Travel

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 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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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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Day 11-12: the last leg @ Capetown

I am back in Luanda now… I am back at work but my mind still feels like it stayed behind in Capetown. We left capetown yesterday morning with a promise to return. And we have to return because the city has so much and we experienced so little.

We reached capetown around 6 pm. .. got late in leaving from Somerset mall and then got stuck in the traffic outside the city. We arrived at Blackheath lodge,  and were greeted by, Godfrey, one of the friendliest of faces :). After checking in and a warm shower we decided to walk to the V&A waterfront. We had just two days and it was also the end of vacation so we wanted to take  it slow and easy… capetown is flooded with things to do and it’s difficult to choose but we had decided that in this trip we wouldn’t stress ourselves in going from one point to another..

First evening was a leisure walk along the beach road from 3 anchor bay to waterfront and then a bit pub hopping and a quiet dinner.

The next day we wanted to go to table mountain but the cable way was closed and we had no enthu for a trek up right now. We did the drive along the cape peninsula, stopping at the beautiful bays in between. The drive is amazing (and with well placed viewing points to get the best views of the scenery). We stopped quite often (again!), just sat watching the ocean and the mointains and the city from a distance and of course clicked a lot of pictures :).

All the way to cape point, we felt like stopping every few moments and take in the beauty of this place. At cape point, there is a lighthouse which is also called the ghost lighthouse… When it was built, it could hardly ever signal the ships of the approaching land because most of the times it was covered in clouds. Much later a new light house was made a little below.
Cape point is also the point where ‘the two oceans meet’. That’s the tag line as well! Standing at the lighthouse and looking towards the ocean one can see the difference in the colour of water on two sides. It should be due to the difference in depth but I am not sure if that is really the boundary. Actually how are the boundaries of oceans determined anyway? I would love to read more on that.

For us the most striking  or rather beautiful feature of cape point was the views of cape of good hope from there..The most stunning views we had seen on the whole drive.

From cape point we then headed to the cape of good hope and I said I would have preferred spending more time looking at it from a distance than being there. But you do check on being at the southwesternmost  point of the African  continent. If that matters :).

cape point and cape of good hope

On our way back, we stopped at Simon’s  town for lunch and then went to see the penguins at boulder penguin colony. As soon as we entered the park we saw two penguins and got crazy with clicking their pictures only to be super awed by a whole colony of them just a few steps ahead. Super cute animals… i just enjoyed them dping their different tactics… and they swim so so fast! And once on shore they will try to dry off by shaking all the water. Amazing.

boulders penguin colony

Then we headed to signal hill – the view point for table mountain and in a way for the whole of capetown city. We saw the sun set from up there, walked around a little. The beacon of hope that shines over capetown is also right there. It’s a solar powered huge star that is made from the recovered railing around Robben Island.

For dinner, we went to an Indian restaurant – Bukhara. It’s right in the city center. Our hotel owner had suggested it and I really wanted some nice dal makhni and butter naan! :). Sikander enjoyed his nihari. I think we over ordered because with some more rice or bread two more people would have eaten. Sikander decided to do just that :). He ordered one more plate of rice and asked our waiter to make two take aways – one veg and one non-veg. On our way back we gave one the guy helping cars park on the street and one to our taxi guy. Our taxi guy was so moved that he didn’t even start his meter. He said “what can I charge you when you have already given me dinner. You give me what you feel like.” 🙂 the guy was from Congo trying to make a living here.

The next day – our last day – we just wanted to explore the city center. During breakfast we checked the cable way and it was open.. but with some difficulty we decided to let it go and keep it for the next time…

After breakfast, we first finished all our packing so that we can have a relaxed evening and as our flight was at 6 am there wasn’t much time to sleep also. Then we left for the city center.

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We first went to the district 6 museum – a museum dedicated to the apartheid history and people’s  struggle to have a place and rights on their own land.
A sadness enveloped me as I walked through the personal pictures and texts in the District 6 museum.

“You are now in Fairyland”
The handwritten text that one of the residents must have painted echoes what the neighbourhood meant for them. What their homes, their neighbours’ homes, the families all shared together. A fairyland.
Photographs of girls playing with skipping ropes on the streets outside their homes, of mothers with their babies, of daughters with their dolls, of family dinners, of boys making mischief – all of them transported me to that time and place. And slowly I felt anger and pain on being asked to leave my home. My fairyland being destroyed and grazed down to become a white neighbourhood. Why is this suddenly a “whites only” place and people who have been calling it their home for generations have no longer any right to call it so.

