A weekend in Budapest

One of the best things about Europe is the ease of traveling within the continent. One visa and plenty of cheap travel options! Last weekend we went on a last minute weekend trip to Budapest, the  capital city of Hungary.

How do I explain the city? It is one of the loveliest I have been to. There is beauty wherever you look. During the day, we walked and walked and walked. We saw, we stopped and we just stared. It is one of the rare cities where the river flows right through the middle of it. Not surprising as Buda and Pest were earlier two cities with very distinct cultures, which is true even today and united only in 1873. During the night, we enjoyed great dining, good wine and the eclectic environs of the famous ruin bars! Not to forget the amazing sights of the city all lit up golden against the dark backdrop of night.

Here is the two and a half day itinerary of our first trip to Budapest! I say first because I am sure, we are going there again. I have also mentioned the vegan/ vegetarian friendly restaurants we went to. We had a great meal at all the places.

Day 0: Vörösmarty square — St. Stephen’s Basilica — Danube Promenade — Shoes on the Danube — Hungarian Parliament 

Public transport in Budapest is very convenient. As soon as we came out of the airport, we bought a pack of 10 discounted tickets to use over the next 3 days. Took one of the oldest metros in Europe to Deák square which is like a hub of all public transport. From there our apartment at Király utca was a 5 minute walk. There were lots of clubs and cafes on Király. After a quick bite we started walking towards Vörösmarty square.

“You have to start your trip at Vörösmarty square”, we were advised and we followed :-). It is like the hub of all activities and just has a great vibe to set the tone of the trip. The square is full of food stalls with Hungarian and regional cuisines and there are also restaurants and cafes all around the square to suit every taste. Lots of stalls selling local artisan gifts, from handmade jewellery to soaps to honey to ceramic flowers to woollen caps to sweet Hungarian paprika… anything and everything is here. It’s a pleasure to just idly walk around the square.

2 day itinerary for Budapest, walking tour itinerary Budapest, Vorosmarty Square budapest

“You have to start your trip from Vörösmarty square!”

From there we headed towards Danube Promenade and started walking north. The promenade is beautiful with stunning views of the Buda castle on the other side. We went a little inside towards St. Stephen’s Basilica. The Basilica towers over all the nearby buildings and as we were walking towards it, in many ways, it reminded me of St. Paul’s cathedral in London. Devoted to Saint Stephen, the founder of Hungarian State, the church is magnificent from inside. As it was time for the regular mass, we were able to go a little further inside and there was a beautiful painting of Jesus on the cross inside.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures of it.

St. Stephen Basilica Budapest, weekend itinerary for Budapest, Budapest in 2 days

St. Stephen Basilica

The outside courtyard had many students on segways, that you could try and hire for short or long tours around the city. From the basilica, we went back on the river front and kept on walking towards the Parliament. Before the parliament, we came across the Shoes on the Danube  Bank memorial which literally gave me goosebumps. The memorial is in honour of the many (mainly Jews) who were killed by the Arrowcross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were marched to the riverfront, ordered to take off their shoes, and then shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. The memorial represents their shoes left behind on the bank. While I was clicking the picture, a mother and daughter approached one of the shoes, the little girl took out a rock from her pocket, placed it in the shoe, bowed and left. In the evening we went back to read more about Hungary’s position during the World War II and especially what the Jews in Hungary went through.

Shoes on the Danube Memorial

Shoes on the Danube Memorial

From there we went upto the magnificent Hungarian Parliament building complex. Inspired by Westminster, it is quite impressive, standing right on the banks with beautiful symmetrical architecture. Going around the complex we could admire it from different angles. One can go inside also. The tour takes about an hour and tickets are easily available there. The best view of the parliament though is from across the Danube river, from where you can admire the whole building in one frame.

Hungarian Parliament building, Budapest in 2 days

The magnificent Hungarian Parliament and Danube River

For the night, we went Andrássy utca, a beautiful street lined with trees on both sides and plenty of restaurants. We went to Mazel Tov, a fusion Israeli restaurant in the old Jewish quarter. It is built in the ruins of an abandoned building and retains the charms of the old building. The old brick walls and balconies are adorned with hanging vines. We loved the food there. They had traditional Israeli dishes and the chef had an interesting fusion menu. I specially loved the pistachio soup and the ‘sweet potato bun’ falafel burger!

