Palermo, Sicily


For my 40th birthday, I wanted to spend a few days somewhere new, and Adrian delivered with a trip to Palermo. This is another recap written way after the fact. I”m determined to be caught up by the time we go to the Netherlands at the end of June.

Day 1:

We had a pleasant afternoon flight from LCY with a stopover in Milan, which allowed us to arrive right in time for dinner. After checking into our digs at the Grand Hotel Piazzo Borsa, we headed to nearby Osteria dei Vespri on the Piazza Croce dei Vespri. While we originally planned to have a light supper, that was derailed by tuma cheese, lentil soup, artichoke pasta, mackerel, apple cake, and lots of other lovely things.

Day 2: (Sunday)

After breakfast at the hotel, we just wandered around Palermo. We even took a selfie.

Where we went:

  • Along the Piazza Marina
  • Giardina Garibaldi which hosted a market  and a huge tree
  • Piazza Pretoria, which contains a fountain with many expectorating animal heads
  • The Church of San Cataldo, a 12th century church
  • Through the 4 Canti
  • Along the Vila Bonanno during our first attempt to visit the cathedral

amidst all this,  we grabbed some lunch at an unassuming little restaurant called Trattoria Palermo – Mamma Ciccina, where Adrian had one of his favorite meals of the trip, a pizza matrucciano (likely misspelled), and we split an obligatory cannoli.

For dinner, we went to La Vecchio Locanda and powered up on caponata, salad, and pizza.

Day 3: (Monday)

More wandering…

  • Teatro Massimo a familiar sight for anyone who has seen Godfather III. (I have added this to my to do list.)
  • Park Villa Malfitano, a villa constructed in 1886 by Joseph Whitaker, who had trees shipped to Palermo from all over the world to plant around his villa. Houseguests included George V and Gen. Patton
  • We found the Palazzo Normani, but decided to return the next day when tickets were 2 EUR less and feasted at the nearby Trattoria ai Normanni. Adrian had some meaty pasta, and I had a Sicilian Meat Roll. We also split a caprese salad and an almond parfait.
  • Palermo Cathedral was open on our second attempt, and we enjoyed the views of the city from the roof
  • After gelato, we headed along Via Lincoln to Villa Giulia, a park,  before heading back via the Foro Italico to the hotel  for some downtime
  • For dinner, we had mozzarella with aubergine and courgettes and lamb tagines at Nuova Cana Enoteca, and excellent and charming little place.

Day 4: (Tuesday)

  • Palermo Cathedral was revisited in order to check out the views of the city from the roof
  • Then we wandered to the Chiesa Della Croce park and past the  Teatro Politama Garibaldi before having arancini and gelato
  • Back to Palazzo Normanni, where we saw an exhibit of cargo lost in shipwrecks and the exquisite Capella Palatina
  • Had dinner at Cagliostro, around the corner from the hotel.

 

The next morning, we flew home to London.

 

 

Ngala Tented Camp


Tuesday:

We said goodbye to Cape Town with breakfast to go from The Cellars and flew from Cape Town to Hoedspruit via Joburg. From there we were transported to Ngala Tented Camp, where we were welcomed with the words, “Welcome Home.”

Thing is, Ngala is way more fun than home!

To set the scene, here’s a rough schedule for our days at Ngala:

0515: Wake-up to a delivery of tea/coffee and granola bars

0530-900: Morning game drive, includes a stop for tea/coffee

0900: Breakfast back at camp

10:00-16:00: Free time. Lunch is served at what ever time you like.

16:00: Cake and Tea/Coffee, if you like

16:30-20:00: Evening Game Drive, includes a stop for a drink

20:00: Dinner

As we arrived in the early afternoon we had enough time to learn the rules, sign all the paperwork, have a nice lunch, and settle into our tent before the day’s Evening Game Drive. Our tent was nicer than some of the flats I’ve lived in, so this is serious glamping.

You’re assigned to a Guide and Tracker team/ vehicle for your game drives during your stay, and you stick with them throughout your trip, which is nice. We were assigned to Derrick and Thomas, who are a fantastic duo, and they really made our trip the amazing experience it was. Their skill and expertise was truly impressive. We saw so many amazing animals and learned so much about them. The safari vehicles are souped up Land Cruisers with riser- like seating, so there’s no bad spot to sit, and we split ours with 1 or 2 other couples.

At the end of the Evening Drive, we pulled up to a surprise dinner away from camp that was too formal to be a picnic, while still being outside. We ate a delicious dinner under the stars before hopping back into the vehicles to return to camp. (Yes, I should have taken pictures.)

