RSS

Author Archives: Clare

The Old Town by Night

After spending our first morning local to the apartment, and having a nice siesta to recover from the heat and a morning of walking down then up countless steps (a theme which is to be repeated), it was time to get down to the business of why we have made this trip: to tick Dubrovnik Old Town off our (OK, MY) seemingly endless must-see list.  Our host had already given us some tips on what to see, where to avoid (overpriced bars in particular) and how to get there and back (downhill, so walk there; uphill, so get the No. 8 bus back). After about 15 minutes walking, we finally started descending steps which seemed never ending. “Thanks goodness we’ll be getting the bus back!” I remarked.

We finally emerged from the steps just outside the Pile Gate, on the eastern edge of the walled city. Despite the time of day it was still heaving, though apparently less so than during the day as all the cruise ship day trippers had now left and would be back on board their ships. We walked past the various stands touting their ‘Game of Thrones’ walking tours (Paul had already been warned this was NOT an option), contemplated then decided against buying a tourist card, and set about battling with and against the crowds to get into the old town.

Perhaps it was because it was somewhere I’ve wanted to go for so long, or perhaps it was real, but I noticed a change in the atmosphere almost immediately. I felt I was somewhere very special. The walls and buildings were so well lit they seemed to shine against the dark sky. It was a strange feeling, almost like I had entered film set, or some other make-believe location. Or maybe I was just dehydrated and had come over all weird. Anyway, it felt good to be there. We walked down the wide main street, Stradun, which was teaming with people ranging from those who looked like they had just come from the beach to those all dressed up in designer gear ready to hit the bars. The pavement is made of limestone and is famed for its high shine finish which has been polished by hundreds of years of use. For some reason I couldn’t help but think it must be very slippy in the rain!

Stradun by night

After the tourist shops at the start of the street, the restaurants and bars take over and the pavement becomes a mass of tables and chairs. It certainly was a great place to people watch, but at the same time it seemed lots of the people there wanted to be watched! In between were lots of side streets which were themselves lined with more restaurants and diners eating outside. We resisted the temptation to join them as we were more interested in exploring.

We kept wandering, having little to no idea where we were, but figuring we couldn’t get that lost. Despite it still being stiflingly hot, it was so lovely checking out little alleyways and sweeping staircases leading to small chapels and beautiful old doorways. We found ourselves in more of a residential part of town and seemed to have left all the bars, restaurants and most of the tourists behind. We noticed ahead of us that a group has turned into a hole in the outside city wall, followed by others coming out. On investigation it was a bar on several levels, carved out of the rock face outside the city walls. It was about time for a sit-down, so we followed. Due, I assume to the difficulties they must have getting drinks to the bar and that there appears not to be running water, it is a bottles-only bar with everything served out of plastic glasses. Fair enough.

We ordered a beer and mini bottle of sparkling wine. It turns out the bar, Buža is rather famous for its stunning views of the Elafitia Islands and was recommended in our guide book. I’m quite sure the view was indeed stunning, so we sat back drinking the most expensive round of the holiday so far, and stared out into the blackness, trying to imagine what it would have been like had we sensibly visited in day time instead.

Old Town Port

After more wandering around, we thought it was time to head off for the bus. After all, we were coming back the next day and could see more then. Although we knew what bus to get from where, we hadn’t figured on the huge queues and chaos of the bus stops back outside the Pile Gate. We realised buses were leaving, full, still with long queues left, the one we needed being only half-hourly at that time of night, and the next one being the last of the night at 12.30am. Hmm, what to do? Then the inevitable happened. The words I have been dreading. “Why don’t we just walk back? We’ll be there before the next bus gets here.” Of course I knew he was right (annoyingly), so off I trudged up the steps, loosing count somewhere in the early 200’s.

Tomorrow we would return. By bus.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Tuesday 18 August 2015 in Croatia, Travel

 

“The List”

A few years ago, shortly after joining Facebook (I know, I know), I saw a number of friends had completed something called a Travel List Challenge, ticking off the countries they had been to. It suggested that “most people will have been to fewer than four countries”. Really? Given they must live in one of them, I was surprised by the notion that “most” people may only have visited two others!

I did the challenge and got 26, slightly above the actual user average of 24, and more than any of the friends who had taken the quiz. I felt quietly smug with myself by how well-travelled I must be. Then I thought about all the countries I HADN’T crossed off. Hmmm, there were lots, like REALLY lots. Damn. Then I didn’t feel so smug. I knew I needed to get myself travelling.

“The List” has now become an obsession. I’ve been to some fabulous places that I’d love to revisit and countries that I’d like to explore more, but I now have this little voice inside me, telling me that doing so would be wasting opportunities to see even more of the world. I love going to new places, enjoying the local food and drink, trying to speak a few words of the local lingo and experiencing the culture of the area. I really do want to see more of the world in order to see what’s on offer, challenge myself and expand my mind, though I am starting to worry that more than that, I just want to tick countries off a list!