Day 1: Gozsdu Antik Market — Fisherman’s Bastion — Matthias Church — Buda Palace — Széchenyi Chain bridge — Citadel — Szimpla Kert — Gozsdu Udvar

The next day we had just left the apartment when I got drawn into a narrow passage where little shops were just coming up… and as it happens, I pulled Sikander in and we went into one of the most popular weekend markets — the Gozsdu Antik Market. I completely lose myself in such places… some stalls will take you back in time with their antique gas masks, communist era memorabilia, vintage signs while some will showcase some beautiful heart made handicrafts. I bought a little piece for myself and Sikander bought himself a Soviet hat before we headed out. This market is cheaper than Vorosmarty square, so if you happen to be in Budapest on the weekend, Gozsdu will be a better bet for finding new and antique souvenirs. The Gozsdu Udvar is a closed corridor between many apartment buildings. The place is full of local pubs and restaurants.

Gozsdu antik market Budapest, weekend markets in Budapest, Budapest in 2 days

Gozsdu antik market

After grabbing an amazing brunch at Oh my green, we took a bus to Buda to explore the Castle district. The entire Castle district is charming. Most of the area is pedestrian with cobblestone roads, colourful homes, ornate fountains, flower beds in full bloom. It is like being in a period movie set. The golden age of Castle Hill was in the 15th century, following the marriage of King Matthias Corvinus and Beatrix of Naples in 1476. The new queen brought with her many Italian artists and craftsmen and Buda soon became the cultural capital.

Castle hill district Budapest, 2 days itinerary for Budapest

Walking in the Castle hill district is like walking in a fairytale!

We started our walk with the Matthias church. The colourful tiles rooftops of the church are a delight to see. Much of the area is free to walk around. We found ourselves a spot on one of the balconies in the Fisherman’s Bastion and just sat there, enjoying the views of the city and those across the river. It is a shame to think that the entire region was bombed to the ground during World War II but it has been beautifully built back up. We leisurely walked around the area, enjoying the Buda palace courtyards, hills and the gardens. The palace also houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum

We crossed over through the famous Széchenyi Chain bridge which was the first bridge built to connect the two sides. Bridges and Locks go hand in hand :-). There were very interesting locks on this one from new custom engraved ones to some very antique ones.

Budapest historic chain bridge, a weekend in Budapest

Chain bridge with its interesting locks

It is interesting how the bridge came about. In the earlier days, there was a pontoon bridge to cross the river during summers and in winters the river froze, making crossing possible. In 1820, bad weather made the crossing impossible and Count Széchenyi, had to wait a week to get to his father’s funeral. This experience led him to decide that a permanent bridge had to be built!

For lunch we went to Hungarikan Bistro, a local restaurant which was recommended as vegetarian friendly also. Since we were planning a long night we took a short afternoon rest in our apartment.  The evening started at Kadarka wine bar, very close to our place and highly recommended by our host. And rightly so. The staff was very friendly and willing to offer as many varieties as you want for tasting until you find that one perfect wine for you! We stayed put right there all through dinner.

After dinner, we headed back to Buda side and went all the way up to Citadel and the statue of liberty to see the city decorated in twinkling lights up and down. Since it was pretty cold, there were hardly any people around and we just stayed there enjoying the calm and the view.

Citadella in Budapest, a weekend in Budapest

The statue of liberty and stars on Danube

And well the night was still alive! We headed back to Pest and straight into Szimpla Kert, the mother of all ruin bars. It is a maze inside with little corridors and many bars setup in different rooms:-). Loved it and of course we were hungry again in the middle of the night so headed over to Gozsdu Udvar. The place had completely transformed from morning marketplace to a party street!

Day 2:  Rudas Bathhouse — Old Jewish Quarter — Deak Square — Heroes Square — City Park

The last already! But we did feel like we wanted to take it a little easy. I think we took it way to easy by spending the first half simply relaxing in the thermal baths at the Rudas bathhouse. Budapest is famous for its thermal mineral springs and it will be a shame to go without experiencing one and they are definitely very different from Turkish Hamams. There are pools with different temperature water and mineral composition with healing properties. They also have a rooftop pool from where we could enjoy the panoramic views of the city while comfortably sitting in the warm water.