Wednesday:

Our first full day  at Camp started with our wakeup with breakfast treats, and off we went to see some animals…

 

After that, we had breakfast, some downtime in the tent, lunch, and a visit to the (unchlorinated) pool, which doubles as a water bowl for some of the locals.

Then it was time for the second game drive, during which we saw incredible animals including elephants, hyenas, and a lion.

 

After our beverage break, we revisited the lion before calling it a day.

Dinner back at camp was lovely. We had been given the option to eat in the dining area or have dinner set up for us in our tent, and we opted for the dining area.

Thursday:

As per the schedule, we were off bright and early! We saw a rhinoceros and wild dogs.

And after the tea/coffee break, we were off again. I can’t stress enough how fantastic Derrick and Thomas were. They absolutely made a great trip into an incredible one, and that’s not just because Derrick added Amarula to my coffee.

The bird in the lower picture is called a Lilac Breasted Roller, and sadly this picture isn’t lit enough to show you how gorgeous it is. You can see a better picture here. We saw so many incredible birds on this trip, including most of those on that link, and really, I might just become a twitcher in 2-20 years.

We returned to camp, where Adrian had the most beautiful omelette that I have ever seen. Then we went on a walk around the paths connecting the tent. It’s a short path, so we did did a few laps around .

Before we knew it, it was time for the afternoon drive! We saw so many animals including lionesses, giraffes, an ostrich, and some vultures.

Derrick took us on a walk to see the rhinoceros. There aren’t any pictures because I left my camera in the landy. We returned to a gorgeous sunset.

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Friday:

Our last morning at Camp. We went on our last drive and had our final breakfast before heading to the airport.

Cape Town, South Africa


Saturday, continued:

After leaving Hermanus, we head along the Coast towards Cape Town. We stopped off at Stony Point Nature Reserve to check out the penguin colony, where we saw lots of penguins and dassies, aka rock hyrax. These are all over the seafront in Hermanus, and we had thought there were coypu. Question answered!

We arrived in Cape Town in the afternoon and checked in at The Cellars Hohenort, which is in a leafy neighbourhood called Constantia, which is also home to Cape Town’s Botanical Garden.

For dinner, we went into the city for a meal at Savoy Cabbage, a recommendation from two friends. It was just off the charts. The Olive Tart, a special appetiser, is one of the greatest things I have ever eaten. Everything we had was amazing.

Throughout this trip, we took pictures of ourselves looking comically miserable on holiday, and this really kicked off when we got to Cape Town, so much so that I only have the sorts of picture of us from dinner.

Sunday:

Everyone says that Table Mountain is a must see, so we went to Table Mountain and it was a complete failure. Here is how we got it so very wrong:

  1. We arrived at 11am or so on a Sunday morning AND
  2. We wasted time looking or parking at the top, rather than just parking in the lower lots and taking the free (free!) bus ride up to the ticketing area AND
  3. We did not buy our tickets ahead of time. There is a big queue to go up to the top of Table Mountain (Mountain Queue), and there is another big queue to buy tickets (Ticket Queue) so you can join Mountain Queue. You can buy tickets online and skip the Ticket Queue, either  at home or using Table Mountains free wifi. We didn’t have our phones to hand.

Admitting defeat, we decided to head south along the Cape in our magical rental car (petrol still seemingly full), though Hout Bat, through Chapman’s Peak, and down to Simon’s Town, an old Naval harbour, which is close to the Boulders Bay Penguin Colony. We didn’t visit Boulders Bay though, as they’re basically the same penguins we saw over at Stony Point. We had a nice seafood lunch at Bertha’s, wandered around Simon’s Town, had an ice cream, and then drove to Muizenberg.

Muizenberg was recommended by an acquaintance from Cape Town because the water is pretty warm there. Unfortunately, it was a bit cold out for us, so we happily made do with a nice walk along the beach and a round of mini-golf.

For dinner, we went into town to check out Nelson’s Eye, which was recommended by the same acquaintance, who said that it was the one place he ate every time he was in Cape Town.

Nelson’s Eye was excellent. It feels more like a pub than a restaurant, and it has an unremarkable exterior. The food is delicious, the staff is welcoming, and this was yet another excellent meal where the only disappointment was that I’d not be having this meal again the next day. We powered up on steak, a specialty.  I had mine with Griardi sauce (mushroom, mustard, and capers) and Adrian went for Russian (bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese).  For dessert, there was peppermint crisp and a marula pudding.

