LONDON

It was about five years ago now that I began my love affair with London. On that first visit, I was a mere tourist taking in the sights. I was enchanted by the history, besotted with the views of Tower Bridge across the Thames, and couldn’t get enough of those big red buses. On university exchange I became less of a tourist and more of a temporary resident; exploring the markets and discovering historical literary haunts amongst cobblestoned streets. 

In the three years since I became a *sort of* Londoner, I have felt a longing for the place — an ache which became stronger and stronger as the months went by, and which, it seemed, could be cured only by going back. So that’s just what I decided to do.

I was in a state of euphoria arriving in London. Everything was familiar; it was like coming home. It’s as though all I wanted in the world was to hear ‘mind the gap’ come over the announcement system on the tube. To hear it made me disproportionately happy.

Although I had just come off an overnight flight from the US, I wasn’t going to waste any time in my favourite city in the world. I arrived at my Hampstead home for the next week — cousin Bev and Roger’s place — and not long afterwards Bev and I set off into central London. We did my favourite touristy thing first off: exited the tube at Westminster station. It’s just fabulous, looking up and seeing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament right there in front of you. Then we walked along the Thames for a bit, soaking up the London sunshine.

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A view across the Thames of St Paul’s Cathedral.

A significant aspect of the excitement for this visit to London was having a new relative to meet — the youngest addition to our family, Elsie. We met Elsie and her mum Charlie for a picnic lunch in Green Park. What a cutie Elsie is! She’s almost 1, and into everything. She can walk holding onto things, and is very animated. We had fun, and the London weather was particularly co-operative. In fact, it was for almost the entire week!

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Enjoying a picnic with Bev, Charlie and Elsie.

We walked back to Jason and Charlie’s place in South London where we hung out for a bit, and Charlie cooked us a lovely dinner. By that point I could barely keep my eyes open, but it was lots of fun to catch up.

The following day, after a good sleep, I was far more bright-eyed. I started the day taking my old bus route to King’s College for a bit of nostalgia. The route goes down Oxford street, and Regent street, and past Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square, finishing just off the Strand. Sipping a coffee and looking out the window on the top deck, I was in my element.

After stopping past Kings, which was just the same, and wandering on the Strand a little bit, I met cousin Jason for lunch in South Kensington during his lunch break. Bev joined us too, before she and I headed off to the Covent Garden area. The pavilion, and the streets surrounding it, are one of my favourite places to walk around in London. There are lovely shops, cafes and so forth.

Later than afternoon, I popped into the National Gallery, because I had some spare time before meeting up with my cousin Gavin. That’s the great thing about London museums: because they’re free, there’s no reason you can’t just spend a half hour there. Gavin and I met at Piccadilly Circus, and went to have dinner in Chinatown. Later on, we walked around the fabulously atmospheric Soho, and I had the most delicious dark chocolate sorbet concoction EVER. It was great to see Gavin, who is living in London for his music studies.

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Gavin was keen to get a guernsey in my blog 🙂

The next day, being a Friday, Bev, Roger and I headed for Borough market — my favourite market in London. It’s full of delicious, fresh food; from regular groceries to gourmet treats of varying kinds. And, there are often tasters. With my friends in London, we spent many a Saturday morning wandering around and virtually having a meal just from samples. I was pleased to discover the mushroom pate stall was still there. This stuff is so delicious you have no idea.

That afternoon, Bev took me to Kew Gardens. When I lived in London, Bev and I had sort of an unwritten list of things we wanted to do, including museums, gardens, and the like. The list was devised thanks to Bev’s intricate knowledge of everything cultural London has to offer, and we did a pretty good job at getting through it at the time. One place on the list which we never made it to was Kew Gardens. I found it a lovely place, especially because the spring flowers were coming into bloom. In the evening, I went to different relatives for a beautiful Shabbat dinner. 

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A delightful magnolia in bloom at Kew Gardens.

I’ve been to a few places outside of London in my time, and most of them are thanks to Bev and Roger. Hampton Court, Dover Castle, and Oxford, among others. This time they elected to take me to Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, a mansion once inhabited by a prominent and well-to-do British family, now owned by the National Trust. Built in the 1700s, it’s interiors are predictably grand and lavish. Moreover, it’s in an idyllic country setting — and it has a cat! Interestingly, Florence Nightingale used to live there on and off, as her sister was married to one of the men in the family.

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Inside one of the rooms at Claydon House.

On the way there and the way back, we passed through a couple of cute little English country towns. Altogether it was a really nice day. I do always enjoy visiting places like that.

The following day, Bev introduced me to one of the few markets I hadn’t yet discovered in London: the Colombia Road flower market. Every Sunday, the street is closed off and lined with flower stalls. It was exploding with atmosphere, and with people — everyone seeking some of the fresh flowers on offer. There were also lots of cute, unique shops around the place. We spent the rest of the day exploring markets, too. Brick Lane and Spitafields are in the same area.

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A colourful scene at Colombia Road.

That evening, I met up with one of my friends from halls, Rob. It was great to see him again, and reminisce on the good old days, especially now that we’re both grown-ups. We had dinner at a well-known pub near London Bridge, The George. It was the best fish and chips I’d ever had — with mushy peas, of course. After a drink, we walked towards the river to take in my favourite London view; that of the Tower Bridge.

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Tower Bridge, not to be confused with London Bridge (this is one of my pet peeves).

I wasn’t marketed out quite yet, so on Monday I headed to Camden. I do love Camden. There is such a variety of quirky stuff to buy, which of course I did. In the afternoon, I headed for the more conventional shopping on Oxford street and Regent street, covering all my favourite stores I wish we had here.

That evening, I met Bev for dinner at Food for Thought — a wonderful little vegetarian nook in Covent Garden. I couldn’t go to London without seeing a show, so we had tickets for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was lots of fun. I couldn’t decide what was better — Matilda in New York, or Charlie in London! I was a kid in my musical choices this time around, and don’t regret it for a second.

My week in London was drawing to a close, but I think we saved the best until last. We began the day with a walk in Hampstead Heath, one of my very favourite spots in London. In the afternoon, we’d booked tickets to do the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tour. This was basically the best thing ever. It began with a short film which sort of summarises the making of the movie and has the actors welcoming you to the exhibition. The first stop is the Great Hall, which looks remarkably like the Great Hall — unfortunately without the enchanted ceiling.

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In the Great Hall.