From there we went to Edeni Vegan, a buffet style vegan restaurant serving local Hungarian dishes adapted to suit vegans. In the evening we headed out for a leisurely walk  around the old Jewish quarter. There is colourful street art on many buildings. Jewish bookshops and gift shops selling Hanukkahs. The synagogue, the largest in Europe, is a beautiful sight in the area and the holocaust memorial garden a moving experience when you read through the plaques with names of all those who died.

graffiti in the old Jewish district Budapest

Love thy neighbour! colourful graffiti on walls in the old Jewish district

Back to Deák square for some live music at the terrace cafe and then to Heroes square, a monument built in 1896 to celebrate 100 years of the Hungarian State. The central pillar has the angel Gabriel on top, holding the holy crown and looking over the entire city. The semicircular arcade has statues of seven important kings and chiefs of Hungary.

Heroes square Budapest, weekend guide to Budapest

Heroes square

From there the City Park is the perfect place to just sit, relax and watch people pass by. At night we went to Mazi, a Greek kitchen for a fitting last dinner and drinks.

We felt like we saw a lot and yet there was so much more to see. In this trip we did not go inside any of the paid monuments as we wanted to explore as much of the city as we could. If there was more time, I would have definitely liked to go inside few of the monuments and also to more World War II memorial buildings like the house of terror and hospital in the rock. I would have gone to Margeret Island too.

Which is why I know, we will be back for a second time!

Until later Budapest!

 

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The beauty of a few concentric circles

It’s amazing how a few concentric circles slowly evolve into a beautiful mandala. Each line emerges on its own. Most often inspired by something seen in the nature or work of friends. These mandalas started as a gratitude offering to the universe, for everything that I have been generously bestowed with.

how to make a mandala drawing

I am no artist but once I learnt how to make mandalas with a basic template of concentric circles, there is no stopping 🙂

While making these mandalas or stitching the hearts I experienced a beautiful calm that would take over me. I haven’t been able to sit in stillness in a long time. I think it has been almost 6 months that I was able to sit for an hour. Whenever I started on these little gifts, my mind would soon forget its entire chaos and the ordering of the “to-do” list and just focus on one petal to another or one stitch to another. Even though I wasn’t sitting in a specific position or had my eyes closed; it was akin to meditation for my mind and body.

When I start, I have no clue how it will turn out to be. I have no clue of how the design will grow. Sometimes I will start with a pattern and then look it from far thinking this won’t look good. I wasted a card. But then I will go on and complete it only to realise that each has a life of its own and each is beautiful. I often felt like my hand was just a tool and someone else had the design in mind :).

mandala designs

Some of the mandala cards I made. Some original, some inspired, some copied 😀

With the heart bookmarks, I wanted to write a quote on each one of them but was lost on which ones to pick. Just then Vandana didi started on this beautiful project of one-canvas-a-day with quotations and I found my quotes right there. Every day is a beautiful start with her paintings and quotations.

Paintings with quotations

Every morning Vandana didi sends us a picture of her beautiful art. I would say it is her sadhana!

I usually try to sit down for making any art when I am in a happy space but a recent turn of events showed me how art is the best therapy. When I was so stressed that I could do nothing else, I would sit down with a pen and paper and soon my mind will be lost in thinking about how to extend it and just for those few moments forget the impending problem and relax.

All these cards and bookmarks have gone as gifts for friends and strangers. I don’t know when, how and who will receive these or has received them. I am so grateful for having this opportunity to be able to gift some love through these little cards. Each one of them brought me a lot of peace and I hope it does the same for the noble friend who receives them.

Heart bookmarks! The bright African fabric were scraps given by a friend who uses them to make wonderful bags. I love these prints!

Heart bookmarks! The bright African fabric were scraps given by a friend who uses them to make wonderful bags. I love these prints!