There is of course the matter of time and money to consider. I’m a teacher so have lots of holidays, but only at given times of the year. My husband however isn’t a teacher so is far more limited to how long he can be away for. And travel isn’t cheap, especially at the times of year when I am able to go. Whilst I love a fancy hotel room, I simply don’t earn the money to pay for them. I realise that there is a compromise to make and so I’m ever more happy these days to stay in a cheap and cheerful motel room, and actually thoroughly enjoy camping when travelling around. I really don’t think I could do a hostel though; I never did the backpacking thing when I was younger and think it’s too late to start now.

I’m also learning to live without some of the creature comforts I would at one point have insisted on: I am actually writing this on holiday in Canada where I have come away for THREE WHOLE WEEKS without my straighteners. I know, I can almost hear the gasps from the girls reading this! Other things I’ve learned to cope with are nasty toilets (I thank China for that one), difficulties communicating (ditto!), not showering every day, and long, sweaty bus journeys (cheers to Kenya on both counts!). I’ve never been that bothered by unpleasant smells, unusual insect life or strange animal noises at night thanks to a childhood in Nigeria.

So….. for the past three years, all my holiday planning has been based on how many new countries I can visit (and spend quality time in; it’s not just a case of quickly passing through). Last year we managed a 3,000 mile road trip around Europe, crossing off Austria and the Czech Republic (as well as revisiting Switzerland, Germany and France). As followers of the MotoGP racing series, the idea of heading to the round in Brno, Czech Republic, seemed the perfect excuse to make the trip.

The idea for our current trip was mooted whilst in Brno: a quick check of the racing calender showed that the Indianapolis round is also during the summer holidays. Of course, I’ve been to the USA before, but another quick check of a map showed its relative proximity to Canada which I hadn’t visited.

Until now…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday 6 August 2014 in Travel

 

The Long and Winding (Bumpy) Road

I realise I’m doing this back to front, writing about my last few days before I even managed to post about the start of the trip, but I seem to have some time on my hands due to an unexpected turn of events on our return home (more of that to come). Our journey since leaving Ndhiwa has turned into an adventure all of its own…..

It all started Tuesday morning at 7am when we (Kat, Dani and I) were collected from the peaceful surroundings of Karibuni Eco Cottages for our journey to the Masai Mara. We had treated ourselves to a two night safari before leaving Kenya; well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it? As we headed off, our driver, Charles, informed us that it would take about 7hrs ‘the long way round’ or we could take ‘the short cut’ and travel in convoy with two other groups. He informed us he wouldn’t normally go that way during the rains unless there were other vehicles in the group as the roads can be bad. At this point we should have read the warning signs. Instead we looked at each other, grinned, and cheerfully informed Charles that we were always up for an adventure and ‘the short cut’ sounded just fine.

Ten minutes later I was wishing I’d worn the sports bra I’d been recommended to bring for safari; we had already hit the roads which would be our driving surface for the next 3 days and to say it was a little bit bumpy would be something of an understatement.

We travelled for a couple of hours and had a short stop, during which we were advised by Charles to stock up on snacks in the supermarket (we were to be glad of this as the day wore on). By this time the rest of the convoy had joined us, so off we set again. About 30 minutes after that we hit Challenge #1. Due to heavy rains, the river ahead was a torrent of water which had flooded over the bridge we needed to cross. The water coming off the down-river edge of the bridge was essentially a very full waterfall. The three drivers got our for a closer look to assess the situation, deciding eventually it was a no-go and that we would have to turn back to cross in another place, which would result in us being 30 mins from our starting point over 5 hours after leaving! (We were tempted to suggest building a raft to ferry the vans across á la Clarkson & Co, but it was really too hot to be bothered.) Some friendly locals suggested an alternate route which Charles and his colleagues had never used before. It was decided that this would save such a massive detour so off we went into the unknown.

Image

Challenge #1

Challenge #2 turned out to be similar to the first, though slightly less extreme. Charles bravely decided it was crossable, we held or breath, braced ourselves and off we went. We made it! Surely nothing could stop us now, could it?

Image

Challenge #2

Our route took us through miles of sugar cane plantation and our route was shared with many tractors towing the harvested canes to a sugar refinery. No doubt they were responsible for much of the damage to the dirt roads, but without them we would not have got out of Challenge #3. The road ahead became blocked, tractors stuck as the mud was too deep even for their huge wheels. Motorbikes and other tractors were starting to bypass the road, going through the field on the other side of the hedge, but our vehicles would not be able to get through alone. Whilst the drivers sussed their options, Kat, Dani and I took the opportunity to people watch. We were especially impressed with the family of four, plus suitcase, which rode calmly passed us into the mire. Given the state of the roads thus far, we were amazed that there was barely a muddy mark on any of them (we, on the other hand, have had filthy feet feet for a week, unable to get rid of the ingrained mud from the paths we have been walking!). We were not so impressed however by the fallen over electricity pylon, resulting in live power lines barely a couple of metres from the road side!