Next, we were set free into the main exhibition, which housed all sorts of sets from the movies. There was the Gryffindor boys dormitory, the common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s House, the Burrow, and so much more. It was brilliant to see every bit of it. There were props, costumes, and everything Harry Potter you can possibly imagine.

Dumbledore's office.

Dumbledore’s office!

Next, after we stopped for some Butterbeer, we visited Privet Drive and a magical Diagon Alley. The set of Diagon Alley was perhaps my favourite part, with Olivander’s, Gringotts, and all the rest.

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The set of Diagon Alley.

After various exhibitions in between, the final stop was the Hogwarts Castle. This intricate model is about the size of a large room. It was interesting to see how they’d actually filmed the building of Hogwarts.

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For Harry Potter fans, this is a must if you’re in London. And I think non-Harry Potter fans would even enjoy it.

And so it was my last night in London. We went to have dinner with Jason, Charlie and Elsie. The next morning, I packed, and Bev and I went out for a nice lunch before I had to go to the airport.

London was just as wonderful as when I left it. I look over this post and think, wow, I did a lot — which is interesting because that wasn’t what the trip was about. I didn’t have a long list of things I wanted to do. Sure, I planned to go back to some of my favourite places. But ultimately I just wanted to be there, and I was, and now perhaps I’ll be OK for the next month and then I’ll long for London once more.

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North Carolina

I have deemed it a great shame that North Carolina doesn’t generally make it on to a tourist’s trail through the US. I’m so thrilled that Colleen gave me an opportunity to visit this wonderful state; I really can’t speak highly enough of it! But I guess I’ll give it a go in the coming paragraphs.

We arrived in Durham by bus from Washington DC on a rainy Friday afternoon, being the day before the wedding. We hired a car, and thanks to Sabrina’s navigation skills, we made it to our hotel in Chapel Hill. I suppose I deserve some kudos too, given I had to tackle driving on the right (wrong) side of the road, and torrential rain. 

During our exchange in London, I heard plenty about North Carolina – particularly Chapel Hill. Both Colleen and Isabel went to university there and I believe had lived there beyond that, and Tiernan spent the early years of her life there. Sabrina and I soon discovered why our study abroad friends were so enthusiastic about this little town.

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On Friday night, Colleen and Jonathan organised a get-together for their wedding guests, particularly those who had arrived from out of town. Atop a trendy brewery on Chapel Hill’s main street, it was wonderful to reconnect with our study abroad friends; especially those who I hadn’t seen in the almost three years since exchange. It was also great to meet some of Colleen’s friends and family, who were incredibly welcoming to us throughout the weekend.

We began Saturday with some traditional southern fare – biscuits. For Australian readers, these are not the sweet biscuits we know and I originally expected. I would describe them sort of like savoury scones which are shaped more like flat rolls. Isabel recommended we go to the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen for breakfast (readers of my previous blogs will know that whenever Isabel makes a suggestion regarding food it is definitely one to take up). They fill the biscuits with egg, cheese, meat – whatever you want. It was so delicious.

We spent the morning exploring Chapel Hill. We were lucky to be joined by Tiernan, who acted as tour guide and showed us around the University of North Carolina campus and a couple of other attractions. Wow, UNC is unbelievable. It makes my university seem like a rubbish dump. It opened in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. As well as its buildings and grounds being aesthetically amazing, academically the university rates amongst the world’s best.

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The Old Well on campus at UNC. Students who drink from it are said to have good luck.

One thing (of many) that I loved about Chapel Hill was the university spirit it exuded. On the same weekend as the wedding, UNC was playing a basketball match against its rival school, Duke University. Every person we encountered, be it in a shop, eatery, etc, enthused ‘Go Heels’ as we left. UNC’s team is called the Tar Heels. I’m definitely a Tar Heel now – I even bought a t-shirt to prove it. Unfortunately Duke won this time around. Another thing I loved was the southern flavour of the place. There was a lot of ‘how y’all doing?’ and chat along those lines, the novelty of which did not wear off.

So, to the wedding; simultaneously the excuse for this trip and its highlight. The ceremony was held in the gardens of a place called Fearrington Village. The weather gods must have known Colleen and Jonathan had an outdoor ceremony planned, because the weather on Saturday was absolutely perfect. Brilliantly sunny and certainly no jacket required. (This was a revelation for me, after two weeks of North American winter weather.)

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Beautiful day, beautiful wedding.

After a cocktail hour, the reception took place in a barn, which was very cool. It was beautifully decorated with fairy lights, and had a rustic, vintage feel. Everything about the night was wonderful. Colleen looked divine, as did her bridesmaids, who included our very own Isabel and Emily. The food was delicious, the toasts were poignant and funny, the music was great and it was obvious that everybody had a ball from beginning to end. 

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The newlyweds cutting the cake.

At our hostel in Washington DC, I met and chatted to a girl from Scotland, who was visiting DC during a break from her semester abroad in Montreal. She was with a bunch of friends who were also study abroad kids from various countries. This girl was so incredibly excited by the fact that Sabrina and I were friends from exchange, and going to the wedding of another exchange friend, where we would reunite with a portion of our group. She said she hoped she would go to her exchange friends’ weddings one day, and commented what a special bond it was between friends who meet abroad and travel together.

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Sabrina, me, Tiernan, Colleen, Isabel and Emily. So much love!

I had a fabulous time at the wedding, but indeed the overwhelming feeling for me was how special it was that I could be there amongst six of our exchange friends. If not for the limits of geography, there undoubtedly would have been a few more from our group there too. I am confident this won’t be the last of our reunions.

Now, a few words on Wilmington. The day after the wedding, Sabrina and I drove to the coast of North Carolina. Colleen had recommended it for visitors who wanted to spend a little longer in NC. It was an absolute delight. It’s a sweet little place on the riverfront, and particularly exciting for Sabrina and myself is the fact that shows including Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill were filmed there. Movies too, like A Walk to Remember. In contrast to the other cities we’d visited, there wasn’t a whole list of tourist attractions we had to tick off, so we took it as a little vacation to finish our trip. We explored historic Wilmington, walked the River walk, checked out shops, ate, and enjoyed the sunshine. For the two nights we stayed we rented an apartment, which overlooked the water.

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Wilmington’s river walk.

During our time in Wilmington we drove to Wrightesville beach, which was very nice. It was so warm and sunny that we both got a little sunburnt. And, we found the pier where they filmed the opening credits of Dawson’s Creek!

