Tuesday, January 31, 2012

South Africa: Safari at Tremisana Lodge

After spending a few days in Johannesburg, we packed up and headed east to Kruger National Park. Personally, this was a part of the trip I most eagerly awaited. We ended up having chilly autumn weather which was perfect for spotting animals. I still can't believe we had such amazing luck!

Planning this leg of our trip was a bit confusing, there were just so many tour companies to choose from! (Some of the tours cost thousands or more a night per person, personally I’m not heading into the wild bush to get a massage at a fancy spa...) We love the outdoors and wanted to stay somewhere relaxed, exposed to nature and most importantly budget friendly.

I’m so glad we chose to stay at the Tremisana Lodge at the Balule Reserve, which fit perfectly to our needs and catered towards the budget conscious or backpacking type of traveler. Fortunately, a round trip drive from Johannesburg was also provided. This five-hour journey (each direction!) took us through a long stretch of farmland and with many twists and turns we headed up through the mountains. Such gorgeous views! Aside from catching the scenery and a few cat naps the way, those drives gave us a fun chance to get to know our fellow travelers.

Catching some sleep on the road...

Making our way through the mountains...

Upon arriving we found the lodge was run by a team of friendly local staff and knowledgeable guides. We stayed in one of the thatched roof chalets with all the basic amenities surrounding a pool and lush scenery. If you’re up for it try staying in one of their tree houses! An electric fence kept the wild animals from wandering in but every morning we caught the monkeys leaping from one budding Poinciana tree to another. Our stay there was exactly what we had imagined for a safari experience and I'd happily recommend others to say here. 

Safari time, yippie!

During the course of our stay, the guides took us out on multiple safaris to Kruger Park and surrounding game reserves. They shared loads of information about the animals, local flora and fauna and happily answered millions of our questions. An early morning was reserved for a bush walk, one of my favorite parts of the tour. After a long day of animal watching we’d return to the lodge in the evening with a delicious braai (traditional South African bbq) waiting for us. Sharing a beer and braai every night was a great way to relax and connect with other travelers while sharing stories and travel tips.

The meals were delicious and they happily catered to vegetarians. Everyone at the Tremisana Lodge was friendly, staying there felt like the most fantastic summer camp. I made some nice friends on this leg of our trip and eventually met up with them later in our along the Garden Route drive. After getting to know the employees and our fellow safari buddies during that week it was actually a bit sad to leave!

Remember these colorful miner's helmets from the World Cup in South Africa!

Awkward braai photos happen after too many beers...

Heading out for an evening safari...

Safari sunsets...

Next up: More safari adventures and lots of animal pictures. Prepare to be inundated, it took a while to edit them down from about 1200 images...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunny Sunday Sun Salutations

Yoga outside makes me so happy... especially when this little guy stops by to say, 'hello'. 
Hope you're enjoying the weekend too!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Around the World...In 5 Minutes

There's always time for a little travel day dreaming...  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

South Africa: Johannesburg & Visiting the Cradle of Humankind

We started our South Africa adventure in Johannesburg. This wide spread city (seriously, it’s huge) isn't known for being terribly tourist friendly but we managed to have a few days there trouble free. It may have helped that my mother had previously spent quite a lot of time there for work and was able to gather tips and research some of our plans. (Disclaimer: This post is about to get pretty nerdy and wordy, you've been warned!)

We arrived after a 17-hour flight from Atlanta to a drizzling evening and immediately crashed at our hotel in order to prepare for the next day's trip. Since tours and organized trips aren't really our style we rented a car.  The following morning we set off for our first day of exploring and visited Maropeng: The Cradle of Humankind, the World Heritage Sight where some of our most recent bipedal ancestors have been found! As an anthropology student I spent countless hours studying (and attempting to memorize) all of our various hominid ancestors, so this spot was high on my list. Academically inclined or not, if you're a human and passing through the Jo-burg area then you should visit this museum,  especially if you're keen on science, history or reading National Geographic.

(Image via...)

It's only a 90-minute drive from the Stanton area of Jo-burg where we stayed. Go ahead and give yourself about 2 hours to get there because tourist friendly signs are few and far between in the city center and virtually non-existent in more rural areas. It didn't matter how many maps we studied, without road signs or indicators we were just randomly traveling down on one dirt road after another. We did, however, bump into a handful of other equally lost tourists who had rented cars so, if that's your travel preference I'd definitely recommend to take a deep breath and give it a try. Especially since I haven't heard much about tours heading out into this area yet. For those of you still confused what this post is about go here!

