Stellies and Safari

Our recent 10 day trip to South Africa was split into three parts, four nights in Cape Town (you can read about it here and also about all of the amazing food that we ate here) three nights in Stellenbosch and two nights at a safari lodge – the Garden Route Game Reserve. Each part of the trip was completely different to the other, with each area having a totally different vibe.  This is one reason I loved South Africa; the abundance of activities and beautiful places that it has to explore.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch, or “Stellies” as the locals refer to it, is only a short one hour drive from Cape Town. We had pre-booked a driver however, we soon found out that most people simply book an Uber to take them, this is a much cheaper option, although having our hotel transfer was very convenient. As you leave Cape Town, the terrain changes entirely, the towns become more dispersed, it’s much greener and you can see mountains and fields for miles.

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Zorgvliet Wine Estate

When deciding on our accommodation for Stellenbosch there was a huge selection to choose from. So many lovely boutique hotels; farm houses; luxury guest houses and so on. One of our criteria was that we wanted to choose accommodation that was directly connected to its own vineyard, but within a reasonable budget so we decided on Zorgvliet Wine Estate.

When we arrived the sun was beaming down and it was a gorgeous 27 degrees! The hotel only has 12 rooms which sleep from one to six guests so it had a very personal feel to it. From checking in the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and we were able to head straight to our room. We decided to take a walk out through the vineyards and explore the estate. Everything was so beautiful. We made our way round to the chapel and wine tasting room. You are able to hire the hotel and grounds out for private weddings, I kind of wish I knew this a year ago!

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Situated around the back of the hotel was a cute little farm shop (which I spent far too much money in) and they had a picnic basket menu …. yes, a menu for selecting your picnic basket. It was so cute! We chose a basket that came with chicken wraps, cold cuts of hams, a cheese selection, salad, baguette, chocolate brownie and, most importantly, a bottle of white wine! We sat on one of the little picnic benches enjoying our picnic and it was just lovely.

The Fat Butcher

That night, we ventured out of the hotel to visit the Fat Butcher steak restaurant which is located in Stellenbosch town centre. We drove through the university campuses to get there so it was nice to see a bit more of the town. From the outside, the restaurant looks very quaint and relatively small, inside was a different story! There were several different rooms all full of people dining. We were sat in the main room, close to the bar. The interior was lovely and the staff were all wearing lovely brown leather aprons. To start, I ordered the carpaccio which was really thick compared to the usually wafer thin slices of beef, I was almost full with the main part yet to come! Ryan had the bone marrow which most other people appeared to order as well! For our main we shared an 850g T-bone steak with truffle mash, seasonal veggies and a bottle of red wine. There was no room for dessert, but there was space for an espresso martini! The overall bill came to just over £50, we couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if we are just spoilt with Dubai prices or if South Africa really is super cheap!

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Delaire Graff Wine Estate

The next morning, Ryan headed out to De Zalze golf course for a round of golf and I had booked myself in for a spa morning at Delaire Graff Estate. I had a 60 minute body massage followed by a 60 minute facial and then headed out to the infinity pool for a chill, what a treat. Ryan joined my shortly after and we sat and had a few glasses of champagne while chilling around the pool. We had a wine tasting session booked in where we sampled five of their wines, followed by lunch out on the terrace. The food was amazing! I had the pork belly and Ryan chose the sea bass. By the time we left I was quite tipsy and very full. We arrived back at our hotel and Ryan went for more wine tasting (I don’t know how he managed it) whilst I had a little snooze around the pool.

Platform Wine and 3/4

On our final day in the winelands we headed across to Franschhoek. We had booked a transfer with the Wine Tram company in advance but it wasn’t actually required as it was only around a 15 minute drive from our hotel and we definitely could have got an uber there. The Franschhoek Wine Tram was one of our favourite days in SA! You definitely need to book in advance online to avoid disappointment and do a bit of research to decide which vineyards and route you would like to do for the day. I let Ryan choose this for us and he decided on the orange line. We started by getting on a bus to the first part of the tram line for the orange route. Once we sat on the tram we were each given our first glass of wine of the day … it was 9.36am!

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At the start of the day you’re provided with a schedule which outlines each of the stops, the time that the tram or bus arrives, and the time that it will depart. They stick to the schedule by the minute! The tram/bus picks you up from each stop after every 35 minutes / 1 hour 10 / 1 hour 45 and so on, so you can plan your day according to how many stops you wish to visit.

The first vineyard we visited was Noble Hill. We sat out in a cute little terrace for the wine tasting followed by a stroll around the grounds. We allowed 1 hour 10 for this stop so we didn’t feel rushed and it was just the right amount of time.

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Next, we visited Babylonstoren and spent just under three hours here! As you leave the bus stop on the left hand side they have a small gift shop that sells soaps and creams and you can make your own foot scrub and face clay! I had far too much fun in here mixing up the little potions. We also saw the small factory at the back where they extract lavender and rosemary oil from the leaves harvested around their grounds.

Their wine tasting room was a lovely bright area with floor to ceiling windows so you could look out across the vineyards. It was absolutely packed full of people in there but we managed to get a seat and enjoy the tasting. Some people were pairing their wine tasting with food platters but we had made a lunch reservation at a different restaurant on the grounds, Babel. Just outside the restaurant were two huge turkeys, I made a joke that they were getting ready for Christmas to which the waitress replied “those are actually our pets”… awkward.

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The food in Babel was amazing, honestly we didn’t have a bad meal during our entire holiday! I had the steak with my favourite glass of red wine I had tried during the tasting and Ryan ordered the pork belly. I could have spent all day at this vineyard as there were so many parts to it and if you follow them on Instagram they show different activities they have on at different times of the week, such as gardening and activities within their farm.

