Getting Wet in the Garden – A Guest Post by Amelia Meyer

The Garden Route’s official borders end at Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and Storms River in the Eastern Cape and, between these two gems, lies a world of adventure. This area is known for being unabashedly beautiful. It has forests, mountains, valleys, vineyards, quaint towns and vast stretches of gorgeous beaches.

Until a few years ago, I didn’t want to have much more to do with the sea than look at it, jump over knee-high waves, and lie next to it in the sun. Then, I married someone who has salt water running through his veins. The ocean is part of who he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found some dorado DNA in his brush. So, in addition to experiencing the water in a different way, I’ve actually found that the whole of the Garden Route holds different promise for travellers. I may not be able to speak dolphin yet, but I’m certainly more aware of all the wonder and adventure that the gorgeous Indian Ocean has in store for visitors to this magnificent part of South Africa.

So, here is a list of water sports and the best spots along the Garden Route in which to indulge your inner Kai Lenny: (more…)

Tropical Eden Villas: the perfect place for a winter getaway

It’s Monday again and I’m still contemplating selling my belongings  and moving to a small town between the mountains. Anyone want to buy a thousand books and a really fat cat? Our recent trip to Patensie reminded me that small places don’t have to mean deathly winters, and it was actually quite a pleasant awakening.

When Jonker – Firefly the Travel Guy – fixed me up with Reneé from Tropical Eden Villas, I mentally prepared myself for a cold weekend. Now, a cold weekend I don’t mind – it’s a cold life that worries me a little! Unlike my husband, I am not someone who delights in cold weather, unless I can be tucked away inside, blissfully warm, while the cold rages on at my window, like a noisy reminder of how warm I am.

We got lucky in Patensie with the weather though, it was delightfully warm the entire time we were there. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that even if it was cold, we would have been just fine. The family suite at Tropical Eden Villas is so well kitted out that an indoor braai would help keep us all warm on even the coldest of nights, as well as make for an awesome social setting in even the foulest weather. Yes, we South Africans will braai in the rain if we have to, but it’s really nice to not have to get wet while doing it! Being at Tropical Eden Villas was just so easy. Absolutely everything we could even think of needing was available to us. I could quite happily have just stayed in my sunny bedroom and hibernated for three days!

 

The best part is that we had enough space to do our own thing while still being in each other’s company. And the even better best part was being able to happily let my kids go off for a walk (for as long as they wanted to) without feeling even a small twinge of worry about their wellbeing. Small places…I guess they make you comfortable….

I’d like to extend probably the 100th thank you to Reneé and Jonker for making this weekend possible for us.

The only problem is that I kind of want to move to Patensie now. So…uh…thanks for that…

Take Your Kids to the Countryside

As I said the other day, thanks to Firefly the Travel Guy and his friend Reneé, I’m still dreaming of the relaxing few days we spent at Tropical Eden Villas, nestled between the mountains and orange trees of the Bavianskloof. Now all I want to do is move to the countryside and raise goats and chickens. And turkeys. Because turkeys are magnificent. (Seriously: who needs someone to come and look after their farm? I’m there!)

The five of us spent a three day weekend exploring the roads between home and Patensie, eating way too many ice-creams and far too much braai food. We read books. We played games. We took a thousand photographs. And we had long conversations about really important things. (more…)

Connecting Around the Corner: An Adventure in Patensie

Yes. I’ve just come back from a ridiculously happy-making weekend in Patensie. Of all places. From Istanbul to Patensie? Isn’t that a little weird?

No. Of course it isn’t.

For the compulsive traveller, or for myself at least, the time after a big trip can be a challenge. Since getting home from Turkey in May I have  especially struggled. It’s my fault. I pushed our budget way too far and the post-apocalyptic fallout has been a little heavier than usual. It’s ok, it will get better soon.