District 6 museum

After district 6 museum, as we were walking in the city, we came across the slavery museum. Another sad encounter with our history. Pictures and accounts reconstructed from what was told. The sad thing about slavery is it still exists.. In my own country, bonded labour is still practiced openly… family members are still sold…trafficking is a whole racquet  and in so many more invisible ways..

By this time we were hungry so we walked along.. and came across a sign of masala dosa hanging on our heads :). And masala dosa it was. The place is mentioned in lonely planet  but seriously there wasn’t much to it. The dosa were good but the chutney and the filling all were bland and lacked a flavour. But for me, who hasn’t had a restaurant style big dosa in ages, it was good. 🙂

Afterwards we went to company gardens.  Sat on a bench where sikander read his book and I took a siesta. There is a cute cafe as well inside the garden…

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Later in the evening we went to Beerhouse, a place that prides itself for having 100 types of beers. Another waiter at a restaurant had earlier suggested us this place. What was great for me was that they had 100 ml size as well so one by one, I could taste many :P.

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From there we walked to the waterfront and a mohito later our last evening in capetown was over.

The next morning we boarded the flight making a promise to the city that we will be back.

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Lots of love

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Day 9-10: all the way to capetown

…With a little wine detours 😉

Beyond knysna we drove along some of the most scenic coastline. We were practically stopping every 10-15 min to click a picture until sikander said we will never reach stellenbosch  in time for wine tasting if we keep on like this! 😀

So we headed on. At one point I was looking in the paper map we had and felt that Route 62 will be a more scenic  route than N2. Route 62 is also the longest wine route so that would mean a lot of tastings on the way. At Swellendam we left the highway to join Route 62.

As soon as we hit the Route 62, the landscape completely changed. From wide open grasslands and roads running to infinity, we came into rocky mountains and zigzag roads. It’s an idyllic drive. Amidst the mountains and vineyards, the roads curves along without stressing the traveller.

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On to route 62

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Driving through the mountains on route 62

Our first stop was Mantagu. Only because lonely planet said the main street of the town is flanked by 28 national monuments… It’s a beautiful, almost manicured town but we didn’t really find the period houses that have been renovated and called national monument worth the stop.. we then headed to Robertson.

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In robertson town.. The roads are decked up with beautiful flower rows everwhere

A lot of SA wines we knew of come from the Robertson wine area. There are many wineries here and you should just stop by whim… unlike Stellenbosch, most regular wine tastings are free. We went to Van Loveren. I chose to do the chocolate+wine tasting and sikander went for the free regular tasting… I think he had a better time because I got a questionnaire to fill after each of my tasting and he was pleasantly busy in conversation with the lady behind the bar and enjoying his wines while I was wondering if I should mark the taste as woody or nutty? Is it garnett or deep red? 🙂

Afterwards we went to Cristina’s@Van Loveren – a Mediterranean bistro inside the vineyard. Lovely food and lovely atmosphere.

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Cristina's@Van Loveren

With all our stops, by the time we reached Stellenbosch, it was already 5:00 pm. Our first question as soon as we entered the estate where we were staying for the night was “when does the tasting close?”. We still had half hour so we headed straight for the cellar instead of the reception :).

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We had chosen this estate to spend one night in luxury of a 5 star, amidst the vines and scenic beauty of stellenbosh. We didn’t have the best of stays there due to service issues at the hotel and by morning we figured we are more suited to places that have a more personal approach than hotels that have next to nil human interactions. In lodges and B&Bs and backpacker places, people are more open to talk and share their travels… The owners are right there having breakfast with you, giving you a little about the history of the area, helping you plan the day and taking care of anything that doesn’t work. In hotels, one the guests usually keep to themselves and two when things don’t work, the staff can sometimes be very careless about it without worrying about business. They have and 100 rooms what if one traveller goes back dissatisfied? That was somewhat our experience at Asara wine estate. The views from the hotel are breathtaking and I am a bit sad that we didn’t have the kind of time we hoped we would.

