Monday, 25 February 2008


On the outskirts of Stellenbosch is a small vineyard named Skilpadvlei. In the (northern hemisphere) summer of 2005, we road-tripped South Africa, staying in bed and breakfasts and self-catering accommodation all over South Africa.

When we arrived in Stellenbosch (which was as close as we were willing to pay for accommodation to Cape Town, but still close enough that we could get there for day-trips), we struggled to find somewhere to stay. Fortunately for us, we eventually found this delightful vineyard. We stayed in a three bedroom self-catering cottage, with a view of a lake, and a herd (flock?) of ducks that came to breakfast each morning. The cottage was well within walking distance of the 'Vlei's lovely restaurant, as well as their wine tasting facilities. Needless to say, we tasted each of their wines, and bought some of each (there were only four at the time, but they may well have extended their range since then). It is really very tasty wine. Plus, it has a cool name: SkilpadDop[1]. And the label has a lovely picture of a tortoise looking mighty tipsy with a wine glass over his head. Of course, this also may have changed since '05, but I kinda hope not. *grin*

Skilpadvlei was an incredibly affordable place to stay (although we were aided there, and in most other places, by the fact that we were travelling out of season - the SA winter), and was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable spots we stopped. The cottage was really beautifully decorated, and it felt considerably homey. Add that to the surrounding landscape, and the general beauty of the Western Cape, and you have a perfect mix. Even in winter, it was warm enough to braai (barbecue, for those of you who don't speak Safrican), and we had a thoroughly wonderful stay.

Stellenbosch has a lot to offer as a town, although we really didn't get to spend very much time there, as we spent a couple of days in Cape Town, being tourists and meeting up with people I hadn't seen in ages! It is, however, a lovely historical place, and if you're into wine, I imagine there are few places in the world that can beat it for good wine, coupled with beautiful landscapes and affordability. It's close enough to Cape Town to day-trip, like I said, but not so close that, as a tourist, you end up having to fork over the Grand Tourist Destination prices. Plus, I personally think Cape Town is somewhat over-rated. *ducks to avoid the wrath of the Capetonians I know read this* In my own, and Cape Town's, defense though, I am not a big city girl, so if big cities are your thing, your mileage may vary on this. ;)

However, if, like me, you prefer the road less travelled, but still feel you ought to 'do' Cape Town (since it is one of *those* destinations), Stellenbosch is a good accommodation alternative, and if you choose Stellies as your base of operations, I thoroughly recommend Skilpadvlei as a place to stay. The people were friendly, the place is beautiful, the food at the restaurant is good SA fare, and the wine is really quite scrummy.


[1] For those of you who have no Afrikaans, a Skilpad is a tortoise, and 'Dop' is colloquial Afrikaans, but is used widely amongst English South Africans too, for a drink - specifically an alcoholic drink.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Boating on the Cam and Ouse

I have been dithering over what to write about for my first real post. So I asked my other half, and he suggested this, so this is what you get.

Part of our great Eurotrip was spending several weeks in England and seeing all of his family while there. We were sponsored five days boating on the Cam and Ouse by his dad and stepmom as a wedding gift.

As it turned out, we were there in a summer of record high temperatures. Unfortunately, they left while we boated. It was chilly. And one of the days was downright unpleasant, but in general it was a remarkably relaxing and enjoyable experience.

The boat we hired came from the Bridge Boatyard. I honestly don't remember the exact model, but it had two cabins, a bathroom, a teeny tiny kitchen, and a living area that could be enclosed or opened out, depending on weather. It really had to be pretty awful to close it though, since the driver could barely see out if it was closed.

The first day was really pleasant. We mooched along the river merrily, sharing the driving (although I ended up doing a lot of it as the boys lost interest in the novelty), and generally having a good time. We learnt how to negotiate the locks, though the first few took some practice. We stopped for the night at a little river-side pub where we met one of A's relatives for a drink, before heading back to the boat for our first proper boat-cooked meal. I honestly don't remember now what we ate, but it was fun. It felt ever so cosy, all hanging out in the teeny tiny boat's living cabin, closed in from the chilly night air.