Our penultimate stop was at Vrede En Lust. By this point I was 11 glasses in and actually needed a break, Ryan soldiered on though and sampled another six wines there. This was my favourite vineyard for views. We sat outside on the little terrace looking across the vineyard with the mountains in the background and you could see the tram line and watch the tram arrive into the platform.

Our final stop of the day was at Boschendal it was stunning and by far the largest
estate that we visited. I decided to do the Rose Garden tasting which included two “tastings” of champagne which actually turned out to be full size glasses! I’m not sure how we were still standing by the end but we headed back to Stellenbosch and decided to chill in and have dinner at the little restaurant within the hotel.

Safari

The last stop of our trip was a two night stay at the Garden Route Game Reserve. It was a four hour drive from Stellenbosch to the reserve so we booked our driver in advance via the Game Reserve itself. The journey really wasn’t too bad and on the way we saw baboons and a little giraffe out in the distance. As we turned into the Game Reserve I was so excited.

We checked in and were given our itinerary for the three days. We had just enough time to drop our bags to our cute little hut before heading out on our first sunset safari. Our jeep held ten people plus our guide and we headed out in search of the Big Five.

The reserve’s land stretches for hectares! It is separated into different sections housing certain animals. Firstly is the elephant enclosure. The reserve has two elephants, both of which were rescued from elephant back safaris and are now living at the Reserve. As they have been used to human contact, and due to the huge amount of food that they eat per day, the eles have a bit of help from the staff with their food but you still cannot get close enough to touch them.

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The second area houses cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, zebra, water buffalo, ostrich, antelope, gazelles, springbok and many more. All of these animals live life as if they are truly out in the wild. There is no human contact whatsoever and you really have to drive around searching for the animals! We were lucky enough to see a Mummy, Daddy and baby rhino! When asked how many rhinos the reserve has our guide informed us that they are not allowed to disclose the exact number as rhinos are a protected animal and in danger of poachers so they have to keep their rhinos safe!

We were also lucky enough to see a cheetah with her four cheetah cubs! The cubs are around five months old, still a bit fluffy and super cute! The mum has a collar on her neck and when we asked why this was, our guide informed us that they track the mum to ensure that she and the babies are safe while they are growing. The reserve is also part of a cheetah conservation programme whereby when the cheetah cubs are old enough they will be sent to another game reserve to live. This ensures that the cheetahs bloodlines stay pure and there is no interbreeding within the families.

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Part way through our safari we pulled over for a little picnic, we had wine, beer some snacks and watched as the sun was starting to set. At he end of the Safari we were dropped back to the main part of the reserve where the staff had lit some bonfires and stood around having a glass of wine before heading to dinner. The perfect end to an amazing day.

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We were up bright and early the next morning to head out on the sunrise safari. We were told the animals were likely to be more active than the previous evening and we set off in search of the King of the Jungle in the lions section. The gates opened and as we drove through we saw the first of many springbok carcasses abandoned in the grass. As we approached we saw the big daddy with not one but four female lions around him. We stopped nearby, but still at a safe distance, and watched them go about their morning. One of the females started walking around and pulled a funny face that looked as if she was about to sneeze (our little cat Ted actually pulls the same face at home sometimes) and our guide informed as that she was picking up a scent of prey to catch for their lunch! This enclosure also homes springbok, antelope, gazelles etc so the lions are required to hunt for their prey; and the prey are still required to run!

The Safari ended at around 7.30am so we had breakfast and by this point the rain had set in so we sat out in the balcony at our hut over looking the watering hole and decided to crack open a bottle of champagne before our massage at midday!

Our final Safari that evening took us to yet another enclosure, this time in search of the final animal on our Big Five list, the giraffes. This enclosure is the newest piece of land that the reserve owns and only opened last year as it took four year to create the correct terrain for the giraffes and to plot the route for the safari to take. We were searching for around an hour before eventually sighting the giraffes. We stopped off again for our sunset picnic before driving back to the main reserve. As it had been raining that day we were lucky enough to see a hippo out of the watering hole grazing.

We had such an amazing time at be Garden Route Game Reserve and I would highly recommend it for those who don’t have enough time to head down to Kruger or other national parks that are much further away from Cape Town. It’s clear that all of the staff at the reserve are extremely passionate about the welfare of the animals and focus on the importance of allowing them to remain living in the “wild” whilst in the safe boundaries of the reserve.

Food in Cape Town 

I honestly don’t even know where to start with all the food we ate on our trip. We didn’t have one bad meal during our entire stay in South Africa and with such an abundance of choice, it was difficult to choose where to eat! We had received so many helpful recommendations from friends on the best places to eat before visiting and it was advised to make reservations so we weren’t disappointed!

Camps Bay

La Belle Bistro & Bakery

When we arrived in Camps Bay our hotel room wasn’t quite ready so we headed out for a bite to eat. Conscious that we had our Afternoon Tea already booked for later in the day we chose La Belle Bistro & Bakery and shared a pot of mussels, calamari and a few glasses of the Chenin Blanc. I don’t know if it’s because we were quite hungry or what, but the mussels in white wine sauce were some of the best I have ever had.
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The Bungalow

We were super excited to try the seafood at The Bungalow and it didn’t disappoint. Our reservation was at 8pm but I would advise arriving earlier to watch the sunset. The restaurant is located just off the beach with a really relaxed vibe. You can choose to sit in the marquee seating area closer to the beach or a bit further back into the restaurant. We ordered a portion of the langoustines which came with 6-8 in a serving and one portion of the prawns which came with 10 in one serving! We ordered a side of chips and veggies and a bottle of white wine. It felt like a lot of food but, of course, we finished it all! The staff were friendly and very informative and it was, all in all, a lovely evening.

