There’s No Place Like Home.

When can I return to Paris? Oooh what about Croatia? Maybe Thailand, it’s more affordable. Maybe I should work on summer camp in the USA?

These are the questions running through my head a lot of the time. However, there’s the small fact that I’m about to register for my Master’s degree, and I don’t exactly have a world-travel budget at the moment…

I have spent so much time day-dreaming about adventures in far-off places, and then I realised that there is so much of my beautiful country that I have not explored or experienced yet. And so, my 2015 travel resolution is to spend more time with my dreams focused on South Africa.

Paris Hilton has been quoted as saying “I love Africa in general. South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries”. It is also reported that Britney Spears thought that Japan was in Africa, and that fish is really popular here. Strange.

So while we do have great seafood in South Africa, and we are indeed a country – I know that much – I’m going to focus on learning more about my “homeland”. I’ve been fortunate that I have seen some of South Africa, such as Dullstroom and the Kruger National Park. I also spend almost every December in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, and have been to Durban and Cape Town before on polo tours. I’ve passed a few other places, and even spent a night or two there, but I’ve never really planned my own holiday to anywhere in South Africa.

This is the year for that to happen.

My sister and I are off to Cape Town in March/April which is very exciting. It will be the first time that I’m there on holiday – I previously visited it in 2012 for a day while we are on a train tour to Stellenbosch. And a day in Cape Town is certainly not enough.

Then in December. I am going on a road trip with my sister and cousins along the Garden Route – but more about that later.

There will hopefully also be smaller local adventures, such as a visit to the Apartheid Museum, the Union Buildings, local concerts and markets, and other fun things.

I decided to blog about these a bit more, firstly because I enjoy it, but also because I believe that there are so many people who are unaware of all that South Africa has to offer, are maybe too afraid to come visit here, or just need to be reminded of what we have (like I sometimes do!).

Plus, these are also my travel adventures. And local is lekker, after all.

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Delightful Dullstroom.

Our latest family getaway took us to the lovely town of Dullstroom in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. Affectionately known as “Trouteng” (a clever play on words combining trout – their choice of fish – and Gauteng), Dullstroom is peaceful, and oh-so-beautiful. It is the home of fly-fishing, and offers many places to stay and curl up by the fireplace.

We stayed at a place called Dunkeld Coutry Estate, just a quick few kilometres out of town. I was really looking forward to this weekend away as I had been working super hard for varsity/practical and hadn’t taken time off in my “recess”.

After a missed turn, due to a lack of a signboard, we ended up in a local township. Obviously we realised this was not the correct direction, and we ventured out again with the trusty hand of Google Maps. And finally we arrived!

The dams are beautiful, and we had a nice house that sat a little bit apart from the others. On one side we had the view of the dams, and on the other the koppie (small mountain) and open grass field. We unpacked, and started the fireplace, in anticipation for a chilly night. Dullstroom gets pretty cold at night! So we sat huddled around the fireplace catching up with each other. Later in the evening, we went outside and Oh My Word, the stars! It’s been a while since I’ve seen that many stars, and that clearly! I love the stars. After a mug of hot chocolate, it was off to bed!

The view of the open field from our patio

The view of the open field from our patio

The next morning Mom, Dad and I went for a walk while my sister slept. We had a mission for this weekend – we had been here when we were little, and there’s this photo of us from then. My dad wanted to “recreate” it so we went to find the famous spot! Great success. Not only did we get to feel the crisp morning air on our faces, we also found the spot! After a proper cooked breakfast, we headed into town. There was actually a second mission for this weekend and that was PANCAKES. And only Harrie’s Pancakes would do. I previously wrote about Harrie’s when we went to the Kruger National Park, and there are branches dotted around SA.

Dad went off to the fly-fishing shop to get supplies, and Mom, Ang (my sister) and I went to “The Clock Shop”. This is not just any clock shop – it is the largest clock shop in the southern hemisphere. And boy is it! Clocks are wall-to-wall, divided into sections based on the type of clock, and then divided into themes. We stood watching the cuckoo clocks for a while because they’re so much fun!