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Beautiful views of stellenbosh from the wine estate

Anyway next morning we headed into town. This was also our shopping day. I wanted to buy a lot of craft stuff for my volunteering activities at the foundation and a friend had suggested a specific art supply shop in Somerset mall and we also wanted to buy some spices and groceries that we don’t find in Angola. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Stellenbosch city center but I would definitely want to spend a couple of days there exploring the city center.

Shopping was uneventful. I mean nothing to write home about..  I got crazy at the card stock counter and kept on adding pattern after pattern in my basket :).

Late in the evening we reached our beautiful lodge – Blackheath lodge – that was to be our home for the next two days.

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Day 7-8: up in the trees

We just left our nest atop a tree in an indigenous forest just outside of knysna.
Last two days were the most relaxing so far… There was not a sound other than those of birds and ourselves. There were times when I would be staring out of the window and sikander will come up from behind and ask “what are you thinking”.. and I was amazed by the fact that I was thinking nothing. My mind was blank. Rested. Quiet. I was just enjoying the scene outside the window :).

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Just staring out and listening to the birds...

After leaving Colchester, we started phase 2 of our trip.. almost midway at Port Elizabeth we changed our chevy for a BMW.. and made way towards the garden route. One of the amazing features of the N2  and also the summer days is the long range visibility. The road at times feel like it’s stretching to infinity…  right ahead is an unending road and on both sides are open fields with mountains in a distance.

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Roads stretching to infinity

Our first stop was at tsitsikamma. There is a nice highway pitstop there with both on-the-move and sit down restaurants, fuel, rest areas and information booth. We reached knysna about 2:30pm. Went about looking for places open for lunch but being a Saturday everything in the town was either already closed or closing. Picked up a few groceries as we were going to stay at Teniqua  self catering tree tops and left. A few kilometers  down the road we came across signs of a restaurant.. took the alley road and went in. It felt like we have suddenly reached Goa! Bamboo shacks… rooms behind the shack… tables on the water front, reggae  music, pool table inside the shack and assorted water games gear… After having lunch and drinks there we headed back on the highway.

The GPS brought us to a point on the road which had a sign board of teniqua treetops but there was no sign of anything far far away along the road… The board said left, a little distance away there was a gate on the left which said “private property, keep closed all the time”. Still we could not see any building inside the gate.. we went in… After a little while came to one more similar gate. Went in… saw a few ladies coming from the opposite side and confirmed that we were on the right path. Just about 500mts away hidden in the trees was the teniqua main area.
The owner William showed us around the property a little. Teniqua is a 38 hectares big resort in an indigenous forest.. There are only 8 treetops in the whole area with each being so private that you can’t hear or see from one to another… The common area has a big place for bonfires, library of books and games, a huge huge chess on the floor, swimming pool, trampoline, swings.. “enough if you ever get bored of your treetop!”.

Robin took us to our treetop. We fell in love with it as soon as we entered. Everything was so thoughtful in there… A little well-equiped kitchen; a bedroom, a covered sitting area with windows on all sides, an open bbq  area, toilet and open to the sky shower and bath tub! 🙂 it was a lovely little house on the trees. It was almost like being tarzan and jane.

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Our little cabin on a treetop

After unpacking our groceries, we went for a little walk in the forest. They have a few marked trails. First day we just walked in the open grassland area of the forest and enjoyed the beautiful sunset and the mountain view from a mountain top. Went back cooked dinner… It was getting cold and a warm bowl of daal chawal was the best dish at that time :).

Next day morning we starting on a trail all the way down to the river bed. After going up and down two mountains we reached a pool in the river and it was jet black. Robin had told us earlier about the “Coca Cola” rivers of the region. The water is a reddish so at places where the river runs deep, it appears black and at the shore it makes interesting colours of red and orange.