The thing is, though, that travel doesn’t have to mean disappearing to far away (and therefore exotic) places. Especially not when you live in a country as diverse as ours. I do know this. So when my son said to me with the most hopeful sincerity, “Mom, I want us to go on a family holiday!” I decided that maybe I could make it happen over a weekend, somewhere close. Because how do you make a much-needed family getaway happen on a tight budget? You go just around the corner!

But where to start? There are so many corners around here! (more…)

St. Mary and the Incredible Town of Ephesus

I’m thinking of Ephesus today and how much more of Turkey there is for me to share before I slip back into the wonderfulness of here. My wanderlust has me itching to venture out of town again. Out-of-town is a small bandaid for the gushing wound that is eternal wanderlust.

Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned while chatting about our Turkish adventure is that our Turkish trip was initially supposed to be a trip to Israel.

I was incredibly keen to go to Israel, but one thing was making me balk: religion.

You see, I’ve kind of lost mine. This thing that used to be a massive part of me has kind of dissipated a bit and I’m struggling to get a handle on it. When we went to India last year I had it in my head that maybe a little bit of spirituality might find me (Eat, Pray, Love much?) but while I was most certainly overwhelmed by a stronger connection to the here and now (as always happens when I travel) I can’t say that I found any of our gods while I was there. This is just a long-winded way of saying that the reason I decided to skip Israel and go to Turkey instead was because I am not yet ready to visit a place that is of such huge significance to the specific religion that I follow. (I’m having an overwhelming desire to delete this last bit, but whatever. Transparency, right?)

The basic point is this: Ephesus  and St. Mary’s house acted as sort of a mini-spiritual experience, which was kind of perfect for this confusion-plagued traveller.  (more…)

Take Me Back to Pammukale

The wind has picked up and it almost feels like winter today, a strange feeling in the wake of a summer that refuses to end. I find myself thinking of the winteresque calcium deposits of Pammukale and not only wishing to go back in time, but wishing that I could hit pause as well. As far as exceptional places go, I think this piece of heaven might be right at the top of my list. Up there with the Cappodoccian balloon ride and the joys I feel whenever I enter Birds of Eden. These sorts of spaces always inspire that overwhelming reminder of how crazy beautiful this world that we live in is.

As I understand it, the calcium shelves at Pammukale are the result of both nature and the actions of mankind. The excess water servicing the ancient city on top of the hill was rerouted down the hill where the calcium rich streams caused these beautiful white pools. Today they’re maintained by only opening small portions of it up to the public and by continuing with the steady flow of water. The sight is quite breathtaking.

And you know what else? It’s romantic as hell. Walking hand-in-hand with my man through those freezing cold pools was pretty freaking nice. Especially since so few folks seemed to be prepared to walk right down to the bottom. Sadly we didn’t take out cameras with us (for fear we would slip and drown them) but at least one of the trusty cellphones came with and we have a few pics to share.

But wow, what an experience.

PS: the water tastes weird.

 

 

Up & Away: I finally got to climb into a hot air balloon

I had a dream last night that I flew to Sweden in a hot air balloon with my cat, Weasley, and Morrison, my sister’s golden retriever. Sometimes I love my brain for its ability to bring back the exact feelings of a past memory. Of course I haven’t gone to Sweden in a hot air balloon with my cat, but I can finally say that I have been in a hot air balloon.

For as long as I can remember, climbing into a hot air balloon and experiencing what it feels like to drift among the clouds has been at the very top of my bucket list. In fact, I had this particular longing way before bucket lists were called bucket lists. I don’t know if the same sort of thing exists today, but back in the 90s I had these books of classics that had been re-written for children. I can’t remember exactly which ones I had. My cousins had them too so I read some of their as well. Little Women. Alice in Wonderland. And of course: Around the World in 80 Days. Granted, that sort of adventure seems just as terrifying to me as going around the world in a yacht (all those potential ways to die!) but a balloon ride could not sound more glorious. I want to do that one day said the child self. It seemed a safer plan than allowing a handful of helium balloons to take me.