Monday:

Mission #1: Obtain a set of binoculars. I managed to forget to my set at home, and decided it was necessary to obtain another set ahead of our safari. This was a good decision, but I’d definitely recommend buying that sort of thing before you travel if you can. Some things are great value in South Africa, like food, and other things are better value when purchased in the US or UK, such as binoculars.

Mission #2: A second go at Table Mountain, and this one was a success. The view from the top is lovely, and there are lots of nice trails that one can walk along.

We dropped off our magical rental car on the way back so we wouldn’t have to fuss with it in the morning. its fuel meter still reading as Full.

For dinner, we ate at the hotel. Unadventurous, maybe, but we had an early start the next morning and there was a nice hotel restaurant to try out.

Hermanus, South Africa


Thursday:

Up and out the next morning, we drove to Hermanus via Swellendam, the third oldest town in RAS and home to a lot of Cape Dutch architecture.

We arrived in Hermanus in the late  afternoon and checked in to our digs for the next two nights at The Marine Hotel.  It’s worth nothing that The Marine has no street address, which made for some fun in the car. Around the time we thought we must have passed it, there it was. We stopped off for burgers at the waterfront Fusion Cafe and entered into an irreversible food coma and waddled about along the seaside’s Fernkloof Cliff Path before having dinner in the hotel and crashing.

Hermanus is famous for whale watching and is considered one of the best places in the world to see whales from the coast. Whales spotted: 0

Friday: (our first full day)

The next day, we powered up on the mighty breakfast at The Marine and headed off to wander further along the Cliff Path discovering a scale model of the Solar System and lunching at a little spot called Dutchies before retracing our path back to the hotel. The hotel has an infinity pool which is in the ocean, which I’m sure is worth a visit, but it was way too cold out for that sort of thing.

After returning to the hotel, we had a bit of wine and had dinner at Burgundy.

Whales spotted: 0

We heard that very few whale had been seen all season, which is a bit worrying.

Saturday:

We started off our final morning with another mighty Marine breakfast, which like on prior days, included some amazing stewed fruits. They tasted like Christmas. I asked how they were made, and a few minutes later, a woman from the kitchen came out to give me the lowdown. If memory serves (as I am writing this 5 months after the fact), the recipe was roughly 2kg fruit, 1 kg sugar, and cinnamon sticks. I should have written in down, as I really appreciated it. We walked around a bit and went for obligatory pictures with a whale before saying goodbye to Hermanus.

Live Whales spotted: 0

We’ll just have to come back and try again!

Wilderness, South Africa


Our next stop was in Wilderness, where we stayed 3 nights.

Monday: (just an evening)

We arrived around dinnertime at our next stop, The Mes Amis Guest House. We were feeling pretty tired, so instead of going out for dinner, we picked up a few things at the Spar in Wilderness and had a little picnic with our lovely oceanfront view.

During our picnic began the theme of many a photo on our trip: Adrian Doesn’t Like Nice Things. We had a relatively early night in preparation for the next day’s busy agenda.

Tuesday:

After breakfast, we headed out for the day’s exciting stuff:

Our first stop was the Safari Ostrich Farm in Outshoorn because I really, really, really wanted to see the ostriches.

As a part of your ticket, you get an overview of ostrich farming and a tour of the farm that includes feeding of the ostriches and a chance to sit on or ride an ostrich.

Naturally, my equestrian streak leads me to want to ride other animals, so I was quite enthusiastic to ride an ostrich. Unfortunately, I was slightly over the weight limit, which lead to many self effacing jokes that should skip dessert/ eat only dust/ spontaneously do aerobics so I wouldn’t be too tubby to ride the ostrich. The good thing is that they actually had a scale and enforced the weight limit (60kg), to protect the animals. As I was within the limit for sitting on the ostrich, I gave that a go. It’s strange to sit on a bird and to feel the strength of the feathers beneath you. The necks is soft. Weird and wonderful, really.

After that we continued on our day of wild animals in Outshoorn with a visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch and Conservation Centre, which is a short drive from the Ostrich Park. It’s worth noting that there are ostriches all over Outshoorn.

At the Cango Wildlife Ranch, we had an excellent tour. Our guide gave our group a great visit with facts and anecdotes in both English and German, which she had studied in school.

CWR raises money to protect animals, cheetahs in particular, and we decided to use our animal encounter ticket to pet some cheetahs.

We each got to visit with the cheetahs. I went first, then Adrian joined (when these pictures were taken of us together), and then Adrian had some solo cheetah time, whether he liked it or not! These guys are around 9 months old, of memory serves. Their fur is much more coarse than i expected, but the purring is so big!