We were the only ones there… so it like our own private river pool! We stayed down for about half hour and the we started to walk along the river bed so that we can climb the first mountain itself rather than climbing up and down two. At one point it was no longer possible to walk along the treetop side of the river so we crossed – with shoes tied together and on our shoulders. The other side was quite difficult and at one place we felt we can cross back. Sikander even did (and lost the water bottle to the river!) But the flow was too high and the river so deep that I chickened out.. and he had to cross back. We kept on going ahead. . Figuring out a path where we thought it looks like people have walked.. only to realise we were lost. We had no water and the sun was at its peak. We decided to turn back and go up the original way itself. But after about 200 mts  or so we saw a white painted stone on the other side… and then we also saw their board on the other side marking the 2nd place to cross…. yeah!!!! The fact that we had no water and it was getting hotter and hotter was what worrying us. once we saw the path, it was such a big relief… we climbed up mostly without much talk and drank two full glasses of water each upon reaching the cabin :). A friendly hike turned into an adventure..

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Hiking in the teniqua forests

In the evening we again walked around the open grasslands area and took in the beautiful birds and flowers of the place. We also played a half game of scrabble at the common entertainment room. I had planned a pasta meal for dinner. Though simple, it by far is the tastiest pasta I had 🙂 eating our dinners with the views of the sun setting on one end and the moon rising on another… The whole experience made the food amazing!

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Pasta with roasted eggplants

Oh! And I forgot to mention we also had a cola bath in the open! The water in the taps is from the river.. so when you fill the bath tub it’s like going inside a tub full of coca cola.. we had bought some Epsom salt at the local groceries and we just sat in it out in the open with our glasses of wine..

Lots of good food for the mind and the body.. After two nights of bliss we now head towards stellenbosch..

xoxo

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Day 5-6: in the eastern cape

Perched on top of a treetop, the only sounds I can hear right now is the slow breathing of sikander sleeping next to me and the chirping of the birds. It’s amazingly quiet and tranquil over here. But this post is about the days before we reached on this treetop.

One thing which I think I forgot to mention about wild lubanzi I my last post was their amazing homemade bread in the morning. And the day we were leaving, Rahel, made an out of this world bread..It was almost like a farewell breakfast..

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Rahel's out of this world bread

After feasting on the bread and sikander on the very greedy breakfast, we bud our goodbyes for until next time and made way further down on the road. We didn’t plan it that way but it’s interesting how on every drive  the scenery around changed from the last time. We are still in Xhosa territory.. While the surroundings were mainly wide open grasslands from southbroom to wild lubanzi; now it was a zigzag of grasslands and forests. The forests of this region are dense wit small bushy trees. My picture of a forest would be of tall trees but as our host in Colchester explained to us this is a unique feature of this region. This feature also helped the Xhosa people to hide out 100s of years ago when they would attack the white settlers.

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The route was a zigzag of open grasslands and dense forests

We stopped at King williams town for lunch.. It was around 3. We were thinking of whether to call it a day there or drive further down. We had to reach knysna on 6th. We decided to stretch a little on that day and stay near Addo National Park and have a day of rest on 5th. It’s easier to stay for 2 nights at one place than to switch places everyday. We had lunch at Nando’s. I love their vegetarian entries. After a takeaway coffee, were back on the road. Close to Colchester, the game reserve territory starts and if you are careful,  you can see a lot of animals. The first time we spotted zebras, I made sikander go back so that I can take a photo of them. Though we soon realised that zebras are the easiest to spot along the route! We saw giraffes, buckaneers and deers as well. We reached Colchester  by 6:30pm. Checked into a B&B  we had found on the net – dungbeetle. It is beautifully situated right on the Sunday’s river. Colchester  is a small village/town with just one pub/restaurant and that too close for last orders at 8. We had a lot of wet clothes after our hikes in the rain for the last two days so we first went to launderette  and dropped our laundry (Rand 70 for one load!) And then went to Grunters.

This vacation has pleasantly been about early to bed and early to rise, till now. The sun rises at 4:30.. by 5:30 the room is flooded with light! Sikander is a little under the weather, so we decided to take the day easy. Many would be disappointed  with us, but we decided not to do either the Addo National Park or the biggest sand dunes of the southern hemisphere.

Coming from India, seeing just elephants didn’t really excited me so much. Even though they are bigger here in Africa, we were sure we going to do a safari later in the year. Instead we decided to do a little drive around the eastern cape towns.

We started towards Bathurst. On the way saw an interesting farm stall – nanaga, and stopped for a quick bite and also purchased some farm produce like jams and sauces and to sikander’s  dismay I spent a lot of time in their knick knack counter as well :p.

