Coping in Quarantine

It’s such a strange time to be alive. I’ve been sitting out on the balcony looking outside at the marina promenade and seeing people outside running, walking, out on bikes, pushing prams and I feel like I’m in prison! Looking down on the outside world where I want to be, but can’t be there. When actually, they shouldn’t be there either!

I don’t understand why people risk it. I get that it’s not ideal having to spend all of this time at home but we are in a state of lockdown, it’s just not worth the risk. Here in the UAE we are allowed outside for essentials such as groceries and medicine but that’s it. They have also imposed a strict lockdown from the hours of 8pm-6am to allow for disinfecting of the streets to help prevent the spread of the virus. People just need or abide by the rules until this is all over.

I keep coming over in waves of sadness and then positivity so I’m trying to channel the positivity to overcome this time. The sadness I feel is due to us having to cancel our honeymoon, which we were supposed to be going on in less than a week. I’ve unfollowed the hotels we had booked up and a few travel pages on Instagram, just until this blows over, so I don’t have to see too many pictures! I love researching and booking holidays though, so I am excited to be able to find the best prices and get everything booked back up for, hopefully, later in the year.

It’s not easy spending so much time inside, especially when we have such gorgeous weather in Dubai at the moment. So, to try and make the most of my time I’ve got myself into a bit of a routine before starting my day. As Dusty (our recent rescue kitten) has found his vocal cords, he’s waking us up at around 6.30 every morning, so that gives me two hours before I need to log on for work. I get myself ready, almost as if I was going to work (without the makeup and in comfier clothes) and then have a little tidy up and Hoover of the apartment, feed the boys, change their litter and then do some exercise. I find it really hard to be motivated when I’m training on my own so I’ve been trying some new classes online. I’m really enjoying yoga and a few studios in Dubai have been putting up live sessions to follow on Instagram which has been great.

I’ve also written myself a Quarantine To Do List of all the things I want to achieve with all this time we have to spend at home. For example, I finally got around to organising our professional wedding photos – it has only taken me 7 months! I’ve also created photo books on Snapfish for our grandparents which contains some of our lovely photos in the order of the wedding day. I’ve ordered a scrapbook so that I can arrange our wedding cards and store them nicely – as I have to admit, we still have them hanging up on the wall! We should have taken them down by now but we are pretty limited for space; plus they always make me happy looking up and seeing them.

As we are hoping to move out of our apartment and into a villa by June, I’m also going to take this opportunity to have a huge clear out of my clothes (yes Ryan, I really did say that)! Once life returns to a normality I will head down to the Ripe Market in Dubai and set up a stall to hopefully sell a few bits!

I have also decided to use my time more wisely and rather than spending hours on end scrolling through social media, I’ve decided to learn Spanish! I’ve started with a free app for now called Duolingo and so far I’m on day three and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve told myself that if I keep this up for two weeks with a little bit of learning each day that I’m going to pay for a course to keep it going long term, and once isolating is over, see about getting myself a tutor! I’ve always been envious of people who speak at least one language. It’s something that I enjoyed at school but never stuck with, and looking back, I really regret that.

So, those are just a few things that I’m doing to try and help the days pass. I don’t want to just wake up and try and get through each day, I want to really try and enjoy this time at home and focus on a few things for myself and also things I should have for round to doing myself in the last six months! I hope that everyone is staying safe, have you got any tips / things that are keeping you busy right now?

Travelling in the face of a Pandemic

If there is one thing that this global crisis has taught me, it’s not to take things for granted. Simple things such as toilet roll in the shops. Pasta on the shelves. Fresh produce in the fridge. The opportunity to travel. The freedom to literally step outside of my own apartment.

These are all things that I feel are basic to living in the modern world (without sounding too privileged as I know that these are not basic things in many people’s lives, I am simply talking about my own experience) and yet, these are things that we are now finding to be restricted.

It has baffled me the way that media and society have responded to this crisis. We all knew how much the media sensationalizes stories, but honestly, I have come to the point of deleting my news apps and only reading government advice or publications on the current situation.