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Bilboa

We sat in Bilboa for some sunset drinks one evening but as we started to see the food being brought out to tables around us we got slightly envious! So we ordered some starters just to tide us over until our actual dinner reservation later on that night. I ordered the halloumi which was amazing. It was served with a light marmalade sauce, freekeh and chilli. Absolutely gorgeous. Ryan ordered the lightly battered prawns which, considering it was a starter, was a generous portion of 5 large prawns. I wish we had time to return for a main meal! Upstairs, they have a rooftop bar, Chinchilla, which was much more lively with a DJ whereas the restaurant itself is a more chilled vibe.

Codfather

My favourite seafood meal in SA (and situated less than a three minute walk from
our hotel)! The Codfather had a much more rustic vibe to the restaurant than others we dined in. We visited for lunch and were dressed in our gym clothes and trainers as it was our reward after completing the hike up Table Mountain! They have a sushi counter with all of the fresh sushi on the conveyer belt which you can help yourself to at any time and take back to your table. They also have a fresh fish counter and your waiter explains all of the different types of fish that they have on offer and their flavours, what you should accompany it with and helps you decide on the portion sizes. As we had just worked up a huge appetite, we ordered 3 langoustines each, 3 prawns each, Kingklip fillet (which is the local line caught fish and is very similar taste and texture to cod) and also some butter fish, which was absolutely gorgeous and I would highly recommend. The food is served in a copper basket with rice, chips, vegetables and a side of four sauces, the garlic butter was my fave! We demolished the food and saved a little bit of room for some sushi which was super fresh and tasty!

Paranga

Paranga is located just along the seafront in Camps Bay with a mixture of big groups and couples dining when we joined for dinner which created a great atmosphere. We both opted for steak for dinner this time and were not disappointed. Ryan ordered the rib eye whereas I ordered the fillet, both cooked medium and with chips, mash and peppercorn sauce on the side. My steak was slightly undercooked for my liking but the staff quickly rectified that and when it returned it was cooked perfectly.
I saved room for desert this time and we ordered the rocky road which came with brownie, crushed chocolate biscuit, marshmallows, piped walnut icing and espresso flavoured ice cream. I’m not going to lie, this was my favourite part of the meal!

V&A Waterfront

V&A Food Market

If you’re in the area and are not quite sure what to have for lunch, head straight to the food market at the V&A Waterfront. I lost count of the number of different stalls inside offering everything from pokè bowls; samosas; wraps; burgers; oysters and fresh seafood; biltong; desserts, you name it and you’ll find it in there. We ordered a selection from different stalls including samosas, grilled pork belly wrap, lamb with aubergine wrap and Ryan got a beer (of course). We sat outside on the picnic benches and there were also local street performers around the area so we sat watching a group of young children in tribal wear singing and dancing and it was just amazing.
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Harbourfront House

We were so lucky with the weather when we visited the V&A Waterfront so we headed to one of the bars overlooking the port and had a few glasses of wine and some sushi. It’s in the perfect location for people watching so we each had a few glasses of the Chenin Blanc (as you can tell this it been a favourite of ours this holiday!) and the teriyaki salmon sushi which was lovely!
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We also wanted to visit the Grand Africa Restaurant and Beach Club during our stay in Cape Town but sadly, due to having to reschedule our hike up Table Mountain, we didn’t have time on this trip.

Others

Mount Nelson Hotel

Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel has been voted in the top 10 in the world, and we understand why. Upon arrive the service is exceptional. The hotel has a high end but relaxing feeling to it. The weather was beautiful so we sat outside on the terrace and ordered a few glasses of MCC to go with our sandwiches! They start by first providing you with a stand of hot and cold savouries including salmon, egg, ham and cheese sandwiches, spinach and cheese frittatas, onion bhajis and others. You can request any of these as many times as you like! Then come the scones with jam and clotted cream. Obviously we had the standard disagreement on whether the cream or jam goes on first (I say jam, Ryan says cream)! The sweets are kept inside the lounge area and there’s a huge variety but by this point I was exceptionally full! They also have a menu with over 40 varieties of tea, all of which are included in the price. Overall, it was a lovely, relaxing afternoon and an entitled different vibe to the hustle and bustle of Cape Town outside of the hotel walls.

Two Oceans

We stopped at Two Oceans for lunch during our day trip down to Cape Point, before heading to Boulders Beach. We had read about how busy the restaurant gets so booked in advance which I would definitely recommend to avoid disappointment! We had a great seat outside overlooking the sea and ordered one of the seafood platters to share which came with a selection of prawns, mussels, kingklip, calamari and chips. It was the perfect amount of food for two which we shared with a bottle of white wine and couldn’t resist the carrot cake for dessert!

Pot Luck Club

The last, but by no means least, and actually our favourite restaurant that we visited, the Pot Luck Club. Reservations open on the first day of the month before you wish to visit, so we made sure to set a reminder to make our reservation on the 1 of October to avoid disappointment! When we arrived we were welcomed with a complimentary glass of champagne each as we had informed the staff that we were celebrating Ryan’s birthday which was a lovely touch. We were sat just opposite the cooking station so had the entertainment of watching the chef at work all evening which was so impressive. The menu is based on a tapas / sharing concept and they advise that you order 6-8 dishes to share. The plates are brought out in the order recommended by the chef, starting with the lighter dishes first.
We started with the fresh ceviche tacos, served with a jalapeño sauce, followed shortly after by the calamari which was lightly fried and served with a mustard aioli and Parma ham. Next came Doenjang Glazed Tuna which was four generous chunks of tuna, lightly seared with a teriyaki style sauce. Up next was the Springbok Carpaccio, I almost didn’t want to order this dish but I’m so glad we did as the meat was so tender and with balsamic dressing and thin crouton crisps on top, it was delicious.
These were essentially our starter dishes and we then moved on to the heavier plates, starting with the Peri Peri Chicken which was cooked perfectly and served with a feta crumble on the top – slightly better than Nandos I must say! Our penultimate dish was Penang Pork Belly which was served in a light coconut curry sauce with broccoli and broken fish crackers. We definitely got the taste of Malaysia through this dish. Finally, we finished with the Smoked Beef Fillet served in black pepper, truffle and cafe au lait sauce. Oh my god it was amazing.
Overall, everything about this restaurant was incredible, from the service, to the ambience in the restaurant and of course, the food.