Bathurst has the oldest licenced pub of South Africa – The Pig and the Whistle. It has never closed it’s doors except during renovation. It’s got an interesting history (which is there on their website too) and the building is currently much the same as it was in 1820s.

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Entrance to The Pig and The Whistle Inn, locally known as The Pig :p

Bathurst itself is a quaint little town. After our lunch at The Pig, we walked around the town, walking into art galleries, old book shops, antiques shops selling curios.

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The town of bathurst

We stopped at a giant pineapple! It seems this region is a big pineapple producer and the farmers paid their respects to the pineapple by making this monument! 🙂

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The big pineapple at Bathurst

From there we drove through Port Alfred and Kenton on Sea. Kenton on sea was a perfect time for a coffee but by 5pm everything in the town was closed. Surprisingly everything on the highway was also closed… One stall was open but they had no electricity and so no coffee…

By the time we reached Colchester back it was already 7. We had a drink with our hosts – etta  and derry, who told us a lot more about the history of the region. Back in 1800s the Xhosa tribes were attacking the whites in Port Elizabeth and to counter that the government gave Britons huge farmlands that acted like a warning system. The government was not able to catch many as they would hide in the dense forests nearby but this definitely reduced the occurrence of attacks in Port Elizabeth.

Etta then talked about the nature around. The sand dunes right next to the river are an intriguing feature after all.  And the significance of the dungbeetle and the unique characteristics of the African elephant.

What I love about staying at B&Bs  is the cozy interaction one can have with the hosts. This is typically absent in hotel stays.

After another dinner night at Grunters we called it a day. The next day we were leaving for knysna, excited about living in a tree house! 🙂 

PS1: we were stopped by traffic police twice during the two days, both the times they said we were not allowed to drive on our Indian licence. That we needed an IDP… but both the times they let us go with a warning. Thank you officers! xoxo

PS2: as before more pics when I get back home and can download from my camera!

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Day 2-3-4: south broom to wild lubanzi, wild coast

I think it’s 3rd today.. my feet are cold and numb and my body is tired but I feel so so rested. I am sitting in this quite corner at wild lubanzi backpackers, sipping a cup of hot water and thinking where should I start to share the last three days..

So on 1st we left southbroom and headed southwards on our journey. Beyond southbroom, the road goes inwards and even though we need to go along the coast, there is no road. The scenery completely changes from coastline to vast empty grasslands with villages scattered at distances.

I loved the way the sun and clouds played to put random shadows on the grassland. (I realised I haven’t got a great picture of that on my phone.. but once I am back home I will get all the amazing pictures from my camera and upload!)

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Durban and the surrounding  area is zulu territory and now slowly we were moving into xhosa territory. The difference was quite visible as the style of houses slowly changed to round homes with straw roofs.

But the most amazing thing of that drive for me was to see the moon and the sun together at the same time. It was around 3:30pm and I looked up and saw the moon. I pointed it to sikander “look the moon is up already. But it’s just 3:30.. and I looked out of the window on the other side and there was sun.” I can’t even explain the excitement. It was childlike… I had never ever before seen the sun and moon together! At first I couldn’t even understand how it is possible until sikander explained. It felt like going back to the revolution and rotation class :p

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It's not a great pic as the sun's light is kind of hiding the moon but that's all I could get

Around 5pm we reached wild lubanzi backpackers. We had to park the car around 5 km away and then they came in their jeep to pick us up. The wind that day was high and it was so so cold… nobody had prepared me for this.. I was thinking December, southern hemisphere! It would be summers 🙂 but no its cold and it’s raining.. I started complaining but as soon we entered our room, just the view outside was enough to forget everything.
Rightly as they say on their website, wild lubanzi is at the end of the world. The Indian ocean stretches as far as the eye can go… and the coastline is beautiful. Our home for the next 3 days, lubanzi, is a warm cozy place created by Rahel and Aidan. you can see the labour of love that went into creating this little corner they have. That evening we had warm dinner of veggie stew, rice and vatkoel cooked by Aidan with veggies right from their garden.