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Wrightesville beach, and the Dawson’s Creek pier.

On our final morning, we drove the few hours back to Raleigh/Durham. We returned our hire car, and Colleen and Jonathan came to hang out with us for a couple of hours at the airport before we had to check in for our flights. Of course, they were very much in demand at the wedding, so it was great to be able to spend some time with them.

 

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A huge congratulations to Colleen and Jonathan!

Sadly, that was it for America and my time traveling with Sabrina. Happily, London was next.

Washington DC

I am endlessly enthusiastic about Washington DC. Visiting for the second time, I was able make further progress on the multitude of monuments and museums which line its expansive National Mall. Having had less than two days in the capital during our last trip to the US, Sabrina and I were determined to come back; to revisit what we had rushed through the first time, and to explore new places of interest.

We began our two days in DC (sadly only two days once again) by going to the top of the Old Post Office Pavilion, a well established landmark in the city. Though the views aren’t quite as impressive as the top of the Empire State Building in New York, it gave us a good perspective of the city. We continued on to one of the Smithsonian museums – the National Museum of American History. Whilst we struggled to pick which museums to visit (the Smithsonian consists 19 museums and galleries) we did well landing on this one. It exhibited such a great variety of stuff, from America’s automotive history, to an exhibition on the fashions of the First Ladies, to the red slippers worn by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

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The Old Post Office Pavilion.

Next, we headed towards the Capitol and the Library of Congress, which mark one end of the National Mall (The Lincoln Memorial stands at the other). Visiting the Library of Congress made a hat trick – The Boston Public Library, The New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress. I can’t recall where, but I heard something to the effect that the US built the Library of Congress to show Europe they could master grand architecture, too. I’m not sure whether or not this is true, but whatever the case, the Library of Congress gives any European gem a run for its money.

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The reading room inside the Library of Congress. Pretty amazing.

We spent the afternoon at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Although we visited last time, we weren’t able to give it the time it certainly warrants. Across multiple levels of outstandingly detailed well put together exhibitions – armed with the identity card of a victim – visitors are taken on an emotional journey through the Holocaust. Looking back on my blog from my 2012 visit to DC, I maintain that it’s the most impressive Holocaust museum I’ve visited outside of Israel.

In store for the following morning was something I had been looking forward to for the entire trip: a visit to Newseum. As its title suggests, this museum is entirely devoted to journalism and news. Last time, I had to race through the six or so levels in about an hour. This time, I made sure to allow myself plenty of time while Sabrina visited a couple of art galleries. There is SO much to see in this museum; all of it right up my alley. The history of news, interactive exhibits on new media, historical coverage of major world events, and much more. I’ve visited many museums in many cities – this is without question my favourite.

Not only was the Newseum a feast for my journalistic soul, but something else notable was taking place while I was there. I thought it odd that the place was filled with security personnel, and police cars surrounded it. I decided to ask a staff member what was going on. It turns out, President Obama was in the building, giving a talk inside one of the auditoriums. I did not actually get to see him, but he was in the same vicinity as me! The talk he was giving was being broadcast on a big screen in the foyer. It was pretty exciting.

Next, we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial. I have often been made fun of by my relatives that I left Washington DC last time without seeing it. Apparently it’s pretty key. Having learnt a bit about him during this trip, I understand why he warrants such an enormous, striking memorial. The walls surrounding his statue are inscribed with the words of his famous Gettysburg address. For my family, here is photo evidence that I was there.

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The Lincoln Memorial

Later that afternoon, we took a bus to Georgetown. It’s a delightful place. The main street has many cute shops, nice cafes and so forth, while a short walk into the streets reveals beautiful houses. The reputable Georgetown University is there, and I can see why many well-known individuals in US history chose to call it home. It had a bit of a European feel about it.

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A street in Georgetown.

And that was basically all we had time for. Again, I’ll have to come back. There are about 15 more Smithsonian museums I’m yet to visit – and next time I’ll have to actually meet the president! The following day we were bound for North Carolina, which I can’t wait to tell you about in my next post.

P.S. yet again, no snow in DC. However, covered in snow the National Mall looked very pretty, and vastly different to the way I had seen it in summer. I only wish the freezing cold had translated to even just a tiny bit of snow..

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Sabrina and I on the National Mall (with the Capitol Building in the background).

The Big Apple

I have deduced that I possess somewhat of a magical power: the power to avert snow in climates where it is expected. Back in 2011 I went on a university exchange to London. I arrived at the beginning of January, and the snow had miraculously already finished for the winter. Londoners will tell you this is very unusual. But never has this talent of mine been more evident than during this trip in the US. It was forecast to snow in Boston – no go. On arrival in New York, I was assured snow would fall. We had five days there – most of them below zero – and two with a 90% chance of snow according to the weather forecast. These days came and went, no snow to be seen. I woke up one morning and there was a very light blanket of snow on the street. “Please tell me that’s not it, I better not have missed it,” I said to Sabrina. She assured me there would be more. Of course, to my disappointment, there was not. What is the point of it being SO cold if it doesn’t snow? Anyway, I’ll cut my rant off here – there’s so much else for me to say. Perhaps one day I’ll see it snow!

So, New York. We arrived the Thursday afternoon before last (yes I’m a little behind on the blog). After settling in to our accommodation, I set off for a bit of exploring. New York is one of those cities you can simply walk around for hours and not tire of. Every block is buzzing with energy and something new to see. I stopped in to the New York Public Library – an awe-inspiring piece of architecture – but aside from that, just took in the city.

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The New York Public Library

We started the day on Friday with Central Park, which was simply a delight blanketed in snow. It was spectacularly sunny, although a freezing cold -6 degrees. After strolling the park for a while, we decided to thaw out inside The Met. That’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art; perhaps the city’s best known museum. It’s filled with collections so diverse I can’t event begin to list them. Over a couple of hours, we made quite a dint in the place, I think. Among the highlights was a section of Egyptian Art, as well as European paintings.

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A view of the city over Central Park.

That day, we also visited the Museum of Natural History, which was good fun. In the evening, we braved the cold at the top of the Empire State Building. Having been to the top during the day on my first trip to New York, night time was a completely different experience – though equally awe-inspiring. New York is certainly a city like no other.

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New York City lights from the top of the Empire State Building.