Of course, getting lost is inevitable while traveling but this experience ranks high on our list. Our detours allowed us to spend some quality time enjoying the pleasantries of South African grocery stores and gas stations, and we quickly discovered that a lot of the locals (surprisingly?) had no clue where we were headed but at least everyone seemed happy to try and help. Oh, and to answer your question yes, the ride back took even longer, how perfectly wonderful for a rainstorm to arrive just we're departing!

Whew! We decided to document our arrival after a very bumpy ride with a photo. Hi, mom!

Once you finally arrive, there are two areas suitable for visitors, the Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Museum. We started with a guided tour of the caves where some archaeologists are currently excavating ancient hominid remains.

Inside the Sterkfontein Caves...

It was fascinating to see a live archeology site! For those of you who might be familiar with Mrs. Ples or Little Foot, this is the location where they were found along with the very recently discovered Austrolopithicus Sediba (nerd alert: it was really cool!!)

The site where Mrs. Ples was found... (anthropology nerd alert!) 

Later, we headed to the recently built museum where we brushed up on our human evolution knowledge and caught a glimpse of some ancient bones. After our all day visit we stopped at the museum for a delicious meal and snapped a few photos of the surrounding hills. Looking out at our surroundings, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more fossils were hidden, waiting to be found. Like I said, if you're a National Geographic buff, this spot should not be missed!

Views surrounding the Maropeng Museum...

There also happens to be a small, very lovely looking hotel located in the same area of the museum. We didn't stay here but could have easily stayed over night and spent another day exploring more of the grounds. I'm curious, have any of you stayed at Maropeng? How was it?   

Next up: Safari adventures! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Downton Abbey...Obsessed Much?

If you’ve been following me on twitter you’ve noticed that (like many others) I’ve caught the Downton Abbey bug. It all started a few months ago while stuck in bed after having my tonsils removed...nothing else to do but stream Masterpiece Theater, right? (Go ahead, call me a nerd) Now that the second seasons has started my Sunday nights have been consumed with wine + lady friends + watching PBS. Never have I ever been ignited with a pop culture obsession. Korean soap operas? No. Harry Potter? Nope. Twilight? No way! Actually, come to think of it I've never even ritually watched a tv series like this before. But on Sundays, we get serious about Lady Mary and the Crawley family drama. 

If you didn't already know, this show illustrates an aristocratic family and their servants in turn of the century England. It evokes all the luscious glamour, lovely fashion, rich history and social drama of the period (think Upstairs/Downstairs but more intense) and frankly, I can't get enough! Although, just a quick online search will prove there are people far more obsessed than I am. It's definitely one of the best series I’ve seen on Masterpiece Theater and it’s popularity has created a pop culture buzz. How funny is this tumblr Downton Abbeyonce...Beyonce lyrics + Downton Abbey? Why didn't I think of that? Hilarious!! 

Have any of you ever visited Hyclere Castle where the show is filmed? I'm dying to take a tour, like I said, I'm really into this show. I just learned that the Carnarvon family still occupies the estate, how incredible! But could you imagine how much dusting it takes to run a place like that? Yikes. Oh, I can't help but dream of taking a road trip and touring the English country side to visit a bunch of estates, manor houses and fancy gardens. Now it's officially added to my already long list of travel wishes. Any suggestions?? 

UPDATE: A friend on twitter just brought to my attention another funny tumblr. Those who love Arrested Development will have a giggle, take a peak at Arrested Downton... haha!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Odds + Ends

Wow, and just like that the second week of 2012 has already passed us! Here are a few things I spotted this week which you also might enjoy...

From time to time we could all use some advice from Old Schooled.

Thanks Emma, for sharing these lovely vintage photos.

Wait, what's this?  I suppose anything done improperly can be dangerous but really is yoga bad for you now?

Lemons? Check. Rosemary? Check. I can't wait to make this tart.

Amsterdamers, I know you also want to sneak a peak into this dying tradition

Stick with your new year's health kick and try one of these jazzy salad ideas.

Have you seen the trailer for Wes Anderson's new movie, Moonrise Kingdom?

Have a brilliant weekend!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter Getaway to Savannah: Part II

As I previously mentioned, my Dutchman and I rode the train to Savannah, Georgia for a quick winter vacation. Here are a few more photos and some of our favorite things, enjoy!