Singapore

I can’t believe that it’s taken me so long to watch Crazy Rich Asians – even after Ryan constantly nagging at me to watch it for so long! Anyway, it didn’t disappoint and watching it brought back all the emotions I felt when visiting Singapore myself a few months ago … and reminded me that I’m yet to write a blog about it!

So, slightly delayed, but I’ve finally got round to writing about our (very short) time in Singapore and all that we managed to cram into our visit!

Day One

We landed from Langkawi into the famous Changi Airport at around midday and, as we travelled lightly, we scurried out with our hand-luggage and wasted no time in the airport. We had read online about the budget / comfort taxis so it was a little disappointing when the airport staff tried scooting us into the higher end, expensive taxis.

We took the little budget taxi and raced to check into our hotel the Pan Pacific. We contemplated staying at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (and not just for the rooftop pool) but we decided that for the cost of the hotel we just wouldn’t make our money’s worth as we didn’t intend on spending any time at the hotel as there was too much exploring to be done! The Pan Pacific was a lovely 5* hotel, although it had more of a corporate feel than holiday, it was in a great location within walking distance to Marina Bay Sands Hotel and it has an MRT station less than a minute walk away.

Ce La Vi

We headed straight to Marina Bay Sands and up to Ce La Vi. We landed in Singapore the day after my birthday and so Ryan treated me to the three course lunch with wine pairings. The food, and wine, was delicious and the staff were so friendly they made me a birthday card with a Polaroid photo of Ryan and I, sang happy birthday and prepared a dessert with gold flakes and my name! (Definitely service of a 5* hotel!) We had amazing views across the Singapore Strait and could see some of the Indonesian islands from up there. After we finished our food we headed round to the poolside and sat overlooking the Marina with all of the skyscrapers whilst drinking more wine. I must admit that out of the two sides of the hotel, my favourite view was across the Strait, it overlooked the Gardens by the Bay and the views were just breathtaking. Living in Dubai I’m lucky enough to have a view of the Marina and skyscrapers as soon as I open my curtains in the morning, so it’s nice to see some greenery and nature.

Gardens by the Bay

Its not often that we go on holiday and do super touristy things but I was so excited to visit the Gardens by the Bay. I had seen so many pictures on Instagram and read up on a few blogs but I did not expect the trees to be so tall!

We walked around the gardens for a little while and then headed to the domes. We started in the cloud dome which was amazing! It’s incredible to think that they have replicated and created a natural oasis inside what is essentially a huge green house! I was shocked at how many different species of trees and plants were housed in there, let alone the waterfall cascading through the centre and the naturally formed clouds on the higher floors.

We then headed across to the flower dome which was lovely but by this point we were exhausted – and had done a fair bit of walking! We had purchased a joint entry ticket but didn’t realise how long we would spend in the Cloud Dome and would probably have been better to just buy a single entry ticket.

Level 33

We went to meet one of Ryan’s friends for dinner and drinks and he took us to Level 33, a bar in the Marina Bay Financial District with insane sunset views of Marina Bay Sands.

Usually we are the ones meeting people on holiday in Dubai and showing them amazing bars and restaurants for dinner so it was nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Day Two

Orchard Road

We started the day by taking the MRT to Orchard road and went for a lush breakfast at Wild Honey. We would never have found this little cafe but it came highly recommended from Ryan’s friend and it didn’t disappoint – and we do love our brekkies!

China Town

The second stop of the day was China Town. China Town was crazy and full of life! There were market stalls popped up all around, we visited a few temples and stopped to have lunch at one of the Michelin Star Street food shops. I could have spent hours just walking around the markets and taking in the hustle and bustle of daily life there.

Little India

Our next stop was Little India – we just took the MRT between all of our stops, it’s super easy to use and all of the stops are written in English, it’s by far the easiest way to get around the city.

Little India was much quieter than China Town but we still loved walking around the colourful streets 💛

Raffles hotel

Our final stop of the day was Raffles Hotel for a legendary Singapore Sling cocktail! Although the hotel was under renovation the Long Bar is still open (as is the gift shop where we spent a small fortune!)

The cocktails were lovely and the decor of the bar made me feel as if we were in the 1950’s it was a great experience. We also ate our body weight in monkey nuts!

Clarke’s Quay

We spent our final evening at Clarke’s Quay and ate in a lovely Asian restaurant called Little Saigon which was an Asian street food concept but the tables were sat slightly over the Quay which was lovely. We walked around and sat down at one of the bars right on the river bank and stayed there for a few hours drinking and watching the world go by.

Day Three

On our final day in Singapore we met up with my friend Ingmar who has lived in Singapore for the majority of his life. I met Ingmar when I first went travelling to Thailand at the age of 19 and we have stayed in touch through Facebook etc. since. It was lovely to see him as we had 7 years of life to catch up on!

Ryan and I then headed to Sentosa Island to spend our final day on the beach. We were unsure at first whether Sentosa, as a man made island, would feel like the Palm but actually we didn’t consider this once we were there. We took the tram across from the mainland which was only SGD$8 each for a return journey and extremely easy.

I couldn’t help but see the similarities between Singapore and Dubai. A financial hub, bustling city life but with the 5* hotels, beaches and all year weather (although I am aware at how lucky we were that it didn’t rain during our time in Singapore!) but the one thing I feel that Singapore has over Dubai is the nature and the deep rooted culture. My favourite part of our trip was spending time in China Town and drinking along the river bank in Clarke Quay.