My sister and me outside the clock shop

My sister and me outside the clock shop

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Next we ventured to the Cheese shop across the road, and then to Chocolate shop. Finally, it was time for pancakes! I had just a plain cinnamon and sugar one with ice-cream, and it was delicious. They’re thick, but light and fluffy – something that is not so common in pancakes!

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Back at the house, we went fly-fishing. If you can call it that. I did give it a try though – will get the photos from my dad! The zebras and other buck were coming closer to the house, so we went for a short walk to get a few pictures of them. We had a braai for dinner, and watched the stars again, and sat by the fire.

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Sunday was a chilled day. We had French toast for breakfast (my favourite). Relaxed around the house, and before heading back to Pretoria, we went for another pancake (obviously!). This time it was banana and caramel for the win.

In short, Dullstroom is a wonderful place for a quiet and peaceful getaway. I think it would be nice to stay there for a week so you can truly relax. It’s really good for the soul! For more info on Dullstroom, check out: http://www.dullstroom.co.za/

Til’ next time!

Megs x

“It’s been a year”

Exactly one year ago, I started my first day of Contiki. We were off to Paris, and I was so excited. I met my incredible Contiki family for the first time, and my adventure started. I will never forget those awesome crazy new friends of mine, from all over the world.

We had a mini reunion on Friday night, just those of us around in Johannesburg at the time. We went for Italian food, at a place called Montecasino which is designed to (and in our opinion, does) look like Italy. We reached the conclusion that it most looks like the beautiful streets of Florence.

Montecasino with the girls – Me, Katie, Jess, Natalie, Laura, Sam & Sinead

 

It was so good to see the girls again, and spend the night catching up and reminiscing. After this night, I was reminded of the following things:

1. The friends you make in a short two weeks will be amazing. You will not forget them, and you will miss them. If you see each other a year later, it is likely that you will pick up where you left off the last time. The memories that you create while on Contiki, and the experiences you have, create a bond between you that other people will never really understand.

2. There can be secrets on Contiki. We found out sooo many stories on Friday night that we did not know at the time. Romance happens, hook-ups happen, friends are made – and sometimes lost, names get thrown, videos are taken, bad drinks are drunk, good food is eaten, hearts get broken, people find themselves, and sometimes we were more nervous than we admitted at the time.

3. The things that made you laugh on Contiki, will still make you laugh.

4. While questionable decisions are bound to be made on Contiki, a year later I don’t feel embarrassed about them. While they were questionable, they were not necessarily bad. Contiki is an excellent place to let your hair down, and the motto is #noregrets after all. But some things you might regret. “What happens in Vegas (or on Contiki) stays in Vegas (or on Contiki). Except herpes”. There’s also a higher than likely chance that if you make a really poor public decision, it will end up on YouTube. Just consider it, that is all. But I still feel the important thing is to not make decisions that cause you to feel like you can’t even look at yourself in the mirror the next morning. Back to something I said in a previous post is to worry about yourself. Care about your own decisions, and let other people make their own without your judgement.

5. If you don’t make a friend at all on Contiki, its because you tried not to. This was a consensus reached by everyone.

6. You will be jealous for the rest of time (okay so I’m not certain of the timeline, but at this point it feels like it will be for the rest of time). You will want to unfollow people on Instagram when your friends go on Contiki after you. You will be completely jealous when other people return to Europe or go exploring new countries and you’re sitting at home. Jealous and restless.

You will never be completely at home

7. You will NEVER forget Contiki.

The travel bug is real, and it bites hard. Find comfort in the fact that many of your fellow Contiki friends are feeling the same as you. Enjoy the memories. For now, I have to find comfort in the photographs and stolen shot glasses, and keep planning (read: dreaming) for my next travel adventure. Luckily OppiKoppi (and Bucket List item number 37) is in a few short weeks!