We started our mornings out with a cuppa' coffee and breakfast at the funky Gallery Espresso on Chippewa Square. We had a few evenings filled with fancy beers and delicious black bean veggies burgers at The Distillery. If beer selection and tasty food are high on your list be sure to check out the Moon River Brewing Co. as well. Although I don't fully recommend carrying around a cold beer on a chilly winter's night sans gloves. But, if boozing is your thing the city regulations allow for drinks taken outside the bars. We spent one evening causing a ruckus at a dueling piano bar and on another chilly evening found some quality live blues at a bar along the infamous River Street.

We sampled a few southern favorites like fried green tomatoes and shrimp 'n' grits at the legendary Pirates House. Without a car it was a bummer that we missed out on the retro inspired sweets at Back in the Day Bakery (but I've heard they're delicious!). While wandering in and out of the many shops along Broughton Street, we sampled a variety of honeys and discovered the goodness of raw honey+apples+cheese (yum!) at The Savannah Bee Company, spent some time flipping through interesting books while falling in love with lots of charming, eclectic, French inspired goodies from The Paris Market. Later we splurged on an ice cream treat (a honey & almond scoop for me!) at Leopold's.

When you visit Savannah be sure to sample a local sweets like pralines, stop for a history lesson in the First African American Baptist Church and reserve ample time to peruse the many antique shops. For this easy going trip we opted for self guided tours of the city and enjoyed the sights on our own pace with a historical walking tour guide. I definitely recommend picking up a copy when you visit, plus this fantastic purchase at the the tourist center was only five-bucks! Simply strolling around the city, in awe of the magnificent mansions, historical architecture and cozy tree filled squares were some of my favorite moments of the trip. As most everyone knows, the city is quite aesthetically pleasing but after spending so long living abroad it was also a nice switch for us to have some quality time in The States. For once, I conveniently had a strong understanding of the language, history and culture!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Getaway to Savannah: Part I

I spent the week between Christmas + New Years with my Dutchman for a leisurely week in Savannah. We took a scenic train route into town, which is completely normal in Holland but typically as common in The States. Spending a few (chilly) days walking all over the charming historical city was a perfect winter break. Naturally, we also enjoyed enough tasty food and drinks to become borderline gluttons!

Adding to the merriment were two of my hometown friends traveling with a similar agenda. So, the four of us opted for a few city tours via horse + carriage and later, a late night ride with ghost tour...viewed from the back of a hearse! It was a crisp winter evening and a ghost stories were a fun combination of kitsch and spooky. The creepiest part? When our guide explained that a soil sample from beneath the oldest tree in Savannah (top right image) was composed mostly of human remains, eak!


Coming soon, Savannah:Part II complete with a few of our favorite spots around the city...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Adventures in Kiwi Land

Despite a pretty full passport (hey, no complains here!) New Zealand is still high on my 'can't wait to visit' list. So, for now I'll have live vicariously though my good friend Jen and her fabulous adventures in New Zealand. Jen and her geologist boyfriend made a great blog of stories and pics from their 7,000+ kilometer road trip.

Check out all of their fantastic pictures, videos and stories here. Tandem biking through vineyards, waterfalls and glacier hiking, oh my! Plus, she pulls off looking effortlessly fabulous even while camping and descending deep into glow worm caves. Thanks Jen and Matt for sharing your adventures with us!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hello there, 2012!

Here we are folks, it's already a few days into the start of 2012 (happy new year by the way, better late than never, right?) I always find this time of year very exciting, looking towards what's to come and reflecting on what has past. Personally, I'm not so keen on 'making resolutions' but I do like to get keep a fresh positive outlook for the new year. This year I look forward to whatever life brings along. Let's hope that includes more traveling, tasting and creating yummy foods, writing (more frequently), making new friends and experiencing happiness with friends and, sharing all of these neat things here on the blog!

After this hectic holiday season I'm happy to just take it slow and enjoy a bit more time with friends and family. I logged quite a lot of sky miles in 2011 going back and forth a few times between The Netherlands and America along with a trip to Italy and later big trip all around South Africa! Despite the tough moments we go through each year (and the exciting ones too!) I find that by the time I'm looking back it's hard to imagine things any other way, life has a way of just working itself out even if we don't see what the final plan might be. But like travel, life is itself about the journey and not necessarily the destination. The sun always rises, so here's to looking forward to the next adventure!