The travel point for me is something I definitely feel that I take for granted. Living in Dubai we live in the perfect travel hub, we can be in Europe, Asia, Africa, all within just a few hours. But with countries closing their borders and flights being cancelled, it has really put things into perspective for me.

We have a difficult decision to make with regards to our honeymoon. The months of planning that goes into it and then suddenly we may not be able to go. A few of the events we had pre-booked have been cancelled and daily we are reserving emails cancelling reservations we have made in certain restaurants. Even if the borders are open and we are physically able to travel there, is it the right thing to do? We face the risk of landing in LAX and not being allowed through. We run the risk of being allowed through but three days later when we want to travel on to the French Polynesia that policies have changed again. Most importantly, we run the risk of catching the virus. I am not concerned about myself (although obviously my health is important to me) but I am concerned about being a carrier and I am very concerned about passing it on to someone who may not be able to fight it off.

We need to be pragmatic about the situation, but also socially responsible. The UK has also advised all Briton’s against non-essential travel for at least thirty days. We are going to continue to monitor the situation, however, my gut feeling is that it is in our best interest financially (although we are going to have to take a hit on some of the costs to reschedule hotels and flights) and morally to postpone the honeymoon to a date later in the year.

This makes me sad, but if this is my biggest issue I face in this pandemic then I can pick my chin up and deal with it.

Stay safe everyone.

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Our Mini-moon

I’m a little bit late with this post.. over 6 months actually! My goodness time flies! As we were lucky enough to get married in France, we decided to head down to the South of France for 6 nights for our mini-moon.

I cannot believe that I have never visited the South of France before! On the flight in we lost count of the number of super-yachts and private jets we saw, it was insane! The coast line was absolutely beautiful as well and it made me so excited to spend the next week there.

Hotels

When searching for accommodation we struggled a little bit because there is so much choice! There are so many amazing hotels in Nice such as Negressco, Le Meridien, the Radison Blu etc. all of which have amazing sea views. Then you also have the options of Air BNB and serviced apartments as well as the boutique hotels. When choosing your hotel you have to consider the location, and decide whether you want to stay along the promenade or in the Old Town… there was just so much choice! We decided on Hotel Villa Victoria which was a lovely 4* hotel based around 5-10 minutes’ walk from the beach and around 15-20 minutes from the Old Town.

We arrived at the hotel around 7pm and the staff were so helpful from the moment we checked in. We decided to drop our bags in the room and head out for a quick bite to eat as we were both feeling exhausted from the journey. We got back and sat outside in the hotels garden on the terrace with a bottle of wine and opened all of our wedding cards and read through our guestbook, it was so perfect.  One of the other reasons I loved this hotel is they have two cats in the garden that they look after (of course that’s what sold me!)

Beach Days

We had a total of five full days in Nice, I had (obviously) planned an itinerary for our time   but we decided to balance it by having a few chilled days down the beach and the rest exploring and activities! We definitely needed those chilled days after the build up to the wedding.

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The beach in Nice is stony so we didn’t fancy rocking up and putting our towels down on the floor. As you walk along the Promenade de Anglais you see several different beach clubs where you can hire a sunbed, towel and umbrella for the day. On our first day we stopped at a beach club called Le Galet, it looked super chilled, had a bar and restaurant and sunbeds to hire for the day for €20 each. We were sold!

We ate lunch the in Le Galet restaurant and just told the staff on the beach when we were ready for a table and within 15 minutes we were seated with a glass of wine in hand!

The food was amazing and the portions were huge! We shared a Caesar Salad and lobster linguini, both were wonderful! We also had several, probably too many, glasses of rosè! As you can imagine, the rest of the day was spent napping on the sunbed!

A few days later when we had another beach day factored into our itinerary, we headed straight down to Le Galet again! We spent the day in exactly the same way, the only thing that changed was our lunch order! Ryan ordered the Thai Beef Salad and I ordered the Seafood Pasta Salad, the food was seriously amazing!