I’ve twice considered taking a balloon ride in my own country. The price tag is a serious factor though, I must admit. Wow. And while I was in Chiang Mai I considered it again, but between breaking my knee and feeling like I didn’t want to have the experience without my husband, I gave it a skip. And then finally in Jaipur out hot air ballooning plans were cancelled due to the weather.

Finally, along the strange landscapes of Cappodoccia, I got to live my dream. I can tell you that it was, in fact, glorious, although to be most frank there’s a small bit of sadness that tinges the edges of a realised dream. This little nugget now lies firmly in my past and is not longer a wish to hold on to for the future. I can only hope that a certain dreaminess might return with each re-telling. I do feel it now.

There is, however, a small problem.  How do you even describe something so mesmerising?

It seems to me that possibly there is no point. Perhaps all I can tell you is that you don’t need to be afraid. That there is a godliness to be found in the skies that you cannot quite experience without leaving the earth. And that this godliness is so overwhelming that any predisposition for fear may very well melt away for you. It did for me.

I don’t know if any old balloon ride would be quite the same as our experience in Cappodoccia. My husband thinks it should be, though I have my doubts. There’s something about being in a balloon among other balloons that surely adds the most magical dimension to the whole experience. Folks don’t seem to quite believe me when I tell them that the hot air ballooning in Cappodoccia is what ultimately lead to me choosing to go to Turkey. It was the whole point of the trip.

And was it worth it? Was it worth spending all that money to trek across the world for one 45 minute balloon ride?

Yes. Yes it was.

 

Meet Ismael, Our Tour Guide

One of the things that has become very apparent to me when it comes to adventuring in different countries is this: tour guides are everything. And when your spoilt little English butt is traveling somewhere where English is barely spoken and you haven’t the first clue about the local language, well then you bet your spoilt-little-butt that The Tour Guide is a kind of saving grace that you cannot live without. Tour guides not only educate you with fascinating historical tales about the spaces that they share with you, but they also know where all the clean public bathrooms are. And the ATMs. If you get lost, they will find you. If you get hurt they will get you help. And if you get into a spat with a shopkeeper they will save you. They are worth all the gold, people. All the gold.

To that end I’d just like to take the time a pay a little tribute to our guide on the Neon Tours tour we did of Turkey last month. I’ve never done a proper tour before. Not one where you basically just pitch up and nothing is in your control. Of course I’ve done a ton of day trips both alone and with guides, and tour guides really do make a difference when it comes to understanding what you are and being shown where to look. But I was a little bit worried about doing one big tour with one guide and one group of people. My worry was for naught. (more…)

Turkey: 6 Reasons to Visit Right Now

Well, I’ve been back from Turkey for two weeks now and I haven’t settled back to real life yet. I have, however, spent hours and hours (seriously I’m not kidding — probably about 30 hours in total if not more) pouring over maps and trying to figure out how and where to next. Who even feeds my kids when I slip into this kind of obsessive state?

I’m also kind of tempted to organize a whole tour for my family and friends (with the help of Neon Tours of course because they were awesome!) because I am certainly of the opinion that everyone should just drop whatever it is that they are doing and go to Turkey right now.

Yes. Now.

I have wanted to go to Turkey for a long time, so I did expect to love it. But I have to admit that our trip far exceeded my expectations. The existence of Turkey in all it’s exquisite beauty now sits in my soul like a comforting balm. What an incredible place. How lucky we are as humans that it exists.

Here are some of the reasons that I think you should go to Turkey, and why I hope to be able to go back there one day… (more…)

The Introverted Traveller

I’ve been home from Turkey for a couple of days now, hiding my introverted self from real life and prolonging this hermit existence for as long as humanly possible, but I suppose it might be time to wade back into the real world again. If someone could remind me how to do that…

I mentioned to my fellow travellers that I’m very much an introvert and that even though they met me in the middle of Istanbul I am very much someone who barely leaves the house sometimes. I don’t think they believed me. Which I get. The homebody traveller character doesn’t really make sense, does it?