With all my love

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a happy night is better than a good night :)

Every culture has there norms for greeting. In Angola, depending on the time of the day, the usual greeting if you meet a stranger (or friend) are:

Bondia  — Good day

Boa tarde — Good afternoon

Boa noite — Good night

Boa continuação — literally means ‘good continuation’ but is used as an equivalent to “have a good day”

But today, after 3 years of living here, for the first time, I heard a different greeting and it made me smile instantly.. which has kind of stuck to my face for now 🙂  I just got back from my neighbourhood grocery shop.. smiling all the way back. At the cash counter, the lady wished me “Feliz Noite” (Happy Night) and the guy at the door wished “Feliz Sabado” (Happy Saturday).

a happy night is better than a good night

I wish you a happy night; a happy Saturday and a happy moment every moment

Usually we almost keep happy under lock and it comes out only for special occasions and festivals… Happy Birthday; Happy anniversary; Happy Diwali; Happy Holi etc.. Why can’t every day and every moment be happy?

Isn’t happy a better state to be in than good? Why should happiness be reserved for special occasions? If you could see me now, I am smiling from ear to ear. ‘Happy’ has a bounce to it which ‘good’ lacks. It instantly plays the happy song in mind.

I am going to be so wishing you a happy morning, a happy day and a happy moment… because I’m happy..

 

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I should …

…write more often!

Can’t believe I am back to writing here after more than a year. The gap seemed like something I will never be able to cross. I had so many things to write about especially with the teaching assignment when everyday I had a story to tell over dinner and I would think in my mind “I should write this down.” I will phrase it while sleeping and then next day there would be one more story, one more learning and I had already forgotten about yesterdays’.

But yesterday when I was cleaning out my desk cupboards I found an old list. Written on a hotel stationary paper, it was a list of things “I should” do and on top was write more often.

If ever I needed a sign, this was it. While I have been writing regularly on my food blog – My Weekend Kitchen, writing for Volunteer Weekly and my own personal sharing here have become non-existent. So this is my first phoenix post to bring back the blog from dead. And I sure hope I don’t ramble too much :).

There was a time in the last year when I became dismayed with the online world and online existence. I kind of took a sabbatical from social media, whatsapp, viber and blogging and used only email to stay in touch with far of friends and family. It was great, but after about 3 months I felt I was being selfish. We live in a remote location in Africa and technology is actually our aide here. While I was fine, my family and friends only had social media to know what’s happening in my life. I was completely fine with nobody knowing about me but when I went back home after 3 months everybody had the same complaint. “Where have you disappeared? Is there no internet in Africa!” Well that phase is over. I am back but just on a few platforms. I actually did a factory reset on my phone to remove all the apps and then download only Facebook and whatsapp – the two apps that most of my friends and family used. It’s been good. Even with just these two, I feel like I get more information than I need but I feel they are necessary evils I need to stay with. But how much they interfere in my life is my choice.

What do you think about the interference of social media in life in general?

We just came back from an amazing trip to the little known island country São Tomé and Príncipe. I was keeping a travel journal there, something which I did after a long time. Hope to share about that soon.

muito amor,

ashima

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10 lines on love

to zoya…

kids-jumping-playing-fountain

little bits of allah

frolicking here and there

spreading sunshine with smiles

telling the world to

“be happy, be joyous

life is beautiful

life is carefree”

holding out their little hands

“come dance with us

let us be love.”

Continue reading

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The old zoo on ilha…

It’s been more than a year since I have been passing through the zoo that’s on the road to my house… no matter where I go, I have to pass in front of it. And it’s only about 3 km away. Yet I didn’t enter it until last week.

When I first crossed this huge green place running along one side of the road, I asked what was it? They said it was a zoo many years ago and it was destroyed during the war and then never renovated. I asked can we enter. They said no. You are not allowed to enter it or even walk by it. The whole area is now a favela and not safe for expats.

For a year, I crossed it, peeped in as much as I could and wished I could go inside. It looked so beautiful from outside. A whole stretch of wild growth, lots of trees, an old fence broken at places.. But whenever I asked my driver, he would say “ashima muito bandido, todos pessoas drogas, Ashima não pode entrar”. And I would again curb that desire.

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

the entrance of the old zoo and the fence broken at places with its graffiti covered wall

Last week when nimo came, he was also intrigued about life inside this old zoo. So much that I felt one of the days he would for sure go inside. One of the days when I was returning from foundation, I told diogo “let’s go inside”. He again started “ashima não bom…” before he could go on to muito bandido and drogas, I told him we will just drive through.. I won’t get down and if at any point we feel it’s not safe, we will turn back. On that he agreed.