Next day morning after breakfast we did a short trek to a hidden beach two mountains beyond… we were back by 11 am  and then we volunteered a little in their vegetable garden. Then we picked some veggies from their garden, made ourselves a lunch sandwich and slept off the afternoon. Evening we went to another beach which was just one mountain away 🙂 (I love the distances in mountains) one of Rahel’s dog was our guide and protector on this one.. While sikander went for a dip in the cold water, me and the dog slept on the beach. Today Rahel cooked beautiful fish (for non vegetarians) and eggplant for vegetarians… For the next day we volunteered to cook some Indian dinner 🙂

That night I kept waking up in the middle and look out my glass door to see if it’s sunrise yet.. and suddenly at one time I saw the golden glow coming up in the sky. I jumped out of the bed, woke up sikander and went out.. It was just 4:30.. way too early but it was worth it.. The most beautiful sunrise I have see till now..

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After the sunrise, we slept again :p. After breakfast we left for a little longer trek to the hole in the wall. Sarah and Luka who were also staying at wild lubanzi joined us. When we started it looked like it would rain and rain it did. The route was beautiful and the rain added to it. The bright green of the mountains, the slight drizzle and the rocky coastline. For a moment you would think you are in Scotland and not South Africa!

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Hole in the wall was about 5 or 6 mountains away. After about 3 mountains, two little boys joined us.. “we will direct you to it” 🙂 I wish we could have taken more pictures long the way but it started raining pretty good so we couldn’t get our camera out too often. When we reached there, for the best views of the wall, one needed to cross the river. Me and Sarah were fine with a little less than best views but sikander and Luka swam across. There were some more scholarships kids there who came across and told us “we can swim and take you across on top, if you want” 🙂

Soon we started our trek back. At one of the mountain top we took a break and while we were looking out in the sea suddenly one of us shouted “there are dolphins out there!” There was a group of 5 dolphins so close to the shore! It seemed like we were walking on the edge of the earth.. There was only Indian ocean as far as the eye would go.. I believe the landmass due East would only be australia, so in a way yes we were walking on one the edges 🙂

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The way back, rain made it pretty difficult. At one point I my shoes started pulling me down and I saw that they were about an inch above the ground due to the mud sticking to them… For sometime I tried cleaning them on the grass and walking again but it was just crazy. I was walking 4 steps and stopping to clean them so finally I decided to walk barefoot. And it was so much easier. It’s amazing how initially I was trying to step clear of dung and slowly it stopped to matter where I stepped. 🙂

In many ways the trek and wild lubanzi  reminded me of the month I spent volunteering in uttarakhand. Lubanzi was so much like shyamavan. Everything was handmade, everything was done together.. There is not really a difference between staff, volunteer and guest.. everyone is pitching in, in their own ways to keep the place running.
We got back cold, wet and with sore muscles. There was nothing like a hot shower at that point but the sun didn’t shine the whole day and so cold shower it was! 🙂 again a reminder of uttarakhand  and my 5 min cold baths everyday :).
After the shower I fixed a lunch from dinner leftovers and veggies from the garden. Lubanzi runs a ‘free lunch’ project. You can pick up any veggies from their garden and use it along with dinner/ beakfast  leftovers and fix yourself a lunch. We had a well deserved afternoon siesta and at 4 we started preparations for our bollywood night :). The first thing I made for everyone was the Indian masala chai with cloves and ginger and cardamoms. Nothing kills cold better than that!

And then sikander became the DJ for the night and put on some peppy bollywood music. I love their kitchen.. its open, it overlooks the ocean and you are part of everything going around if you are in the kitchen.. It was the kind of kitchen that would make you want to cook 🙂

We made a simple dinner of potato curry, mix veg, rice and hot chapatis. The chapatis were the hero of the meal :). Imagine warm chapatis coming from the kitcheb as you eat! After dinner we all staff around the table, talking everyone with their drinks or smoke. After some time I came in this corner, tucked myself in a blanket and started writing this post :).

Tomorrow we leave from here !and continue our journey southwards.

PS: I will put up pictures of the warm cozy wild lubanzi and the hole in the wall when we are back home after December 15th

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Benfica – the bazaar in Luanda!