Anyway, I must admit: I kind of expected Turkey to take it all out of me, and it did. I should possibly have practiced being “out there in the world” a bit before I went. Ten days with an itinerary that left almost no down time ensured that I got home completely exhausted with an aching body, blistered feet, and a badly bruised shin that I got from the camouflaged side tables attached to the chairs at the Dubai airport. And I was peopled out. Good and proper.

But guys?

I have so many wonderful stories to tell about Turkey. What a magical place filled with incredible people and amazing food and incomparable scenery. Where do I even start? What do I tell you about first? I have no idea. I guess as I spend the next few days sifting through my photographs I will find my inspiration.

Until then I leave you with just one thought:

Go to Turkey. If you feel like you wish you could travel more but it’s too expensive and you don’t know which destination to choose, go to Turkey.

I knew I would love it because of the research I did before I left, and also because so many people have dubbed Turkey their favourite destination.

All that hype and expectation did nothing to steal from the wonder of this country.

Go to Turkey.

If you’re like me, your introverted self may be overwhelmed by all of it. But your soul will soar. And that’s what travel is all about, isn’t it? Taking your soul out and letting it soar…

Travel Essentials: My Top Five

I’m not really one of those travellers that can brag about how light they travel. You know the type: Oh I travelled through Asia for three months with only my hand luggage and a tube of mascara. No. That’s not me. At the same time I’m not one of those travellers who you see at the check-in counter, trying to justify why they shouldn’t have to pay extra for the 5 piece matching luggage set that weighs four times the allocated baggage allowance.

I’m just the girl who tries to strictly keep it under the 20kg average that should keep you from forking out any extra cash. I don’t mind spending money on travel. Spending money on extra luggage though? No man that’s crazy!

Anyway – I’ve been thinking about what the must-have items in my luggage are, and I’ll admit that the answer to this question changes from mood to mood, because most of what ends up in my luggage is obviously clothing.

There are, however, 5 items that never change. It doesn’t matter if I am on a road trip through my own country or I’m galavanting over the seas to foreign lands. These 5 are my no-compromise must-haves, and honestly I have no idea how other folks manage to exist without them. I couldn’t! (more…)

Granny Mouse & the Marvelous Coincidence

I mentioned last week that I was lucky enough to be sponsored with some accommodation by AccommoDirect.com which is why my spoilt little butt was able to afford to dash off for a weekend of awesome Hogsback zen and some much needed canoodle time with the husband. Although “afford” is maybe pushing it a bit since I pretty much just charged the whole non-sponsored part of the weekend to my credit card – thank you Standard Bank! (I really should get back to being less irresponsible sometime….)

Anyway, I ended up at Granny Mouse House with the help of Toni who had zero judgement for my very strict adherence to a very low budget when it comes to accommodations. We’re all about the affordability around here – even when we’ve been lucky enough to have someone else picking up the tab! And when affordability and “oh my goodness this place is so lovely” meet then it is totally my favourite thing because that means that whenever one of you lovelies inboxes me for a recommendation then I get to excitedly steer you in the right direction with confidence.

I digress though…

Ty and I arrived at Granny Mouse House on Friday and promptly jumped into bed for a nap because sleep is everything. Madness, perhaps, to give in to sleep so easily instead of exploring immediately, but who knows? Maybe other people do it too? Maybe that bed was so comfortable that we just didn’t have a choice. Also maybe my alergies were acting up so hard I had to slip into an anti-histamine coma for a little while to recover from pollen overload…

Of course we did finally leave the warm coziness of our perfect cottage. We didn’t need to go far for our exploring instincts to kick in because the garden  we found ourselves in was a sight to behold all on its own! And I think that this sort of thing is possibly my favourite thing about exploring. The fact that you don’t always need to go far to be delighted by your surroundings.

And the coincidence? Well, it turned out that Ingrid, aka Granny Mouse, is the daughter of my godfather’s late best friend. A charming reminder, perhaps, that if you do enough exploring, the world becomes a very small place and the universe likes to show off by connecting us together…