Sabrina was fortunate to have spent last summer in New York studying a short course. As such, she had a bunch of favourite places she was keen to take me to. We met up with a good friend of hers from this program, eating at their favourite bagel place and perusing their favourite bookstore. I must tell you about this bookstore; it’s not just any old bookstore. This place has four levels and every book you can imagine. Actually, imagine all the books and triple that. New, used, on any topic. Wall-to-wall, floor-to-cieling. Just so many books.

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Inside the Strand bookstore.

A friend of mine from Melbourne, Taryn, also met up with us that afternoon. We did loads of walking, which took us to Union Square, the Flat Iron Building, Washington Square Park, Times Square… and probably more which escapes my memory right now. Even on my second visit, I felt utterly overwhelmed by New York.

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Sabrina and I at Union Square (with our bags from the Strand bookstore)

The following day, I went to visit family friends in Queens. Allow me to divert from my sightseeing tales to tell the special story of who these people are to me. Upon being liberated after the Holocaust, my grandfather was living in France. As a teenager, he was taken in by a Jewish family in Marseilles. He lived with them for more than a year, and they are to this day very dear to him. They took care of him at a time when he had nobody else. Rosette was the daughter of this family, his ‘sister.’ She very obviously considers my grandfather to be her brother – they are still in regular contact today. I was fortunate to meet her and be able to piece together this part of my grandfather’s history. Rosette’s two sons, her daughter-in-law and granddaughter were also there and it was wonderful to meet them all.

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Myself, Rosette, and her granddaughter Lauren.

Back in the big smoke, I met up with Taryn, and we went to see Matilda on Broadway. It was fabulous! Though perhaps a little too geared towards children for our liking, it was colourful and lots of fun. Taryn is on exchange in New York for the semester, and has sussed out the good Kosher fare. We went to a particular Kosher restaurant near Times Square which was really good. It was fun to catch up, to hear about her exchange adventures and reminisce on my own.

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Times Square at night.

On Monday morning, we headed to check out Rockefeller Center. Highlights included watching the ice skaters, and visiting the Lego store, given Lego constitutes some of my fondest childhood memories. But Monday was largely dedicated to shopping. The day yielded great results in some of my favourite American stores – but also led to an overweight suitcase very much bursting at the seams.

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The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

On Monday evening we met up with Emily, one of our friends from exchange who I had not seen since London. It was brilliant to catch up after so long, and over some wine we talked with much excitement about the wedding.

On Tuesday it was time to head to Washington DC, but with our bus only in the afternoon, we had the time to see a final sight. We decided on the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum. It’s a collection of rooms which were part of Mr Morgan’s mansion in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and still exhibit their original grandeur. It’s a very impressive place; a sight a little off the tourist track which I would highly recommend. We were especially taken with the library. There are also changing exhibitions which we visited, including one about The Little Prince.

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Inside one of the rooms of the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum.

And then, to Washington DC we went. Stay tuned.

The beginning: Boston

En route to the wedding of a friend in North Carolina, I am fortunate to have some time to explore a little of the US east coast. Though, let’s be honest – there’s no way I would come half way across the world and not fit some travel in. And, as always, with travel comes travel blogging… so here goes.

My departure from Melbourne on Sunday morning was not without drama. You may have read/seen on the news, a security breach at Melbourne airport led to the airport suspending security screening for a couple of hours; obviously causing chaos and delays to all international flights. Fortunately, though my flight took off close to two hours late, I had a generous layover in LA and had no trouble catching my connecting flight. Others, I’m sure, were not so lucky.

The first stop of this trip has been Boston, a city I’ve never been before and have thoroughly enjoyed becoming acquainted with. Despite the exhausting long haul flights, I could barely sleep the night I arrived. I was excited for the following morning, when my wonderful friend and loyal travel buddy Sabrina would arrive on an overnight bus from Montreal. Our reunion was just as thrilling as I knew it would be after more than a year and a half apart.

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Sabs and I all rugged up.

So, off we headed downtown, to get a feel for the Massachusetts capital. What struck me most  was how cold it is here. It’s without doubt the coldest climate I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was saying to me before I left, ‘oh it’ll be very cold there.’ Silly me, assuring them, ‘I’ll be fine, winter will be coming to an end by the time I get there.’ If you’re one of those people, please feel free to say ‘I told you so.’ The temperatures have been sub zero. I’ve been layering up in everything I’ve brought with me. Scarf, hat, gloves, leg warmers – you name it, I’m wearing it. Even Sabrina, who is from Montreal, has admitted that it’s cold!

Let me tell you a bit about what we’ve been doing. From previous entires on Phoebe Abroad you may recall that Sabrina and I are literary nerds. The highlight of our first day was a visit to the Boston Public Library – an enormous, impressive place amongst a cluster of historic buildings which make up Copley Square.

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Trinity Church in Copley Square.

We began our second day in the city at Boston Common, the country’s first public park. It didn’t look much like a park to me, being completely blanketed in snow, but evidently there’s much history there. It was a staging ground for soldiers during the American Revolution amongst other things. From Boston Common begins the Freedom Trail, a tourist route marked by a red path on the ground which covers Boston’s key Colonial sites. Through the day, we were led to Boston’s State House, historical churches and chapels, burial grounds, Boston’s first public school, and even a site of the Boston massacre where the first victims of the American revolution died. We stopped at various points, including Faneuil Hall, a public market since Colonial times, and for lunch in the North End – Boston’s ‘Little Italy.’

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A snow-covered Boston Common.

We unfortunately had to skip the last few points on the trail, including the USS Constitution – the world’s oldest commissioned warship, and the Bunker Hill Monument – the site of the first battle fought in the revolution. To get to these required crossing a bridge across the Charles River – something we decided it was simply too cold to do. We managed to be close to the water for about a minute before the cold sent us scrambling for the nearest underground station. This was a shame, as I understand the waterfront is a highlight of Boston – in summer perhaps.

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The waterfront.

So, aborting the Freedom Trail until the next visit to Boston (please remind me that shouldn’t be in February), we made our way to Harvard University. The grounds and buildings are gorgeous, and set in a nice town, called Cambridge. We walked around for a while, pondering how we would love to study there.

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One of Harvard’s lovely buildings.