Inside was beautiful. It reminded me so much of chikubadi in ahemedabad. . There was lush greenery, so many different kinds of trees, bushes and in one area a whole carpet of cactus!

People had made homes inside old containers. We didn’t go all the way to the homes. I didn’t even want to. If I wasn’t getting down, then it would feel very odd for people to see a car just drive through in front of their homes..

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

the jungle inside the old zoo

They have their own private beach entrance. Where lovers meet at the end of the day 🙂 At one end there is a boat making arena. And it seems like a whole marketplace for the park. There was a makeshift small beer shop, another one for basic groceries…

It’s a whole city living inside there!

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

the boat making arena, the market place and the entrance to the beach where lovers share a quiet evening

There were also heaps of garbage and scrap metal lying everywhere. in fact I was surprised to that the collection center for the only garbage company I have seen in luanda is right in the center of the park. Inside the fence you can see heaps of garbage with big birds standing atop and one lone security guard sitting right across.

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

garbage collection center inside the old zoo

But the most beautiful part of the park is also right next to this garbage collection center. A taekwondo class. In this city of the homeless, the bandidos, the drogas is one man teaching taekwondo to kids and young. I was transfixed at this beautiful sight. In so many ways it reminded me of the music classes at the independence park…

taekwondo class in the middle of the old zoo on ilha, luanda

beauty right next to the garbage collection center

Hope. Beauty.

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Esperança – Hope on the street

Hope is the only word that comes to me when I recollect what was it that I saw today.

This morning I went to a public park in the middle of Luanda city. Something tells me it must have been a great place long time back.. there is a broken popcorn machine, some beaten benches, a taped fridge. It must have been a place where kids played, people came for walks and just sit together and chat in the evening. But now the usual scene at the independence park in the morning is children and youth lying around – mostly high on gasoline.. you can smell clothes soaked in gasoline; the park is strewn with chewed up pieces of fabric.

volunteering in Angola

But lately every Tuesday and Thursday morning this scene changes. That is when Osvaldo and Costa enter the park armed with their guitars and lots of stools. They set up their stools under one of the shades in the park and start playing..

One by one street kids who sleep in and around the park come and sit. They then hand over the guitars and slowly begins the music class. They are still high on gasoline… it’s difficult for Osvaldo and Costa to do anything but they continue… The first thing they ask from the kids sitting in the circle is to throw out their gasoline soaked fabric.

Naama tells me that that Osvaldo himself was a street kids and was struggling with the drugs, but he found himself in music and brought himself out of it!

Some kids start listening.. some don’t care, some are fighting and some keep playing with the guitar. Most are more or less under the influence….Osvaldo and Costa know all this.. they know and they have all the patience in the world. They then start to teach them how to sing and how to play the guitar…

I had always wanted to be a part of this wonderful morning and finally it happened today. As soon as I entered the park I smelt gasoline and then I saw the class going on under a shade…It was beautiful. Osvaldo and Costa have their own ways of controlling and yet not controlling the kids… The only thing they ask of all the children and young to sit in the circle, is that they throw out their drugs.

music classes for all

Today looked so promising… of the 15 children that were there at least 5 were sober… For the first time there was a girl in the group… There were smiles and there was respect for each other. There was laughter. After almost 2 months, in terms of music, the group is still learning that a guitar has 6 chords but they are learning there is more to life than the street and drugs. They are seeing that they can be someone else.

They were creating a music of their own. The music of hope.

music of hope

I first shared this experience on Volunteer Weekly.

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Feito com Amor

It started at a morning tea session, when a friend of mine said “For Christmas, I want to make a nice gift bag for the ladies with dry food items like rice, milk powder, oil and some sweets”

The ladies here are the patients of a local maternity hospital. Every two weeks, my friend makes 100 sandwiches and goes to the maternity hospital to feed the ladies waiting for their labour and their families who all wait and live outside the hospital on the road for days.

I started thinking of how we can raise funds for this. The easier option was to just ask in our immediate circle but I wanted to do something more and reach out to more people so that they can all be a part of it. And I just didn’t want to ask money. What was it that I could offer?