Although indeed we were only there for little over two days, I have fallen in love with the place and I’m pining to return, whether for a holiday or permanently, who knows?!

Exploring KL

As we landed in Malaysia I was so excited to start exploring my 34th country and to finally be back in South East Asia. We were really impressed by KLIA airport – it was huge!

Getting there

The flight to KL from Dubai is around 7 hours plus the 4 hour time difference, so we left Dubai at 9pm and arrived in KL at 8am the next morning.

We read online (this site was super helpful) that it is relatively easy to get a taxi so we headed down to the lower ground where there’s an Airport Taxi kiosk. You have to pay 2RM (approx. 40p) for a ticket and you choose whether you want a budget taxi, Premier Limo, Super Luxury or Family Service taxis. We opted for budget as it was the cheapest option but nevertheless, it was comfortable and had AC (and to be honest we slept most of the drive to central KL anyway). The drive from the airport is around 50 minutes however there was so much traffic – we must have hit the morning rush hour or something – so it ended up taking close to 2 hours! Our hotel had quoted 150RM for a transfer from the airport but we paid our budget taxi 55RM including tolls and a tip.

Accommodation

Kuala Lumpur had a variety of hotels ranging from luxury 5* to budget hostels and motels. We decided to stay at Traders Hotel (part of the Shangri La brand) and we were sold on the view from the hotel room of the Petronas Towers. Right from checking in the staff were extremely helpful and even though we arrived at 11am our room was prepared and ready for us. The concierge were also so helpful with recommendations of things to do and getting around the city.

Traders Hotel run a free shuttle bus every 15 minutes to Suria KLCC mall (but it is only a short walk). It is also situated in front of KLCC park which was lovely to walk through and sit on the grass for some down time. The only downside of the hotel was that the swimming pool was indoors whereas other hotels nearby, such as the Mandarin Oriental, W Hotel and Four Seasons, all had amazing outdoor pools. But we didn’t intend on spending a huge amount of time at the hotel during this trip so we didn’t mind too much.

Sightseeing

We got to our hotel checked in, dropped our bags, got changed and we’re out of the door within 30 minutes ready to explore with my strict itinerary for the day!

  • Thean Hou Temple

We jumped in a taxi and went straight to the Chinese Thean Hou Temple. Our taxi driver explained that it’s quite difficult to flag taxis down in that area and so left the meter running and waited for us to look around. The temple was beautiful with hundreds of red lanterns, ornate statues and flowers all around.

  • Sri Mariamman Temple

A driver then took us to Sri Mariamman temple which is the oldest Hindu Temple located in China Town. We decided to leave the taxi and continue exploring by foot. We had been with our taxi driver for approximately an hour and a half and the meter only totaled 65RM.

  • Petaling Street Market

Petaling Street Market in China Town was a crazy array of shopping and street food and it was bustling with tourists and locals combined. We spent an hour or so just walking around and seeing what all of the stalls had to offer before heading back to the hotel to chill whilst admiring the amazing view of the Petronas Towers again from our room!

  • Batu Caves

We flagged down a budget taxi that drove us around 20 minutes to the Batu Caves which are located slightly out of the city centre. It’s free to enter the Batu Caves and you do not require any tickets or tour guides. You do need to dress respectfully but you can rent scarves / long skirts from the base of the steps.

We climbed the 272 stairs up, relatively quickly I must say, and explored the inside of the caves and the shrines. We saw the infamous monkeys hiding out inside the temple scouring for any goodies they could steal from the people inside! One monkey got hold of a mans bag which, to the monkeys delight, contained a coconut and we watched, amazed, as the monkey started smashing the coconut on a rock to open it!

We then descended down the 272 stairs and found out little taxi driver waiting to take us back to the city!

  • KL Canopy Walk

This was another nice (free) activity to do in the city. The canopy walk runs through a protected garden area in the centre of the city and you walk up several steps (not a great choice post Batu Caves, but we still had fun) and the canopies guide you through the tops of the trees, heading towards the Manara KL tower.

We decided not to enter the Manara Tower as there was a huge queue and entry charge up to the viewing platform. So instead we walked (a long walk) back to our hotel, stopping off in the KLCC gardens first.

  • KLCC Gardens

The gardens are located out the back of the Petronas Towers (between the back of the towers and the back of our hotel, conveniently). We stopped in one of the supermarkets located on the ground floor of the KLCC Suria Mall to get some drinks and snacks and sat out in the park, taking in the view and lovely weather.

We really enjoyed exploring KL but found that a few days was enough to cover off our itinerary. If you would like to read more about dining in KL, check out my other blog here.

Our Tour de France

I’m a little delayed in writing this post, I had two weekend breaks in quick succession last month and haven’t had time to write! I still can’t believe how fast everything is moving! Engaged for two months already, a whole month has passed since visiting France and confirming our venue and now we have confirmed our wedding planner, photographer, and can start ticking other vendors off our list! As long as we continue to make progress at this rate we will be fine – we’re now just over 9 months away from the wedding ahhhh!

We never planned on having an abroad (or destination wedding) the reason being we wanted to ensure that all of our family members would be able to travel and attend. But we were so surprised at just how quickly venues get booked up in England and we definitely wanted to have the wedding in 2019. The majority of our venues were completely unavailable, those that were available were only on random days like a Tuesday or Wednesday! So we looked further afield into other counties in the UK which meant that both families would have to travel and stay over night regardless. So we decided to branch a bit further out, across the sea and into France. Every wedding planner we have spoken to has asked “why France?” Well we love French food and definitely French wine, our family members can travel by train, plane or even drive across to Calais and we are hoping the weather will be easier to predict than it is in England!

As soon as we started looking at venues in France we realised they too were booking up very quickly. We found three venues that fitted our criteria of being less than two hours from Paris airport; onsite accommodation for at least 35 people and a building that has the “Wow factor”. When searching for a venue the part we struggled with the most was on side accommodation for guests in the northern region. We settled on the three venues:

– Chateau de Bonnemare;

– Chateau de Carsix; and

– Chateau Cheronne.