Back in the city, I went up to the Prudential Center Skywalk – the 50th floor of a Boston skyscraper which offers a 360 degree birds eye view of the city. It was fun to try to figure out what was what and where we’d been, and with the sun setting, it accorded some great photo opportunities. It also had a small exhibition documenting Boston’s history. Down in the lower levels of the Prudential Centre are shops, restaurants, and so forth, where Sabrina and I passed some time. I must mention we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. YUM.

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Boston under a setting sun.

Today, on our final day in Boston, we went to Salem, a town north-east of Boston which is famous for its witchcraft debacle of 1692. Infamous, should I say, as innocent people were put to death for practicing witchcraft at the time. We learnt about this fascinating story through the Salem Witch Museum, which chronicled the tragedy in exhibits both colourful and confronting. We also visited the Witch Trials Memorial, a quiet park where simple stones are inscribed with the names and final words of the victims. Unfortunately most of these details were covered in snow, but it was interesting to see nonetheless.

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Sabrina getting into the spirit of Salem.

Salem is also known for its thriving trade through ships which existed once upon a time. We took a guided tour of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, where we got to venture onto a replica of the ‘Friendship’ – one of the ships used in the day. We also visited the Custom House, and learnt about how the incoming goods were processed. Interestingly, author Nathaniel Hawthorne was from Salem and once held a senior position at the Custom House. It was a very interesting tour.

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The Friendship replica.

So tomorrow morning we’re headed for New York, an incredibly exciting prospect. Notably, despite the freezing temperatures, it has failed to snow while we’ve been in Boston. My weather app promises snow in New York. Sabrina is very excited for me, as while I’ve seen plenty of snow on the ground, I’ve never seen it actually snow. Fingers crossed.

Catch you soon.

Cape Town

I knew I’d like Cape Town, but I didn’t realise I’d love it quite so much. We arrived in the evening from Windhoek on what was one of the bumpiest flights I’ve ever been on.

On our first day, we went on the hop-on hop-off bus. Despite the fact that these red buses can be found in so many of the cities I’ve visited, it was the first time I’d been on one. Primarily because my backpacking friends and I preferred to navigate our own way and spend the money elsewhere. But herein lies a perk of traveling with your family.

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Cool Cape Town church

So we toured around the city, with running commentary, hopping on and hopping off as we felt inclined. We first descended at the waterfront, where we walked around and looked through a great craft market (for far too long as far as the males were concerned). It had loads of original, hand-made stuff. We also got off in the city centre, where we wandered around an outdoor market and had lunch. And then we got off at Table Mountain, arguably Cape Town’s best known tourist attraction.

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The waterfront.

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Market in the city.

The drive part-way up Table Mountain was marvelous in itself. The views over the city and the ocean were spectacular. But they were about to get even more spectacular. We went up to the top of the mountain in a revolving cable car, and the views were seriously awe-inspiring. In fact, Table Mountain is one of the ‘new’ seven wonders of the world – whatever that means. I took photos from every angle many times over. Here are just a couple:

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Our hotel was in Camps Bay, a delightful beach about 15 minutes out of the city. It was essentially a strip with lots of restaurants and a few shops. That night, after a fantastic dinner looking out onto the beach, we hit the Cape Town town. Simon and I had met a group of college students from Minnesota back in Etosha, and they happened to have a very similar itenerary to us. They took the same flight as us from Windhoek to Cape Town, so we chatted to them while waiting to board.

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Camps Bay

As it turns out, a college trip equals going out every night, while a family trip is more likely to equate to being in bed by 10. So a night out was much needed as far as we were concerned. We met a bunch of Norwegian guys who had been on a ship for the last 5 months (or potentially 5 weeks, I’m a little bit hazy on that detail) and bought alcohol like it was water – for all 10 of us. There’s something about going out overseas – it’s always much more fun than at home. Even if your brother’s there and receiving far too much female attention.

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Fun times!

The next day we went on a boat, which was not so fortunate given the events of the night before. But we made it to Robben Island, which was interesting and worthwhile. From the 17th to the 20th Centuries, Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment. It held many well-known prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. Today it is a world heritage site and museum.

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One of the prison buildings on Robben Island.

The first part of the tour was a bus tour, where we passed the island’s tiny town, including a church and a post office. We saw some of the prison buildings, and had a view onto the mainland across the water. I suppose it was a little bit similar to Alcatraz, which I visited when I was in San Francisco last year. The most interesting part was being taken through one of the barracks by a former political prisoner. He was really able to give us an idea of what life was like being in prison on Robben Island. It sounds like it was fairly grim.

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Our aforementioned guide.

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A typical prison cell at Robben Island.

That afternoon, we went to the beach. But the water was freezing – too cold to dip your feet in, let alone swim. I’m not much of a sunbather – my white, pasty skin is not receptive to it. If I go to the beach, it’s primarily to get into the water. So this made me a bit sad. Nonetheless, you can’t really complain about being on the beach. I went back to the hotel and swam in the pool, and all was well.

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Camps Bay beach.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant, again with spectacular views of the beach. Afterwards, we went out with our new-found friends. It was Simon’s last night in Cape Town; the following day he was headed back to Johannesburg to stay with some friends. And I was left without a buddy with whom to bemoan Mum and Dad’s occasional annoying traits…

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A typical evening in Camps Bay.

But it certainly wan’t all bad. The next day, we took a drive along the coast, which was reminiscent of the Great Ocean Road or the Big Sur. The scenery was stunning in a big way. We had to get out of the car at almost every view point to take photos.

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Eventually we came to Boulder’s Beach, which is beautiful blue water and white sand with penguins swimming around. There are heaps of them, and you can literally be a metre away from the little fellows. After lunch, we continued our drive down to the Cape of Good Hope, which I thought was the southern-most tip of the African continent – but Wikipedia tells me it’s not.

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The penguins at Boulder’s Beach.

Whatever its geographical co-ordinates, the Cape of Good Hope is spectacular. We climbed up to a lighthouse at Cape Point, and this is the view that we had. Breathtaking, no?

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We also stopped at the botanical gardens on the way back, which were beautiful. I’m always up for gardens and parks, especially since being torn away from my beloved Hampstead Heath in London.

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We encountered these fellows driving back.

The next day was unfortunately the last day of the holiday. We spent the morning at the Cape Town holocaust centre, which was so impressive I would go as far to say that it was core-shaking. It was housed in a whole complex, with a Jewish Museum, a Jewish Library, a cafe, a shop, and more. It just shows how strong and thriving Cape Town’s Jewish community is.