As always, feel free to drop me a mail or comment if you have something to say or ask :)

The Most Bizarre Search Requests: Your Questions Answered (Sort Of)

I’ve mentioned before that I am able to see the searches the take place here. And I have come across some very strange requests. Some, I’m not sure if people think that my blog is Google, or if I am some sort of genius or something; and others I’m genuinely interested in reading. So here are some of the most bizarre (and surprisingly frequently-asked) questions or searches I have received, and my attempt at answering them.

My first ever strange request, and a very common one, is basically “how do I not get fat on Contiki?” – I have already answered this, and I stick to what I said then. If you are so worried about your weight that you don’t eat pizza in Rome or drink beer in Munich, you should probably re-evaluate your priorities in life.

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“Don’t go to kickstart” – why would you not want to go to the kickstart meeting? If you’re in that area, it’s usually a good idea to go. You might end up being the only person, or half your group might end up being there. Even if it just means you can go for dinner, or a drink or five, with your new mates, I think it’s worth it. The admin can all be done later however, especially if you already checked-in online and so that’s not really not that important. But I still had fun, especially because I was by myself – I felt far less lost the next morning.

“Working in child care” – this is about the Contiki Cough I’m assuming. I am not a doctor. The Contiki Cough I wrote about was my experience, and it can vary a lot from person to person. Having said that, I can tell you honestly, that if you feel even close to the way I felt it’s probably not a good idea to go near children. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea to do anything but lie in bed.

“How to get a cab from Dachau”. Firstly, Dachau is like the middle of nowhere and so I would guess that a cab is going to cost you an arm and a leg. Secondly, you don’t even spend that much time there – we had enough time to walk around and look through it in detail, go to the bathroom and grab something to eat before we were back on the coach. I don’t really know where you would want to catch a cab to anyway? I guess you’d need to pre-organise one because I definitely don’t remember seeing any around there.

“What time do we arrive in Venice from Munich?” I have absolutely NO IDEA. My tour didn’t run that way and so I can’t even guess. It’s a long drive though – going the opposite way we left Venice in the morning and arrived in Munich late afternoon I think.

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“Wet t-shirt” – Venice’s Fusina Beach Party is infamous for its wet t-shirt competition; a competition that it not so much about the t-shirt but far more about the lack of. My advice, if you really want a t-shirt but would like to keep some shred of dignity, is to try steal one from someone. I successfully managed to trade my sailor’s cap for a shirt, so that was cool. The competition also turns into a bit of a show – ask your TM about some of the previous year’s stories afterwards…

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“Don’t tip gypsies” – Gypsies are not exactly the upper-end of society in Europe. And I get it, they look sad sometimes and that’s not really nice. But they are also incredibly sly and can be kind of scary. Why would you want to tip someone whose sole purpose is to either rob you or scam you? Haha. No shame, that’s kind of mean, but seriously. If you want to tip them go ahead, but do it at your own risk. Personally, I think it’s better just to avoid them as far as possible.

“South African gypsies” – we don’t have gypsies in South Africa. We have beggars, and homeless people, and robbers, but they don’t usually come in one package. Which is fortunate. So no, you’re not likely to come across a “gypsy” while visiting South Africa. Obviously it is possible that you may come across someone who tries to scam you, but it’s not that common. Having said that, I’m not a tourist here, so I suppose I’m used to the environment and generally quite cautious. I will say, that if you would like to help out a beggar or homeless person or someone else, I strongly suggest giving food or milk or something solid, rather than simply giving money.

“When gypsies take your belongings do they feel as if they are stealing?” I can’t even attempt to answer this because I have absolutely no idea. I would think that they know what they are doing is not legal, considering how eager they are to avoid the police.

“Can I cancel after I have paid in full” – I can’t remember completely what the Ts&Cs are from Contiki, but I think you can cancel up to 45 days before your departure. There might be a fee. I think the closer you get to the departure date, the more money you stand to lose by cancelling. And obviously you don’t get your deposit back. The best advice is don’t cancel Contiki! Haha. If something comes up and you cannot go anymore, try find another departure date or tour or whatever. You’re missing out on what could be the time of your life if you cancel! I think Contiki has some sort of “seal protection” thing or something you can buy when you book that covers you if you have to pull out though. Ask the Contiki reps or read the terms in the back of the brochure.