Once we contacted the venues to determine their available dates for 2019 they informed us they would only hold our venue for two weeks! So we had to book a last minute weekend trip to France (which I’m definitely not complaining about!) we flew over night from Dubai, arriving in Paris at 8am and had arranged a hire car for the weekend and we were both so excited to explore and hopefully find our venue!

Chateau Cheronne

Starting from the last first, the third venue we viewed as Chateau Cheronne a stunning castle built in the 1700s in the French countryside, just over a two hour drive from CDG airport. The grounds of the castle were huge with a lovely pond, old horse stables that had been converted into accommodation and of course the castle. The castle itself had so many hidden rooms, we felt like we were walking round in circles but it actually could sleep 30 people in the castle. We really loved the venue however it definitely felt the most outdated of the venues interior wise, even though it wasn’t the oldest chateau that we viewed. It was also further out than the other venues we viewed and so we needed to be able to justify the extra journey time.

The chateau had some amazing features, for example it was fully self-sustainable until quite recently and still has the damn and water pump from the 1700s. The grounds and garden area were also beautiful, we just felt this venue was a little outdated and not quite the right fit for us and what we would like from our wedding day.

Chateau de Carsix

The second venue we viewed was actually my favourite from looking online and I was so excited to view it. But, the night before our viewing, the wedding planner called to say she wouldn’t be able to make it to show us around… as you can imagine that did not go down well with me whatsoever. We had flown 7 hours to Paris, driven almost two hours to the venue and the woman who will potentially be planning and over seeing our wedding cannot be bothered to show up?! That was a big red cross against the venue and we hadn’t even viewed it yet!

When we arrived in the morning, we were told that the groundskeeper would be showing us around, but she didn’t speak a word of English – and we don’t speak any French! So we were a bit stuck! Ryan had the genius idea of downloading a translations app so we literally communicated by talking through an app and surprisingly it worked quite well!img_4455

The venue really did have the wow factor, a gorgeous chateau built in the 1800s which slept 96 people in the grounds. This was a huge bonus for us because it meant the entire wedding party would be able to stay together on the same grounds. However, the rooms were all quite basic and also smelt a bit musty, kind of like an old people’s home. There also wasn’t a specified Bridal Room or area for the bridal party to get ready in the morning, it felt more like a boarding school. The onsite accommodation was one of the key selling points but there’s no point in having a lot of basic accommodation, we decided we would rather have less onsite accommodation that’s of a nicer standard for our venue.

Chateau de Bonnemare

The first venue we viewed was chateau de Bonnemare, a gorgeous family run chateau built in 1555 approximately an hour and a half drive from CDG airport. Neither of us wanted to admit it right away, but we fell in love with this venue.

I obviously don’t want to give too much away, but from the very entrance point we were in love. This was then complimented by the fact that it’s a small family run chateau by a lovely French family who have had the chateau in the family for several generations. Although the owners aren’t fluent English speakers, their son has excellent written and spoken English which really helped with choosing this venue.

The chateau has recently undergone a lot of renovation to modernise the accommodation and even though this chateau was the oldest venue that we viewed, it was the most modern but maintained its authentic, rustic feeling. One of the things we really love about Chateau de Bonnemare is the space that can be utilised for so many parts of the weekend, all of which will make different aspects of it individual and special.

There are a few towns located between 15-30 minutes from Bonnemare and we stayed in a family run b&b in a small village called Les Andelys. The village was so quaint and we bought sandwiches and pastries and sat on a grassy riverbank to have lunch. There’s not a great deal to do in the village so we just used it as a base to get to the venue which is definitely something we will recommend our guests do.

When we visited Bonnemare we could both just picture having our own wedding there, it just felt right. We are so excited to get married there and it’s approaching quickly!

284 days to go!

Positano

We really did save the best until last on our mini Eurotrip!

The final stop of our holiday was in beautiful Positano. We spent four nights at Hotel Palazzo Murat, a stunning hotel in the heart of Positano. After a hectic week of travelling around it was nice to be based in the same hotel for more than two nights! The drive from Vesuvius to Positano was stunning and it took just under an hour and a half – our driver, from My Day Trip, took us along the coastal route which was much more scenic.

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When we first started planning our trip to Italy, we considered hiring a car and driving ourselves from Rome to Positano, which sounded like a lovely idea in theory, but when we were actually travelling on the roads I was so thankful we had booked a driver! The roads were tight and bendy, I just had to keep my eyes shut!

As we arrived into the centre of Positano, our driver had to call the hotel concierge to come meet us and take our luggage, the streets become too narrow that no cars are allowed and access is by foot only. We had arrived at the hotel slightly earlier than anticipated which meant we could enjoy some down time around the pool.

I hadn’t really looked into any of the recommended restaurants and bars in Positano, I left this to Ryan. He told me that for our first evening he had made us a reservation at one of the restaurants along the beach front, so we got ready and headed down there…

The First Night

Along the beach front there are several family run restaurants, opposite the restaurants on the beach there were a few kiosks for boat companies. I pointed out one, Positano Boats, and said, obliviously, “Oh look, that’s the company we are going to Capri with on Thursday!” To which Ryan replied, “Well, we actually have a trip booked with them now as well…” At this point I was slightly confused because I’m very organised when we go away, I print all of our travel itineraries and booking confirmations and I didn’t have any documents for this particular boat trip!

Ryan had booked a private yacht which took us around the Amalfi Coast to watch the sunset. Our driver, Hermes (secret twin brother of Harry Kane) was so sweet and kept us fully topped up with prosecco and nibbles! I should have realised something was up when Hermes opened our second bottle of prosecco after only half an hour (Ryan obviously needed a bit of Dutch Courage!)