After much discussion, it was decided that we would be towed by a tractor. More bracing and holding off breath and we were through, though there was a good deal of cursing going on in the back when it seemed certain we would topple over! The remaining two vehicles got through and off we went again. For less than a minute.

Image

The cause of Challenge #3

Challenge #4 came approximately 15 metres later, courtesy of the tracks in the road being too deep so we just became grounded. I think Charles was a little embarrassed by his faux pas but once again a tractor came to our rescue and dragged us out. The other two vans got straight through.

It was to be some time before the next challenge came along. In the meantime Charles very capably navigated us through, over and round some awful potholes (though the term barely fits justice to the size of them), damaged bridges, rivers and ravines in the road. There was a short stop in a village whilst one of the vans had the front grill re-welded into place. We were happy when we weren’t the lead car; at least then we could see what was ahead and prepare ourselves.

Image

Roadside repairs

Along the way we obviously needed ‘comfort breaks’. Charles always found us the best spot to ‘go for bush’ with good privacy. We realised the three of us had really got to know each other well when we decided we couldn’t be bothered to wait and go in turn, but decided to line up behind a bush together to do what was necessary! (Was that too much information? If so I’m sorry – my gauge of what is appropriate has slipped somewhat over the past two weeks!)

Eventually we came to a junction in the road which Charles announced was where we would have come out had we been able to cross the original river. That stretch would normally take half an hour.  It had taken us four and a half hours to get to that point from where we had turned round, a four hour detour.

By this time we were starting to get weary and desperate to get to our destination. We were picturing a refreshing dip in the pool (a chance to soak the feet!) and cocktails. However we had not yet reached the gate into the Masai and knew there was a three hour journey still from that point, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be dark when arrived and the pool would have to wait.

As we got closer to the park we entered some woodland. Charles announced that from this point on we wound start to see wild animals. Spirits were lifted when, true to his word, not two minutes later we saw a small herd of zebra in a clearing. From then on we saw lots of them and started getting more excited about what was ahead.

Image

Horses with stripes!

The road was climbing higher and higher and we started to see Masai people, clearly visible in their red checked cloaks, tending to their sheep. We passed through a small settlement at which point Kat, the geography teacher who teaches about the Masai people, got very excited! As we came out of the village Charles pointed right and all of a sudden it was there: below us, as far into the distance as we could see lay the plains of the Masai Mara. The journey back down hill was painfully slow. The road was little more than a rocky path, most suited to donkeys. We had much admiration for suspension of our 4×4 van, which had been and truly tested.

Image

The downhill track with the plains in the distance

And then we were there, at the East Gate to the Masai Mara Conservancy. After a quick comfort break (actual toilets!) We got back into the van which now had a raised roof  – we were officially on safari! We were all feeling a little emotional and the odd tear was shed behind the security of our sunglasses. We knew just how privileged we were to be there. Myself in particular. I consider myself to be a very lucky lady to have fulfilled two lifetime ambitions in this past year: seeing the Terracotta Army in China and now a game drive in the Masai Mara. I had shared the first with my husband and there was more than a twinge of regret that he wasn’t there with me to see this. Oh well, all the more excuse to come back.

Image

I’m on safari!!

It was amazing to stand up and stretch our legs after the journey we had endured, but even better to look out over the staggering scenery. It was late afternoon by now and the light from the setting sun was stunning. It wasn’t long before we spotted a couple of giraffe nibbling at a tree. We were desperate to take photos but Charles assured us that we would see them much closer. Our next spot was a small group of elephant,  close to a small track if the main route, so we got in really close to watch them.

Image

Elephant!

As our journey progressed we saw a hyena cruising in front of us, then another asleep on the side of the track; we saw more elephant – in much larger herds – giraffe, guinea fowl, some amazing birds, more zebra and loads of Impala. But no big cats. Still, a pretty good haul so far. Charles had mentioned that rhino spottings would be highly unlikely and even hippo, due to the river levels being so high. However at the first watering hole we passed what should we spot other than the hippo we thought would be so elusive. OK, so only the top of the head was visible but it was a hippo nonetheless! By now light was stating to fade and in the distance we could see the rains starting, so we pulled the roof down and got settled for the last hour or so in the dark.

Image

Hippo (just…)

Image

More elephants in the evening sun

Image

Buffalo!