Paper. I love paper. I love the way I can turn it into something beautiful. And I was at it. For almost a week, I made gift bags, cards, gift tags, quotation cards, fortune cookie stars, bookmarks… anything that I could think of. My whole room was full of craft material everywhere 🙂

feito com amor, made with love, wisdom crafts

Then I gave them to friends who I knew hosted many gatherings and offered them as wisdom crafts – no price tags; the price of the product is what the buyer is inspired to offer. I put up a paper explaining what they were for and asking people to give from their heart.

What was amazing was how more and more people joined in. One girl came up and said, I know you are making those bags.. I had these felt sheets at home, can you use them?

Another one came and said “I have these glitter tapes I haven’t used for months.. I am sure you can use them for your cards..”

Ribbons, more craft paper, sequins, paint everything started coming from unknown friends!

 

Naama, who runs a non-profit organisation, came to know of it and asked me if I could make 30 bags for their Christmas gifts for their supporters.

At first I thought I will make all of them the same. But as I started decorating the bags, something came over. Each bag spoke for itself and each was different. Before starting I didn’t have any set idea on decoration but slowly every bag’s decoration unfolded as if they were speaking for the person who is going to receive them.

Naama then insisted I create a tag for all of them and thus was born “Feito com Amor” [Portuguese for Made with Love].

feito come amor, made with love, art with heart, craft activities at home

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Of new years and resolutions

Let’s start with a happy new year! At least till the first month we should be allowed to say it 🙂

This last year went so quickly. It seems like just yesterday when I landed in Angola. And said hello to a new country and a new life. There were lots of new things in 2014 – new land, new home, a new culture, lots of new friends,  a new language, a new volunteering opportunity. I still haven’t been able to absorb all fully :).

I hope 2015 will bring in as much opportunities. Actually one of my resolutions is to see each day as an opportunity – 365 opportunities to learn and grow! Wow

image

Last year, inspired by my friend Shalini, I had taken the resolution to not buy anything new for myself. And surprisingly it was pretty easy to keep that resolutions and one year later I feel I really don’t need so much. What I have is so much more than what I need!

This year what are my resolutions? In the first week the resolutions change every day and so I refrained from writing this post :).

This year, I want to meet as many friends and family as possible. So many incidents happened last year that brought me face to face with the uncertainty of life. When I thought of a resolution, I asked myself that if this year is all I have, then what is the first thing I want to do? And the answer I got was that I want to meet the people I love. So I want to try doing that 🙂

Another is to attempt trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro. More than the real trek, I think the training is what my resolution is. By the end of this year I want to get back to an exercise and food regime.

As far as resolutions go, I would stick to only two. But if I want to write down my wish list, it would be an endless list…I want to get back to the morning meditation practice; I want to learn salsa;  I want to learn how to make a website from scratch; I want to learn photoshop and lightroom; I want to write more regularly on all my blogs; I want to do more with Feito com Amor (Made with Love)….

For now I will just say it’s a living list. I will keep adding to the list as time goes by 🙂

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South Africa road trip: Post trip

The road trip is over.. we are back into the daily grind. In fact now it’s been so many days that it feels like south africa was ages ago. During the last days on the road I had started jotting down a few points I wanted to share with friends who were planning a road trip in South Africa in January. And though I finally ended up telling them these in person, I still hope these will still be helpful for someone planning a similar trip 🙂

1. The roads are very good all the way from durban till Cape Town.  People follow lanes and all highway rules so driving is a pleasure in South Africa (at least on the route we took!)

2. Restrooms and gas/petrol: there are convenient gas stations on the highway with good restrooms and also little food outlets.. depending on the town, you might find just a small pick-and-go thing or a proper food court close to the gas station. Restrooms are mostly free but at some places there is a fee of 1 or 2 Rand.

3. Along smaller towns the highway food options close early.. by about 6 pm.

4. No matter what the season you are coming in, do bring your rain jacket and a warm jacket.

5. If you are planing to do treks, don’t forget your insect repellant.

6. Another must – sunscreen. The sun is pretty strong here..

7. For vegetarians: I didn’t have any problem finding vegetarian food all through the trip. All restaurants have 3-4 veggie entries. On the highway, I found Nando’s  veggie burger/pita and wrap the best!

I shall add more as I remember more. 🙂

Bon Voyage 
Love

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