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As much as I like to shop, I do regret spending the last afternoon of our African getaway doing it. We should have been out enjoying the beach and the sunshine rather than inside a shopping mall. It was made worse by the fact that it was easily the most disappointing shopping mall I’ve ever been to. Perhaps I’m spoilt with Chadstone on my doorstep, but this was woeful. South African fashion is simply awful. We wandered around for three hours, and the only things I ended up buying were brands we have in Australia that I found in a department store.

We met up with Dad later on. You’d have to pay him good money to spend more than 5 minutes in a shopping centre, and even then, he might not do it. In this particular instance he had the right idea. Nonetheless, we finished the day off nicely with dinner at an Italian restaurant overlooking the beach.

The prospect of going home was unwelcome, especially given the fact that we were about to endure 30 hours of traveling. Leaving paradise to go back home to work is not fun at the best of times.

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Good bye Cape Town.

But I’ve made it. A month later, here I am, back into the swing of things. All the while, of course, I’m reminiscing about a wonderful trip, and dreaming of the next one.

Catch you soon.

Namibia

We arrived in Windhoek, the capital, early in the afternoon and hired a car at the airport. Driving in a foreign country is always a bit of an ask, but we seemed to manage it ok. Fortunately, in Namibia they drive on the left side of the road.

Ticking off the main attractions in Windhoek didn’t take more than a couple of hours. Among other things we saw a church famous for looking like a gingerbread house, which it rather did. But what was really interesting was to see how developed Windhoek is. My impression was that it would be poorer, but that was not the case at all. In fact, Namibia is not even considered a third world country. Certainly, some parts were not well off, but some of the houses we saw might have come straight out of Toorak or Rose Bay.

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Gingerbread Church (not its actual name…)

We spent just one night in Windhoek, before driving the next day into the depths of the desert. It was about a four or five hour drive to our ‘Desert Camp,’ made more difficult by the fact that most of it was on gravel roads. For so much of the drive, there was absolutely nothing to see. Towns and rest stops were few and far between. But we did stop once at a very interesting rest stop which was essentially someone’s house with a few guest rooms tacked on.

The proprietors welcomed us in and sat with us to chat. We were the only people there and it seemed as though we might have been the only people to pass though that day. It was difficult to tell whether we were more interested in their story, or they were more interested in ours. They were an endearing older man, and his daughter – a university student who, being nowhere near a university, studied through distance education. She made us sandwiches in the kitchen which they charged about $2 each for, although we had by then become accustomed to paying pittance for our food. It was a memorable stop.

Late that afternoon we arrived at Desert Camp, which was, as it’s name suggests, in the middle of the desert. All I remember was that it was so hot I’m surprised I didn’t melt into a puddle on the ground. No, I do remember that getting in the pool there that afternoon was heavenly. And I do remember having one of the best dinners of the trip that night, looking out into the vast expanse of the desert.

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Desert Camp

The next morning, we woke up safari-style early to go and visit the sand dunes in Sossusvlei. It was about an hour-and-a-half drive to get to the dunes, and along the way we experienced a desert sunrise, which is beautiful like any sunrise, but with a little bit of added awesome. The colours were sublime.

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When we got there, our tour guide set up a sumptuous breakfast for us. We needed the energy in order to make it up the sand dune. These dunes are a stunning red – not the colour of the sand on the beach. And the sand is incredibly fine and soft, which is all well and good, but it’s difficult to walk on! And even more difficult to climb up. Having said that, the climb was actually less difficult than I had anticipated. I didn’t quite keep the pace of the tour guide and an athletic younger brother, but I was still in a state to be photographed when we got to the top.

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The dune we climbed was called Big Daddy. We didn’t go to the very peak, but arrived at a nice vantage point to view the rest of the dunes. And going down was a whole lot of fun. It was pretty steep, so we semi-ran down in huge, un-coordinated steps. With every step, our feet sank deep into the sand.

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After the climb.

That afternoon, we went to see a canyon, which was no Grand Canyon, but it was still impressive. But by that point it was well and truly the heat of the day, so we could barely stand out in the sun long enough to take a few photos. We spent the rest of the afternoon in and out of the pool. Oh, how I’d love to be back by that pool right now.

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Perhaps an unusual location for a swimming pool.

The next morning it was off to Swakopmund, a city on the coast of northwestern Namibia. We had some drama on the way. As I was driving along a seemingly endless gravel road in the middle of nowhere – literally nothing in sight – a tyre blew off the car. Fortunately I was able to stop the car safely. The real challenge was changing the tyre (something fortunately I played little part in). It was high 30’s, sun belting down. My Dad and my brother got down on their hands and knees, and struggled for about 40 minutes before one single car passed. Fortunately the driver of this vehicle was able-bodied and changed the tyre in about 5 minutes. It wasn’t that the males in my family are incapable, it was something about the jack…

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Oh-oh.

Anyway, we finally made it to Swakopmund late that afternoon, and it was absolutely a delight. I speak especially about the weather, which was a good 10 degrees cooler than where we had come from, and much much needed relief. When we got there we went to see flamingoes, of which there were heaps. All standing together pink and pretty in the shallows of the beach.

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Flamingoes.

Swakopmund – or Swakop as it’s affectionately called for short – is a beachside holiday spot, although it’s hardly warm enough to swim at the beach. The guest house we stayed in was very pleasant – and it had WiFi! Definitely a win. That night we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a restaurant on the water. It was designed to resemble a boat, and, you guessed it… specialised in seafood.

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I loved these swings at our guest house.

The next day was a highlight of the holiday. In the morning, we walked around Swakopmund, which I found to have an unexpected charm. The city centre is a web of endearing little lanes with cute, arty shops and attractive buildings. We visited the crystal museum, and the women of the family spent quite some time in the adjoining shop marveling at beautiful pieces we could never justify, let alone afford.

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Swakopmund.

Swakopmund has sand dunes, too, and we were lucky enough to spend the afternoon quad biking on them. At first it was scary, but as I cottoned on to the fact that a little bump wouldn’t necessitate falling off, and getting stuck in the sand wasn’t the worst thing, it got easier. And a whole lot more fun. By the end I was going full throttle in parts, up and down, over and around. I love a good adrenaline rush, and this was so much fun. Even my parents, who I was convinced would be freaking out, swore to me they enjoyed it. The landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Sand dunes all around. In one direction, the city, and in another, the sea.

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Quad-biking fun.