We managed to ground the boat on what I think was the second day. A bloke had to come and help us get ourselves free. However, it seemed that there was some issue with the steering, so it wasn't entirely our fault. Starting it up was always a bit of an adventurous gamble after that. :)

There was one very miserable day, where I crashed viciously into the side of a lock while trying to fight the tide and the wind and not being able to see through rain. Fun. By the end of that day I was shattered. Exhausted and more than ready for bed.

But, really, apart from those two incidents, it was gorgeous. Being gently rocked to sleep was incredibly soothing. As was sitting at the front (I am sure there is a suitable nautical term for that, but alas, I am woefully inadequate when it comes to sea-faring lingo), reading my book and enjoying the scenery as it slipped quietly past. In fact, in general, the quiet was wonderful. It was remarkably peaceful, considering what a vastly over-populated place England is. We would occasionally pass another boat like ours, or a long boat, but generally people smiled and waved and were all very chilled.

One evening we met a couple of my online friends who I hadn't met in real life before, and had a pleasant evening feeding them fish curry and talking nonsense. Really it was an awesome way to spend a few days.

On the last full day, we found we had a long way to go to get back to the boatyard by the time we needed to the next day. So we rode fast and far, right up until the sun went down and we could hardly see to moor ourselves up any more. It was a gorgeous evening. The weather had been temperamental at best, but that evening the sun set slow and pink. The river was calm. We hardly saw anyone else, apart from several passing swans. It was an incredibly calm, beautiful, long evening, and by the time we battened down for the night, we were all feeling very chilled and happy. The next morning we woke early and got going, stopping only for our last breakfast of bacon, sausages and eggs, before getting back to the boatyard, and saying farewell to the vessel that had been our home for several days.

If you are in England in the summer months, and looking for something a little different to do, I would absolutely recommend this. It was a really different, exciting, and simultaneously soothing way to spend the better part of a week. It was fun, and really quite an unusual experience. Also, the first time I'd ever driven a boat, so, believe me, it's not that hard to do. :)

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Introduction - the travelling dragon.

Many people are constantly amazed by how much I have travelled in my mere 28 years. I have been to 5 of the 6 major continents, and my country list is close on 14 countries. What's more, I've often done it on a more or less shoe string budget. In the (northern hemisphere) summer of '06, my man and I roadtripped Europe with his two teenage sons. We travelled through eight countries, camping and eating lots of bread, cheese and salad. It was awesome.

So I thought to myself, what I should do is create a blog that helps people out when it comes to finding cheap or exciting or generally off-the-beaten track places to go, based on places I have been. Maybe some bigwig in BBC will find it, decide I rock and pay me to travel. Who knows? ;)

So, for anyone who finds this by accident, or who gets sent here by someone who knows me, let me introduce myself.

I am South African by birth and breeding, and heart. I lived in SA until the ripe old age of 21, when, having finished a degree in Philosophy and Drama, I came out of University, blinking in the glare of Real Life with no idea what to do next, so I ran away to America. OK, so it wasn't quite so dramatic - I went and spent the first of what was to be three summers in upstate New York working on a wonderful summer camp called Welmet. After the first summer, I was bitten by this travel thing, and proceeded to start looking for work that would allow me to go to far off and exotic places. I got a job teaching kids in the United Arab Emirates. Ended up spending four years there (having met the man I later married in my first week there!). During our summer holidays, we had some truly amazing trips. The first summer was my last in New York. Our second summer I took my man and his kids to South Africa, where we roadtripped around for two months or so, staying in various b 'n' b's, going to game parks, and visiting my all time favourite arts festival in Grahamstown. Our third year, we did the great Eurotrip. By the end of our fourth year we had decided we'd had enough of the UAE and were very ready to go somewhere new.

Thus began the strange transitory stage of which we are only now just getting ourselves out. We spent six months in York in the UK while waiting for visas and employment opportunities, which came in the form of a job for him at the Otago University in Dunedin. Which brings us to the present day. Here I am, sitting in sunny Dunedin, unemployed (though working on that) and finding myself with a lot of time on my hands. Thus this blog. (I may even do a couple of others...)

My next post, and the ones to follow, will talk about specific destinations and even, possibly, specific places we've stayed at. That way, should any of you be planning a roadtrip around SA or Europe, I'll be able to give you some ideas. Needless to say, if there is anything in particular you would like to know about, let me know, and I will do my best to oblige.

That's me. Hi.