? Well, there were at least 2 lists that I remember creating this year: my 2013 To-Do List as well as the Places (I want) to Visit and Why list. I set out to do as many of the items on those lists that I possibly could, but travelling was certainly not one of them.

I bought my first house at the end of 2012 and by March this year I had moved in. There are a lot of things I still need to do like decorating etc., but its a long process and I have many things still left to do. The house was quite a set back for me but I managed to not go broke in the coming months. The one thing that was always on my mind though was the pile of things I wanted to do this year. I didn’t know in what order I’d do them but I looked for every opportunity to be able to cross off something from that list.

The year is practically at and end now, so here’s some stuff that I can tick off:

1. I redid some of my kitchen at home. It wasn’t practical for me to strip the whole thing down and redo it from scratch, so I had the counter tops replaced and an extra section added in.

2. I met up with 2 people that I hadn’t seen for 10 years. Both were high school friends – one of which I hadn’t seen for 11 years.

3. Gyming 3 times a week which was an on and off thing, but I’m proud to say that it happened more often than not.

4. I planned on attending a rugby match but that didn’t happen. I did attend a cricket match in its place though.

5. I saw several sunrises this year.

There were several things that I didn’t get to do such as the below:

  • Visit Cape Town
  • Watch a play
  • Feed a dolphin
  • Drive an Aston Martin
  • Finish at least 7 books
  • Do charity work
  • Pet a tiger
  • Fly in a helicopter
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Eat sugarcane
  • Do a canopy tour

I am not disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to do these things. Why? Because I went to Switzerland. It was the quickest trip decision I have ever made all thanks to my relative, Dhamari, who lives just outside of Geneva in the town of Nyon. Within barely 5 minutes of her offering for me to stay at her place, I made up my mind to go. I’d never make such a quick decision for anywhere else. Its the only place I’d drop everything for and that’s exactly what I did.

It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t get to do the other things that I set out to do this year because

1. I crossed out 2 places from my bucket list – Zurich and the CERN headquarters in Geneva.

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2. I went from never seeing snow in my life to going to the top of Europe: Mont Blanc.

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3. I saw my first glacier, Mer de Glace, a short mountain train trip away from Chamonix, France.

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4. I met my German penpal Melanie for the first time after we first started writing to each other in 1998. 15 years ago!

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5. I went to Heidelberg, the biggest town I’d ever been to in Germany.

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So, the moral of the story is that you should set goals that you know you can achieve comfortably if you put the effort in to it, and who knows, you might surprise yourself by doing something even bigger and better. I did not expect to cross off of any bucket list items this year, let alone two, but I did.

One thing I now know for sure is that dreams do come true. Dream them, and they’ll happen when they’re supposed to.