Benfica is the local art and craft market just outside Luanda city. Wood and ivory handicrafts, handmade jewellery, fabrics, baskets, oil paintings – you can find it all over there! It reminded me a lot about the flea markets in Goa. Handicrafts, browsing, comparing and bargaining. All the fun things about shopping! This also means that you have to manoeuvre yourself among a crowd of sellers trying to get your attention. “Por favor madam! Come here… I have the best statues here” “I give you good price!”. But that is a key characteristic of any flea market! 🙂

benfica art and craft market ,handicraft shopping in luanda, luanda shopping, places to see in luandaIf you know Portuguese, it’s much easier to converse with the sellers; but even if you don’t, its not that big a problem.  I felt buyers and sellers have a universal language of numbers :). The prices in Benfica are much cheaper than in regular handicraft shops in the city. Great place to buy some souvenirs for self and for gifting. The first price quoted is usually very high and going to half the price is pretty okay especially in wooden handicrafts. I bought a statue for 2K when the initial price quoted was 5K; my friend bought another for 3K when the initial quoted price was 8K but then she bought 3 of them so was able to bargain more! I couldn’t bargain at all in the baskets. The lady said 2000 kwanzas and when I proposed 1000, she simply went back to her weaving without even bothering to entertain in any bargaining! 🙂 But the fact that I saw her weaving it there, made me buy it without any discount :). Fabrics are all decently priced… you might be able to bargain a little if you are buying many items. We didn’t check on prices of paintings. They also sell ivory statues, but I didn’t even go to any ivory seller as it would mean encouraging poaching.

Benfica is open from Tuesday to Sunday. We went on a weekday afternoon so it wasn’t very crowded but I have heard that on weekend there are more vendors, so more choice but so would be the crowd of shoppers.

Going to Benfica was an experience. Till my benfica trip I had only been to the malls and standard shops here. Benfica was fun; it was interactive. You are not looking at a label for the price but you are actually engaging in conversation with the locals and if you like that (and a good bargain), plan a trip there.

Everything was so colourful and vibrant! I missed not having my camera there and could just take a few shots with my phone but I’m just waiting to find company to go there again and this time I’m going there just to click! 🙂

Directions: As you go from Luanda city to Luanda sul, Benfica is on the right after the first pier to Mussola. The market is covered so no need to worry about the sun, but it does get pretty hot so late mornings or early evening would be an ideal time.

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a new home

“Time Flies” is such a reality! It was just yesterday when I landed in Angola, my new home, and yesterday when I was talking to friend in India she said “You’ve been there for more than a month! Post some pictures of the place!” And it suddenly struck me…it’s been more than a month!

One month of complaining, accepting, exploring, enjoying and loving the new country that is to be my home for a few years now. Luanda is lot like Bombay. The two most strikingly similar features being the ocean and the juxtaposed images of high risers and slums. I had been told of the vast economic disparities in the city and resulting crimes and thus warned of not going alone in the streets. As a result I was 90% of the time home bound during my first week and as a result very very homesick (home here being the one I had just left behind in India). That was the complaining week.

Then I came across this little piece of art by Lahar:

#artwithheart, moving to Luanda, create heaven where you are

Words do wonder when you come across them at the right time. This was like a wakeup call for me. Why was I complaining so much? I always said home is where Sikander and I are together. And I can create heaven here too!

I let go of the mental barriers I had created. Barriers of language, of safety, of laziness and of complaints. And so started the exploring phase. I made friends; I went to street markets; I realised people are very friendly and warm here. I little precaution is necessary but not so much as what I had been made to believe. People are warm and friendly. With a little Portuguese I would be able to go to most places in the city on my own.

Within our apartment complex there are families from so many different countries and the cultural exchange is amazing! I’ve already learnt Italian, Romanian and Indonesian dishes J. Cooking also helped in settling down (as did friends who came over to eat that cooking!). There are a lot of Indians here, but we currently have a small group of friends. Finding Indian ingredients is a bit difficult but then necessity is the mother of inventions and I’m looking forward to more innovative cooking and also bags full of food whenever we come back from India as most things are either not available at all or are very very expensive! 😀

We live close to the beach and I can’t ask for more. The nature puts on a show for us every evening when the big fire ball slowly falls into the ocean. Every sunset is unique and beautiful and its amazing how the whole sky gets filled up with fire embers in the evening! Ruskin Bond said it well “The sun makes such a fuss while coming down!”.

And with this one pic of today’s sunset, I will just leave by saying “we are home”.

Indian in Luanda, settling in Luanda, luanda sunset, Ilha luanda

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