Next up, we headed to the Cango Caves, which are come spectacular limestone caves first discovered in 1780. We opted for the standard tour, having arrived an hour before closing, and we were glad that we did. The more advanced tours involve climbing through tight spaces. Our guide told us a story about someone insisting on fitting through a tight gap and getting stuck, trapping the entire group down a leg of the caves, and it requiring 13 hours or so to get this person unstuck. Not fun.

After which we had a nice drive back to Wilderness, and had dinner at a local spot called The Girls, run by two local women. The food was superb, including these desserts.

Wednesday:

As we’d accomplished all of the touristy stuff on the agenda, we opted for a less eventful final day in Wilderness.

We had a nice walk on the beach. (Adrian didn’t like it – too nice!) We stopped off for a lunch of fish goujons and a greek salad at the Salinas Cafe, and then had another walk along the beach back home. (n.b. seemingly everywhere we ate in South Africa had a Greek Salad on the menu, and it was always excellent. The feta was so much better than anywhere else I’ve had it. I was ambivalent about Greek Salad until this trip.)

The lady who runs Mes Amis highly recommended a local restaurant called Serendipity, which was a surprise find, as we hadn’t expected to find such fancy food in Wilderness. Run by a charming couple, she’s the chef and he’s the sommelier and hunter, the food was innovative and really, off the charts. The meal started with a cocktail outside with a lovely view and was followed by a tasting menu.

After which, we happily called it a night. Hermanus, tomorrow!

Plettenberg Bay, South Africa


We flew from London to Joburg and Joburg to Port Elizabeth, before picking up our rental car on Sunday and heading to Plett.

A useful mistake of mine: I accidentally booked business class flights for our leg to Port Elizabeth. They were no more expensive than the tickets from CPH-JNB later in the trip, and I bought them on Expedia. I didn’t realise this until I picked up our tickets in JNB. Anyway, what this meant was that we could use the lounge and shower before hopping on another flights and having a drive ahead of us.

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Petting the domestic A320.

It seems all rental cars on the Garden Route are either white or  gold, and ours was no exception.

Driving along the route is on a 2 lane road, and people pull up on to the shoulder to let passing drivers past. The passing driver will generally flash their hazards after they pass to communicate a Thank You. It’s nice.

We arrived in Plett in the evening around dinnertime, despite a rather exciting road closure that lead us off  our preferred path. Google saved us in the end!

We checked in around dinnertime at The Robberg Beach Lodge, a recommendation from Nina and Darren.

The view is lovely, and we could see dolphins and a whale from the inside window as we enjoyed a welcoming glass of wine in the front room of the lodge.

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Then, we found a charming room awaited us before a nice dinner at The Lodge. After many hours travelling, it was good to just settle in.

The next day, we went on a long walk on the beach into the town of Plettenberg Bag. Plett is famous for its beautiful beach, and it did not disappoint.

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It was lovely.

We had nicely deep fried lunch at the The Deck at The Lookout where both opted for a combo platter of goujons and calamari in the sunshine.

and after a walk back along the beach, we packed up and headed for Wilderness.

South Africa 2016: The Game Plan


All good trips require a spreadsheet, so here we go:

Date Day Travel Sleeps
22-Oct Sa Depart 2005 LHR VS0601 Plane
23-Oct Su Arrive JNB 0755
JNB B- PLZ 1225-1400 SAA417
Drive to Plettenberg Bay – Hertz
The Robberg Beach Lodge
Address: 89 Beachyhead Dr, Plettenberg Bay, 6600
Phone:+27 44 533 0369
24-Oct M Drive to Wilderness Mes Amis Guest House
Address: Buxton Cl, Wilderness, 6560
Phone: +27 44 877 1928
25-Oct T
26-Oct W
27-Oct R Drive to Hermanus (3.5h) The Marine Hotel
Address: Hermanus, South Africa
Phone:+27 28 313 1000
28-Oct F
29-Oct Sa Drive to Cape Town The Cellars
Address: 93 Brommersvlei Rd, Constantia Heights, Cape Town, 7806
Phone: +27 21 794 2137
30-Oct Su
31-Oct M
01-Nov T CPT-JNB  0850- 1045 SAA316
JNB-HDS 1215-1320 SAA1227
Ngala Tented Camp
Address: andBeyond Ngala Private Game Reserve, Timbavati, 1380
Phone:+27 11 809 4300
02-Nov W
03-Nov R
04-Nov F HDS-JNB 1200-1300 SAA1226
Depart JNB 2130 VS0602
Plane
05-Nov Sa Land LHR 630a