“Why are the Contiki farewell dinners so expensive?” – First off, let me say the farewell dinner we had in Amsterdam was pricey, but was also worth it. I don’t think you could do it cheaper by yourself. Having said that, some of the things are definitely cheaper if you do it by yourself, but then you also have to organise it which can be a pain (especially if you’re feeling hungover and/or lazy). I read quite a lot of posts about people saying these dinners (and the other optionals) are over-priced. It’s possible. But also, consider the risk that the places hosting the dinner is taking. They’re agreeing to let 50+ (and there’s usually more than one group at a time) young, excited, and likely drunk, tourists/travellers into their place of business. I think that I’d also raise the price a bit. But you get lots of free wine and so it’ll all be okay in the end…

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I honestly recommend attending the Paris (Catherine’s) and Amsterdam (Sea Palace) dinners if they are start or end of your tour. You get to be with a large amount of the group and the food is really decent. The other dinners you could probably skip and find your own nice restaurant for a better price. This is covered in detail in my full review – I promise it’s completely honest :)

This last question is my absolute favourite question of all time – “Should I go on Contiki if I am a virgin?” Yes. Obviously. No one cares if you are a virgin or aren’t a virgin. It might not even come up, unless you’re playing “I have never” in which case you might want to sit out. None of it matters. What matters is how you treat those around you, and so if you’re going to call every girl or guy who hooks up on your tour (or on the other tours) a slut, then you will have a problem. Let people live their lives, and you live yours.

Looking forward to more bizarre requests in the near future :)

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It…

Super jealous. My sister and cousin were fortunate enough to head off to London for about two and a half weeks in total. It was my sister’s first time in London and while I am super jealous, I am also super excited for her because I was sure she was going to have a great time. And she did!

Just before they left, I gave them “Top Secret” envelopes. In these envelopes were letters to them, instructing them of their “Top Secret” Mission – should they choose to accept it. Their mission was to be the best tourists London has ever seen. I know people frequently say “be a traveler and not a tourist”, but sometimes being a tourist is the part of the fun! There’s a reason the iconic sights are iconic and so many people flock to see them. And so, attached to their letters were “Photo Bucket Lists” consisting of a number of these cliche tourist-type things to do in London, and some of the things that I enjoyed most. I kept them pretty ambiguous so that it doesn’t become a complete checklist, but is rather a guide for things to do. And to make sure my sister brings back the photos that are expected. Haha.

Here is the list I sent them with for their mission (in no particular order):

□Platform 9¾

□Drinking a Cup of Tea

□Oxford Street

□Christmas Tree

□London’s West End Musical

□Red Double Decker Bus

□The Queen’s Guard

□Drinking a beer in an English Pub

□Red Telephone Box

□A model (hint: Abercrombie)

□Big Ben

□The Queen

□Tower Bridge

□Shakespeare

□Buckingham Palace

□The Union Jack

□A Lion (hint: Trafalgar Square)

□Drinking Starbucks

□Eating Mushy Peas

□With a Mime

□As a Mime

□Eating a Scone

□One Direction

□With Ms. Brown

I thought I’d share this list on here as an example of things to do while in London. It is such an amazing place, I think you could spend months there and still learn something new every day. Most of us are only lucky enough to get there for a few days unfortunately, and as such have to cram a massive amount of awe-inspiring sights into what effectively becomes a total blur. Its quite funny though, because they came back saying that they felt like they had “failed” at seeing London because every time someone asked if they had done something they said no. Which just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks you should do on your holiday – as long as you have a good time and make memories you will have been successful!

Become A Storyteller.

“Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”

– Ibn Battuta

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Where Douglas Green?

I’ve been mentioning that we were having “Douglas Green” days in the Kruger National Park, and so here is the video that explains what that means. It’s an old South African ad for Douglas Green wines, and sees two men driving frantically around searching for “Douglas Green”.

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