Monaco

Our first adventure day out was one that i was most excited for. As one of our wedding gifts, Ryan’s dad kindly paid for us to hire a vintage car. We opted for a convertible 1963 cream MG MGA. I’m not exactly a car enthusiast but my god this car was amazing! We (Ryan) drove from Nice along the coast to Monaco, stopping in the small town of Eze on the way for some photos. We didn’t even have a satnav or map with us but we managed to navigate our way there using the road signs – I was more impressed at us managing this than anything else!

We arrived in Monaco and drove around the one way streets in front of the casino and Cafe de Paris, people were stopping to take photos of the car, it was honestly incredible. We parked up and headed into the casino to play on the slots. I thought I had one €24 and cashed out but it turns out €20 of that was the note I put in to start with! Oh well, it was still a win!

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After the casino we had a reservation for lunch at Cafe de Paris. We had a lovely meal followed by wine and coffee and spent a bit of time walking around the area. We headed down to the harbour to see the yachts and window shopping (sadly it was only window shopping).

Ryan done so well driving considering the car had no assisted steering or breaks .. or air conditioning! But we wanted to make the most of our time with the car so we headed back to Nice and continued along the coastal road through Cannes and along to Antibes. It was such a memorable day.

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Cannes

A few days later we had another day trip exploring and this time we got the train down to Cannes which was around an hour and only cost 12 Euros for a return. We stopped for a bite to eat at a little bagel cafe and then headed down to the main promenade. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us now whenever we visit France to stop in Le Fouquet for a drink. As we arrived relatively early we just had a coffee this time but at least we can say we have stuck with our tradition!

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Living in Dubai you would think that we were used to seeing the super cars but honestly Cannes promenade was another level, even though 90% of the number plates were Emirati!

We had made a lunch reservation at La Guerite on St Margerites Island which is a small island off the coast off Cannes with not a great deal on it, apart from the restaurant! You can travel to the restaurant by arranging a speedboat with them or taking a public ferry. As we had a bit of time and wanted to explore the island a little, we took the ferry across and then walked around the island before making our way to the restaurant. The atmosphere st La Gueriete was amazing, it started with a live band going around the restaurant singing to each of the tables and later a DJ came on which is when the party really got going! It was crazy seeing all of the superyachts moored up outside and people taking their speedboats from their yachts to the restaurant and back. The food was also excellent, Ryan had the pot of mussels and I chose the prawns which were delicious! As the wine was flowing we got a bit carried away and ordered ourselves a bottle of Dom Perrignon! We told the waiter that we had just got married and when they brought it out to us, the Dj played Bruno Mars “I think I wanna marry you” and they were carrying huge England flags over to our table! It was so much fun.

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Wine Tasting

The other fun activity day we had planned whilst we were down in Nice was a wine tasting tour. My sister and her boyfriend were also down in Nice for a few days at the same time as us so we all met up for breakfast and then headed to the Old Town to where our tour was starting from. This wine tasting tour was a bit different to others as it was on bikes, yes, bikes! We only a small group on our tour consisting of us four, our tour guide and another group of four Americans. Thankfully, the bikes were assisted which was definitely needed when we were cycling up the windy mountain roads to the vineyards.

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The views on the way were beautiful and we were able to take in so much more around us by cycling rather than driving. The vineyard we visited is one of the only vineyards in France that is inside the confines of a main city. We completed our tour of the vineyard which was followed by sampling five of the wine. We also bought some baguettes in the Old Town so we could stop and have a little picnic at the vineyard. We chose our favourite bottle of red wine and chilled out for a little while. By this point, I must say I was feeling slightly tipsy. On the way back down we had the assisted pedalling on and my bike reached up to 40k! I pulled over to get my phone out to video my speedo but as I was picking up the pace I felt a bit wobbly and pulled on the left break as my right hand was holding my phone. The left break slammed on and turned the front wheel of the bike to a halt and I absolutely stacked it off the bike! It was inevitable really wasn’t it, combining me with wine and a bike!!