We sailed around the coast and I was just in awe of how beautiful it was. After about an hour we turned around and headed back into Positano. The sun was setting behind the mountains, music was playing and we were sat on the front of the boat just taking it all in. Ryan suggested having a photo taken, so he got up to give his phone to Hermes, and at this point he got the ring. I was stood at the front of the boat, still taking everything in and as I turned around, Ryan was on his way down on to his knee (although slightly stiff because in typical Ryan style his trousers were very tight)! It’s not often that I’m speechless but I honestly had no words. People have asked me exactly what Ryan said but it all feels like such a blur I really can’t remember!

I, of course, said yes and as Ryan put the ring on Hermes started beeping the horn on the boat! As we pulled into the harbour, the staff from the boat company were waiting for us and cheered as we got off (luckily I said yes or that could have been very awkward!) I was still just in complete shock at this time but the night didn’t end there, Ryan had made a reservation at a gorgeous Michelin Starred restaurant called Rada (more info below) where we had our first meal as an engaged couple. We returned to the hotel and opened the wine we had purchased earlier in the day, wine tasting in Mount Vesuvius, and sat out on the terrace to call all of our family and friends. We managed to get through to all of our immediate family that night which was amazing, we both felt so loved ❤️

I had never really thought about what my dream proposal would be (other than it being from Robbie Williams) but nothing could have been more perfect than the evening of 28th August 2018.

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Capri

We didn’t have a lot planned for the remainder of our time in Positano, apart from our day trip to Capri, so we just spent time down the beach, around the pool and walking around the town.img_2385

Our trip to Capri was booked through Positano Boats again, we decided to go for a group day trip which had a total of 12 people on the boat. Our captain decided to get the party started by dishing out prosecco and beer at 10am! We stopped for snorkelling and arrive at Capri around 45 minutes later. We managed to find a 12 seater taxi, which was surprisingly easy, and headed up to Annacapri with the rest of our group. We took the cable car all the way up to the top and the views were phenomenal. We split up and ventured off in our couples to explore a bit more of the island. It really was beautiful but we found it to be extremely touristy.

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The Food

Those who know Ryan and I, know just how much we love our food (and drinks)! So here are a few recommendations of our favourite restaurants in Positano:

Chez Black

Before visiting Positano we read several reviews recommending Chez Black as the best pizza in Positano, and it did not disappoint. We headed down for lunch on our first day and shared an antipasti to start, Diavola pizza and Caprese salad. The food really was lovely and although the restaurant was packed the service was still great. If you have the chance to make a reservation I would recommend doing so as we were quite lucky to be seated without one.

Covo Del Saraceni

We had a lovely meal at Covo Del Saraceni on our second night in Positano. For our mains, we ordered the prosciutto pizza, mussels and a bottle of white wine as recommended by the staff. The food was very reasonably priced and the staff were so helpful. The restaurant had both indoor and outdoor seating so we decided to sit outside along the street, which  had a much more relaxed vibe.

Rada

Ryan had made a reservation at Rada on the first night of our holiday in Positano, after the proposal! The food was beautiful and the service was excellent, the staff were very knowledgeable about the dishes and the sommelier recommended a beautiful bottle of white wine to complement our food. We had a complimentary amuse-bouche from the chef and I had the grilled octopus followed by the lobster linguini. Both dishes were lovely and the lobster linguini had a fried lobster meatball on the side which was delicious. The restaurant had such a romantic feel and we sat overlooking the sea which was lovely as the sun had just set – the perfect setting for our first meal as an engaged couple.

Next2

Restaurant Next2 was by far the best restaurant we visited in Positano! Everything about the evening was lovely – I would definitely advise making a reservation in advance to avoid disappointment! To start I had the beef carpaccio which was amazing followed by the Mixed grilled seafood (fillet of fresh fish, octopus and prawn) with black rice and vegetables – both dishes were beautiful! We were too full for dessert but received a complimentary selection of cookies. The whole evening was lovely with regards to the service, atmosphere and of course the food and wine. I would highly recommend visiting this restaurant.

24 hours in Rome

Seriously… we only had 24 hours in Rome! When we started planning our Euro trip we were looking at ways to reduce our travel time as much as possible. Because we were on quite a strict schedule, we had to leave Scotland on a Monday and were, therefore, quite restricted with our flight times. Initially, we hadn’t planned on spending any time in Rome at all – of course one day in Rome was not long enough but even though it was very short I’m so thankful we were able to visit!

Our flight left Edinburgh at 6.25am and we managed to sleep the entire flight to Rome! When we arrived in Rome we exited the airport and turned right into the taxi rank. The taxis are by set meter and the fare to central Rome is €30 per car which was very easy and efficient. We stayed at the Rome Times hotel which was lovely. The reception staff were extremely helpful and allowed us to check in early at no extra cost. The hotel was in a great location, approximately 12 minute walk to the Colosseum; less than 10 minutes taxi to Termini train station and a short walk to and from the metro station. Another benefit of this hotel was a complimentary mobile phone in our room with unlimited use! You were able to make domestic and international calls free of charge a well a use the phone for google maps and navigation around Rome.

Roman Forum

The obvious first stop for us was the Colosseum due to the location of our hotel being less than a 10 minute walk away. I had read online about how crazy the queue is to get in, but I also read that if you head straight to the Roman Forum you can purchase an entry ticket that is valid for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum at no extra cost – so that’s exactly what we did! The ticket office at the Roman forum had one person in front of us in the line, we couldn’t believe it. So we purchased a double ticket for €12 each that gained us entry to both sites. If we had longer I would have liked a guided tour around the Roman Forum (because I didn’t really know anything about it) but the girls on the ticket desk were probably the least helpful people we met on our Euro Trip! But it was still nice to walk around and read the information on the signs.