The rain however came very hard and son the track became very hard going. We were sliding around a lot and even slight inclines were starting to pose a problem. Eventually we and van in front stopped: the third vehicle had become stuck a while behind and are waiting for the ranger to pull them out. We were tied and more than a little tetchy b it it was clear that Charles wasn’t going anywhere till all three vans were together. By now it was 8.30pm and we had been on the road for over 11 hours. Charles called the hotel to arrange that e could east a late dinner when we arrived, estimated at 9.30pm.

Soon we were all on the way again. And then we weren’t. We were lead vehicle when Challenge #5 struck. The van just wasn’t getting up the next hill, but neither could we get back down for another run; we were well and truly stuck. Out came the trusty tow rope once again, this time to pull us down the hill as the other vehicles were behind and couldn’t get past. As Charles and friends were attaching the rope, along came a ranger’s Jeep. Out came a ranger who watched over proceedings, rifle in hand. The perils of getting stuck in a game reserve I guess.The rain however came very heavily and soon the track became very hard going. We were sliding around a lot and even slight inclines were starting to pose a problem. Eventually we and van in front stopped: the third vehicle had become stuck a while behind and were waiting for the ranger to pull them out. We were tired and more than a little tetchy, and just wanted to get going, but it it was clear that Charles wasn’t going anywhere till all three vans were together. By now it was 8.30pm and we had been on the road for over 11 hours. Charles called the hotel to arrange that we could eat a late dinner when we arrived, estimated at 9.30pm.

There was to be no Challenge #6 that night (though we wouldn’t have to wait long the next morning!) and we eventually arrived at the hotel shortly after 10pm.

Our ‘short cut’ had taken over 14 hours, twice what the ‘long way round’ was expected to take. The next time someone offers you the chance for an extra adventure, especially during rainy season in Africa, think carefully before you accept.

(Incidentally our fellow guests from Karibuni were due to make the same journey the following day. Charles had given their driver the heads up so they went the ‘long way round’. It took them less than 7 hours. Oh well.)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Saturday 13 April 2013 in Kenya

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Day 7

Kenya

 The cockerel woke us up early. Like every morning we washed and went for breakfast – this time toast or a fried egg sandwich. We have now also got into the habit of taking our malaria tablets in the morning,  which is especially good for Clare as she is particularly forgetful (she blames her age). Kennedy, our friendly local driver, met us to take us to Arina and as soon as we sat down in the office we were told what class we were expected to teach  – Dani class 6, Kat class 7 and Clare class 8. We were all very nervous as we are used to having resources and technology as a safety blanket. As we entered the classroom all pupils stood up to show respect. Dani enjoyed teaching class 6 as they were all very well behaved and got involved, even if at first they were reluctant…

View original post 889 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Monday 8 April 2013 in Kenya

 

Day 6

Kenya

This morning we knew we didn’t have to be up early so lay in bed until 7.30! Weather was very hot and sunny today so having no plans until after lunch we prepared to sit in the sun and bake our white skins to prove we have been in Kenya. For breakfast Clare and Dani had fried egg sandwiches which was a welcomed change, a treat even! We were going to have Weetabix until we noticed weevils were living in the box.
As we sat sunbathing around the table outside we were called to a meeting with Nicolas, Risper and Sam to discuss what exactly our money raised at Longbenton is going towards. We had concerns over which students we were responsible for sponsoring and how much their annual fees were at school. We also discussed the how we would go about supporting Arina further. A lot of previously unanswered…

View original post 573 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Saturday 6 April 2013 in Kenya

 

Day 5

Kenya

Day 5

We had an early start today as it was our first visit to Arina Primary School. As the staff at Karibuni don’t usually get in till a little later, we had to boil our own water for washing and make a start our breakfast.  We headed out to Arina, as usual with four of us squashed in the back seat (I’m sure it will feel a little lonely being in the back once we get back to the UK!). Like most local roads, the road to Arina is a mud track. Luckily it had not rained much last night so it was passable, if a little bumpy, for most of the journey. The very last bit of the journey however was made on foot; the road had been badly eroded by the rains and had huge craters running down the middle and sides.

As we arrived in the…

View original post 682 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Saturday 6 April 2013 in Kenya

 

Day 4

Kenya

We have had a lazy morning today, none of us have slept that well due to us getting upset about some of the stories we have heard. We have had breakfast of eggy bread and toast and then met 2 boys aged 12 called Issac and James. They go to a private school and when asked what do they like about school their reply was ‘the chance to learn’ they enjoy maths and science and want to be a doctor and accountant. We showed them photographs of our classrooms and pupils and let them listen to our ipod – their favourite music is hiphop and reggae. We also played snap with them. Issac then started to feel unwell and was sick and shivery so he went home to get his father or mother to take him to hospital. We then had time to ourselves to relax. Kat and Danielle went…

View original post 417 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Saturday 6 April 2013 in Kenya