On our final day we had the morning spare so met up with my sister and her boyfriend again for breakfast before heading across to the Old Town for a free walking tour. We actually got a little bit bored part way round and also distracted by the market so decided to slip away from the tour group before heading back for our flight. We absolutely loved our time down in the South of France. France will definitely hold a special place in our hearts now with all of the memories we made there this summer.

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Exploring Jordan and the Lost City of Petra

This trip had been on our travel list for a while so we were really excited when we were finally able to book a long weekend away to Jordan. To be honest, we haven’t really made the most of exploring the Middle Eastern countries since living here; I guess it’s always the same when something is right on your doorstep. Jordan’s main appeal for us was the Ancient City of Petra; the basis of many films and stories, it really is crazy to imagine a city carved into the mountains, let alone one that was built in 400BC!

When planning our trip and researching online we were uncertain as to whether we wanted to hire a driver for the duration of our trip or whether to hire a car and travel around ourselves. We had read mixed reviews about the quality of hire cars, condition of the roads and also road signs. With the early starts we had planned for each day, we decided it would be the better option for us to pay slightly more and hire a driver for the three days (that way, it meant that we were able to catch up on some sleep during the journeys as well).

Jordan was not as cheap as we were expecting, the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) is almost on a par with the Pound. We also noticed that the price of petrol was quite expensive, again almost on a par with the UK, which is something you should bear in mind if you are considering hiring a car during your time in Jordan. Some friends of ours had visited Jordan in the summer and used a driver whom they highly recommended, Hamza, so I got in touch with him, outlining our full itinerary with dates and times and he replied almost instantly with a quote of 200JOD. Initially I was unsure if it was quite pricey, but considering our travel itinerary was from the Airport to the Dead Sea (approx. 1.5 hours); Dead Sea to Petra (approx. 3 hours) and Petra to Amman (approx. 3.5 hours) including petrol and tolls, I thought this to be quite reasonable. Hamza asked us to simply pay the driver at the end of our final trip which was great. You can find his Facebook page here. If you would like his mobile number please contact me privately and I can provide it.

The Dead Sea

So, we started our journey at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. There are a cluster of hotels along the same small stretch including a Kempinski and Ramada. We decided on the Hilton because the facilities looked beautiful online, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival, the security were extremely thorough with checking our vehicle and also our reservation before letting us enter. As we drove down to the hotel lobby we could see the entrances to the other hotels in the vicinity as well as being able to catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea. The Hilton lobby is beautiful, it’s a huge open space that looks out to the sea and has a lovely balcony with some seating overlooking the view.

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Our room was ready early (result) so we went straight there to change and head down to the pool. We found a spot near to the infinity pool but the water was freezing, so I just had a quick dip! We then went down to see what all the fuss was about on the beach. As we entered the sea it was pretty cold, although I guess we were there at the very end of November. There were also a lot rocks, pebbles and lumps of salt at the entrance of the sea. Once I was up to about hip height I threw myself forward and found I just bobbed straight up! No matter how hard I tried to touch the bottom, I just couldn’t! It’s such a strange sensation, especially when you flip onto your front and can’t get back round!

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I was told by a few people to remove all jewellery before going in, because if the jewellery is not solid gold the high salt levels within the water can cause deterioration. I wanted to absolutely ensure none went in my eyes so I kept my sunglasses on but tried to avoid getting any water on them. Ryan thought it would be a good idea to taste some of the sea… I think he may have burnt off a few taste buds in the process! We followed our short swim by smothering ourselves in the Dead Sea clay! It’s full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin so layered it on thick and stood out in the sun to bake it on!

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We tried out both the Italian and Arabic restaurants within the hotel and thought that both of our meals were lovely. The one thing that let this stay down was the flies! Oh my god thousands of flies! We sat outside for lunch which was a terrible idea and quickly moved inside. The staff informed us that it was fertilisation season for the fields which is why there were so many flies. So I guess you have to make the decision whether you visit in the heat of summer or in the cooler season and be attacked by flies!