To add even more adventure, Simon and I went sand boarding down the dunes. It’s essentially what it sounds like – lie on a board and slide down a massive sand dune. Once we got to the bottom, our tour guide would come down on his quad bike and run us back up again. It was fun, but you get sand EVERYWHERE.

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It was sad to leave Swakopmund the next day. We knew we’d come across a good thing. Certainly it was better than the next place; a place called Twyfelfontein. The lodge we stayed in was nice enough, but it was completely in the middle of nowhere. And by midday we’d done everything listed to do in about a 100km radius. We saw rock paintings, which were cool, and a ‘petrified forest’ which brought to mind something out of Harry Potter. (Unfortunately it boasts no magic, but it does have some trees trunks so old they have turned to stone). Beyond that, there isn’t much worth bringing to your attention.

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Our guide showing us some rock paintings – pictures that were engraved on these rocks many thousands of years ago.

The last of our two night stops was Etosha National Park, another safari destination. It followed the same format as our safari in Botswana, but I think we saw even more animals. We even caught glimpse of a few that we hadn’t managed to see in Botswana, like hyenas. The most exciting part of Etosha was the fact that there was a watering hole literally right outside our room, and each night rhinos would come there. The first night, we saw a white rhino and a black rhino fighting it out. I’m not sure what they were fighting about, but I think every single person staying at the accommodation was gathered and watching intently. And like me, trying and failing to get a clear photo in the dark. Other animals also visited the watering hole throughout the day and night.

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The rhinos at the watering hole.

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I love this photo – Zebras at Etosha.

From Etosha, we drove back to Windhoek, where civilization was incredibly refreshing. On the way, we stopped in what I took to be a typical Namibian town. Poor but certainly not slum-like. There were people everywhere going about their daily business, and we were completely out of place. But I felt it was important to see the real Namibia, because I can say for certain that we didn’t see the real Botswana, nor the real Zimbabwe.

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School kids.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking it out. Next – and last – is Cape Town. Undoubtedly up there with my favourite cities in the world.

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Just one more for good measure.

Victoria Falls

From Botswana, we crossed the border into Zimbabwe. It took us a couple of hours to get from Chobe to Victoria Falls. The entire trip, I had heard from my Dad about our wonderful accommodation in Victoria Falls. We were staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel, which I believe is the oldest hotel in Africa. It was established in 1904.

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When we got there, the place felt a little bit like a mental institution. But as we moved further in, it lost its industrial feel and I warmed to the place very much. There were grand common rooms, perfectly manicured gardens and marvelous facades. Stuffed animal heads on the walls, spiral staircases and chandeliers. Formal dining and high tea – the hotel was the cherry on the cake of what was my favourite leg of the trip.

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Just chilling.

The falls were completely mind blowing. Last year I was lucky enough to see Niagara Falls, but this was better. It took about 10 minutes to walk to the falls, and then there was a track which wound around to different viewpoints. It was unimaginably hot, so we declined ponchos and instead enjoyed the cool spray of the falls.

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The spray coming from the falls, as seen from our hotel.

The water gushed down in what must have been millions of litres. It’s really amazing to watch and to listen to. The way I would differentiate it from Niagara is that Niagara is two straight sets of falls that you see from afar. This is more than that. It’s bigger and more varied. You can’t stand in one spot and see it all at once. But like Niagara, it does have a permanent rainbow. I don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job with the description, so have a look at my photos.

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Somewhere under the rainbow…

That night, we ate dinner in one of the hotel’s three restaurants. While the food was mediocre, we were treated to some nice African music and dancing.

The next day was our adventure day. At Victoria Falls they have all kinds of activities you can do. Bungee jumping, white water rafting, flying foxes, and so forth. We started off with a helicopter ride over the falls, which was amazing. Awe-inspiring. Painful ears aside, you could use every superlative in the dictionary and still not quite do justice to the magnificent views.

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The view from the helicopter.

Back on the ground and it was off to the Zambezi gorge. In terms of geography, the Victoria Falls are in between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and fall into the Zambezi river. My brother and I did the flying fox, which was pretty cool. The only scary part was running off a platform where there’s nothing underneath except a drop of about 100 metres into unfriendly waters.

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Flying foxing!

And then my brother decided to do the giant swing. Craziness. You jump off a platform and free fall for 70 metres, before swinging back and forth. The swinging I would be content with, but the drop is just madness. The mother of the two girls who braved it before Simon was having a panic attack watching her kids, and listening to their profanities echo through the walls of the gorge. But brother did it twice – so it can’t have been too bad.

That afternoon, after testing out high tea at the hotel, we swam in the glorious swimming pool. Having been on safari for the previous eight days, everything the hotel had to offer was splendid. Television and free wifi were especially appreciated.

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Take me back, please?

The town at Victoria Falls wasn’t much but it avoided the tackiness that overwhelms Niagara Falls. There were a few other accommodation options, shops and markets. But it was really too hot to do much exploring.

The next morning we were off to our next destination. Stay tuned for Namibia.

 

Botswana

We arrived at Maun international airport in northern Botswana on a relatively small plane – or so we thought. The real small planes were yet to come. From Maun, we were flown in a 7-seater tiny plane to our first Safari Camp, called Camp Moremi. From the air we had our first views of animals in the African wild.

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Getting on the tiny plane – it was a squeeze! Not as scary as I anticipated though.

Don’t be fooled – we weren’t quite camping. Although our rooms were tents, they had teak furniture, and adjoining bathrooms with hot showers and flushing toilets. We were looked after extremely well here. The staff were friendly and welcoming. At dinner time they would sing traditional African songs to us before announcing the menu – which was consistently delicious, as were the other 5 meals they fed us each day.

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Our accommodation at Camp Moremi.

Camp Moremi was the first of four safari camps we would visit in Botswana – each one for two nights. The routine is the same at each of the camps. We wake up at 5.30am, which seems ghastly, but the birds have pretty much woken you up by that time anyway. After breakfast we would set off on a safari and see what kinds of animals we could spot. We would come back to camp for lunch and a siesta, or as one of our guides called it, a ‘sleep safari.’ There are swimming pools at the sites, and many places to relax with a book in front of a beautiful, peaceful backdrop. Later in the afternoon we would head out on another safari, and come back around sunset.

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Me and Simon with our guide, Lets. That was typical safari transport.