Colosseum

b85f73e1-d064-48f4-bd95-13fff91f838dAfter a short while we headed to the Colosseum, I couldn’t believe the size of the entry queue and we literally walked straight  past everyone! Again, I would have loved to have a tour guide take us around but we simply didn’t have the time on this trip, so instead, we hired one of the audio tours which was informative and we were able to go round at our own pace. The Colosseum was quite overwhelming, and even though at this point I hadn’t watched the Gladiator, it was still crazy to think of what used to happen in such a place! Note: I have since watched Gladiator and understand why Ryan was a bit emosh when we were there!

Just outside of the Colosseum there’s a metro station, so we decided to take the metro across to the Vatican as opposed to the hour walk. The tickets cost €1.50pp which is valid for 100 minutes. We had to make one line change and then a further 6 stops and we were at the Vatican City station. We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant on the side of the road called La Carravella Tretoria, which was located off the main roads, to get our first fix of Italian pizza, pasta and of course wine!

Vatican City

img_2678The Vatican City was beautiful and we were in awe of the buildings around us. Ryan and I aren’t religious and so visiting the Vatican was just something we wanted to tick off the list but we didn’t really know a great deal about the history or the buildings. I really wanted to head inside the museum to see Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and I am quite gutted we missed out on this – but it’s the perfect reason to return!

Pantheon

The Pantheon was an unexpected gem for us. The building is a former Roman temple which has since been converted to a church standing now at almost 2,000 years old. There was quite a crowd of people gathered in the square at the front of the Pantheon but inside it was so peaceful. We spent a bit of time just walking around the statues – I couldn’t believe how old some of them were! The most fascinating part of the Pantheon for me was the dome roof which has an open hole in the centre and when it rains, water gathers on the slanted floor, and is drained out through an ancient drainage system. The fact that all of this was constructed almost two thousand years ago just blows my mind!

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Spanish Steps

I was slightly disappointed by the Spanish Steps – to be honest I didn’t really know what I was expecting from them – but by the time we arrived it was around 5pm and the place was heaving with tourists. So we headed to one of the side streets and grabbed a gelato (mine consisted of coffee, chocolate and vanilla which was delightful) and we just sat on the steps eating our gelato and taking it all in.

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Trevi Fountain

The final tourist spot on our whistle-stop tour of Rome was the beautiful Trevi Fountain. We had read before just how busy it gets so we decided to leave this until the evening to visit but even at 11pm it was packed! We each threw our Euro into the fountain and made a wish and just sat on the side watching everyone and taking in the beauty of the fountain. It felt so peaceful sat there and it was the perfect end to our jam-packed day in Rome. I had read online that the best time to visit the Trevi Fountain is just after sunrise (so around 6am) this sounded great, in theory, but we had to be at the train station the next morning and I didn’t fancy rushing around just for a photo!

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Rome > Naples > Positano

But the action didn’t stop after our day in Rome! The following morning we caught the train from Rome to Naples – for anyone planning the same route this is an option I would highly recommend. The train took 70 minutes and cost only €12pp. We booked our tickets online here before travelling, printed our tickets and took them on board with us – it really was an easy way to travel. Previously, we had considered driving from Rome to Positano, stopping off at Pompeii in the middle but I’m so glad we didn’t, the roads looked crazy both in Rome and once we arrived in Positano.

Anyway, the train arrived in Naples and we had planned the remainder of day with a company called My Day Trip. The company was fantastic and for a set fee we had a driver collect us from the train station and take us to our final destination, stopping off at any excursions we required on the way. We booked online, selected our start and final destination and the company suggested sightseeing options in the middle, we made the payment online before travelling and were provided with an itinerary for the day.

Pompeii

The first stop of the trip was to Pompeii where we had two hours to spend exploring. Our company driver dropped us to a tourist shop whereby we rented an audio guidebook and map of the archaeological site. The map was helpful because it highlighted a key route that would take us around the highlighted sites in an hour 30. We hadn’t purchased our tickets online beforehand – which I would recommend doing – but luckily, because we arrived at 9am there was not a great queue to enter.img_2707

Pompeii has always been a place on my bucket list to visit, I remember studying it at school when I was about 10 years old; the story and the history of the town still overwhelms me today. The town of Pompeii is located near Naples and at the base of the only active volcano in Europe, Mount Vesuvius. In 79AD the volcano erupted and covered the town of Pompeii and all of it’s people in ash. The city, buildings, people, animals were all almost perfectly preserved under several feet of ash and rock from the volcano and remain that way almost two thousand years later.

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As soon as we entered the archaeological site it took my breath away. On the right hand side as you enter was a glass case which contained about 10 bodies, the one that struck me the most was two people cuddled together – I’m glad I had my sunglasses on because my eyes were already streaming at this point!

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As we followed the key points on the map we entered another amphitheatre and even though the crowd capacity was a third of that of the Colosseum it still felt very surreal standing in the centre of it. We spent almost two hours wandering around the streets of Pompeii, the audio tour was really informative but we hadn’t even touched the surface of the town and there is still an archaeological team onsite still working to uncover more of the town.

Cantina Del Vesuvio

We left Pompeii with our driver and headed to Cantina Del Vesuvio, a family run vineyard, now third generation, at the base of Mount Vesuvius. We had a brief tour of the vineyard where we learnt about the grapes and how the wine is made.

Surprisingly, due to the ground formation, the vineyard does not require an irrigation system to water the vineyards. This is because the ground is formed of lava rock and black soil from when the volcano erupted thousands of years ago.  After the tour we had a three course lunch which was accompanied by five glasses of wine; two red, two white and one rose. We purchased two bottles of our favourite wine from the tasting and also a bottle of the Cantina del Vusuvio family recipe wine vinegar which was beautiful!

By around 2pm we were on the road again but this time heading to the final stop of our Euro trip, Positano – the most unbelievable end to the holiday.

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