The guides are unimaginably knowledgable about everything you see, and have a knack of spotting animals which are almost invisible to the naked eye. Camp Moremi is one of a few camps inside a national park which encompasses 5000 square kilometres – not small. Our safaris at Moremi took the form of game drives, in which we bumped up and down through the rugged terrain and saw all kinds of animals in their natural habitats. It was pretty cool.

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We got pretty close to this lioness.

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One of my favourite photos. These are Kudu.

Camp Moremi is situated in the Okavango Delta, so we had the option to go on a boat safari one day. At the outset it was sunny and beautiful, but the weather quickly turned. Rain pelted down and the wind was so strong it blew the awning off the top of the boat. It was all well and good when the rain stopped, but at that point the engine decided to stop too. Fortunately it didn’t take too long for our guide to get the boat going again. By the time we made it back to camp we were soaked through, but buzzing with the excitement of it all.

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The water of the delta was unimaginably still.

The camp where we spent the next couple of nights, Xugana, is situated on an island. We flew there on an even smaller plane than the previous trip – a mere 5 seats in this one. Aside from a few too many insects and 8-legged creatures, we were quite happy with our new lodgings. The activities on Xugana were a little bit different, given the different setting. We did another (smoother) boat safari through the wetlands, and a walking safari. My advice would be, if you’re not overly interested in birds, try to avoid being stuck with ornithologists on safari. The birds are nice enough, but there comes a certain point… snooze. We also went on a Mokoro, which is like a cross between a canoe and a gondola. The scenery was beautiful, although we did get rained on. A lot.

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Dad fitting right in on the walking safari.

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Sunset over the Okavango Delta.

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Mokoro safari through the wetlands.

These camps hold about 20 guests, so we met travelers from a number of other countries along the way. My favourite was a couple of newlyweds from Botswana, on their honeymoon. Coming to the camp was their first time on a plane, and the young lady said she shut her eyes the entire way.

The next camp was called Savute. By this point we had seen impala, kudu, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, zebras and more. But in terms of the big animals, this is where it’s at. Elephants, giraffes, lions… I’ll let these photos do the talking.

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Tasty?

Our final safari camp was called Chobe Game Lodge, based inside the enormous and well-known Chobe National Park. By this point, we were a little over safari. The 5.30 wake-ups had become a chore and, well, there’s only so many animals you can see before it starts to seem repetitive.

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Can’t complain about the accommodation though…

But overall, our safari experience was fabulous. The eight days were relaxing, the food was delicious, and our Botswanian hosts provided us a wonderful introduction to their culture. The surroundings were varied and impressive, and the animals even more so. Not only did we see countless different species, but the time spent driving around allowed us to really observe animal behaviour. It was incredibly interesting – many of these creatures are very clever in the way that they survive in the wild.

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Bye Botswana

In the next post, you’ll be able to read about my highlight of the trip – Victoria Falls. So stay tuned.

Soweto

I am lucky enough to have spent January 2013 traveling with my family around southern Africa. South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Admittedly, I didn’t plan to keep a blog of this trip. But the more we did and the more we saw, the more convinced I became that Phoebe Abroad still has life left in it. Sure, I’m a month or two late, but here goes…

Our African adventure began in Johannesburg, where we landed after more than 24 hours of traveling. We fought the urge to sleep through the day and instead set off on a four hour bike tour of Soweto.

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Our group’s bikes in Soweto while we took a stop.

Soweto, an acronym for South West Townships, is an area of Johannesburg known for its segregation of colored people until only a few decades ago. Indeed, ingrained in its history is the struggle against apartheid. We cycled through different parts of the town, some better off than others, and each one with a unique character.

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Anything goes in Africa. Kids riding in the back of a ute.

Along the way, we would stop and our guide would feed us information about Soweto’s history as well as the way it is today. We had the opportunity to don some traditional attire, and try some locally brewed beer.

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Learning about the Soweto culture from our guide.

There were a few things over the course of the day which really made an impression. Notably, in some parts of Soweto it appears that people are living in squalor. The ‘houses’ are tin sheds which are scattered around a dirty expanse. Dilapidated structures, rubbish everywhere, no proper sewage system – what you call an eye-opener for Western holiday makers like us.

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Typical Soweto

But what was especially interesting was how happy and friendly the people were. Everybody we encountered said hello and welcomed us. Children were especially enthusiastic, often chasing us and wanting to shake our hands and be photographed with us. They were very cute.

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This little guy was a star.

They took us to a ‘restaurant’ in this part of town, which was little more than a fly-blown tin shed with a few tables. Admittedly I was relieved to announce that I was vegetarian and could not part take in this particular repast. I was even more relived when moments later we encountered the ‘butcher’ – a wheelbarrow of uncooked meat being attacked by flies under 30-degree sun. Fortunately – perhaps miraculously – those in my family who did eat the cow cheeks (the delicacy we were offered) stayed in good health.

Later along the tour we visited the Hector Pieterson memorial, dedicated to a young teenager who became an icon in South Africa’s history. A news photograph depicts him being carried, dying, having been shot by police who opened fire on protesting students. This event is commonly known as the Soweto Uprising, and is key in apartheid history. Close by is the Hector Pieterson museum, which we did not have the chance to visit, but I’m told it is worthwhile.

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The Hector Pieterson Memorial

We also saw where Nelson Mandela used to live, and where Desmond Tutu lived in the same street. Apparently it’s the only street in the world which has housed two Nobel Prize winners. I have a bit of a fondness for Desmond Tutu because he was an alumni of the university I went to in London. Hearing about him brought back memories of time spent at Tutu’s, the bar at King’s College named in his honour.

It was a thoroughly stimulating day, both mentally and physically. Perhaps a few too many inclines, but we coped. On the drive back to our hotel, we saw a soccer stadium where World Cup matches were played – more of interest to the males in the family, but aesthetically it was cool nonetheless. We glimpsed the Johannesburg city skyline, including the tallest building in Africa. Although we didn’t go into the city itself, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything spectacular. Having said that, it was interesting for me to be in Johannesburg, because a couple of my closest friends were born there. Now I can say I’ve been to their home country.

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FNB Stadium

On our one night in Johannesburg I did something I haven’t done since I was a young child – and was thrilled to be able to do. I slept through new year’s eve. Seeing as we had come off the plane at 6.30am and stuck out the entire day, we were exhausted.

The next morning we flew to Botswana to begin our Safari. More to come of course.

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