Petra

The following morning we were up at around 6 to pack up, check out and start the next leg of our journey to Petra. Our driver arrived right on cue and decided to take us the scenic route via the Kings Highway. The terrain was stunning; breathtakingly stunning. We did meet a slight roadblock on the way though, two shepherds on donkeys trying to herd around thirty sheep out of the road!

We made a small detour via Little Petra which was our first taste of the Nabateean ruins. We had not yet purchased our Petra ticket but the guys at the entrance were kind enough to allow us through without showing the ticket. We hiked quite a way and navigated our way round to find some of the carvings in the mountains.

We arrived at the Petra Guest House Hotel at around 10.30am and were so lucky that our room was vacant and ready (we were seriously lucky this trip)! We dropped our bags and headed straight to get out entrance tickets to Petra as we wanted to try and beat any queues possible. The entrance price was quite steep at JOD 50 per person for a single day entry, or JOD 55 per person for a two day entry. As we were staying overnight and had the next morning free, we decided to opt for the two day entry as it was much better value for money. We were undecided about getting a tour guide, but I always feel that you learn and absorb so much more by having a local tour guide than trying to read up before and after. You can pick licensed guides up at the same place as purchasing the entrance tickets for JOD 50 which takes you from the starting point all the way through to the Roman ruins. If you wish to head further to the Monastery, the guide charges an extra JOD 50, but ours was honest enough to tell us that the route was easy to follow and we didn’t really require a guide for the final stretch.

We entered the site at around 11am and opted to do the whole thing on foot. As you enter, there are hundreds of horses, camels and donkeys that you can pay to take you through, but honestly, it just looked quite cruel, so we boycotted this entirely. Our guide was lovely and really informative, stopping every so often to show us hidden carvings in the walls and explaining about the Nabateean way of life in 400BC. It’s astonishing to imagine it all such a long time ago! The walk from the entrance to the Treasury was around an hour as we stopped for several discussions and photos along the way. As you get closer and walk through the windy path you can just about see a narrow gap forming in the rocks where you can catch a glimpse of the Treasury. You turn a corner and all of a sudden the rock opens up to a huge open space with the Treasury right in front of you. It is amazing.

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The Treasury

We saw a few people hiking up the rocks opposite to the Treasury and above the path so we decided to follow suit and found a local guy who lives up in the rocks making tea who allows you to sit and have a picture taken. He charged JOD 1 per person to go there so he was making a killing, all in the name of Instagram! We had our photo and continued on down to the Roman Ruins for around another hour. We parted with our guide and continued by foot up the 850 steps to the Monastery.

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The Monastery

That evening we had dinner and drinks at the Cave Bar which was attached to our hotel. The bar was really quirky and had small coves that could sit 2-3 people comfortably. We enjoyed some Jordanian wine (which was surprisingly good) and some local food; Ryan had a shawarma and I had a chicken and rice dish, until we were suitably stuffed!

The following day, we were up early (again), had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight back into the site towards the Treasury, in an attempt to beat the crowds one more time. We headed up the rocks back to the gypsy who lived inside and had some tea with him whilst we watch the sun fully rise across the face of the Treasury. It was a lovely morning, topped off by the fact that he had a really cute cat living up there with him, who I of course befriended.

Amman

Our final night was in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The drive from Petra to Amman was quite long and exacerbated by the afternoon traffic around the city centre. We set off from Petra at around 12 o’clock and arrived at our hotel, the Amman Rotana, just before 4pm. We checked into our room and our intention was to head straight out to Rainbow Street which is a road full of cafes and restaurants. But the thought of sitting in more traffic for the next 30 minutes wasn’t very appealing. So we decided just to stay around our hotel and have some down time.

The hotel was lovely. The Rotana is one of only two high rise towers in Amman and with very modern interior. We asked for a high room and were given a room on the 24h floor and had views all across the city. 

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The hotel had a good choice of restaurants with the international buffet, an Italian, a bar and an Argentinian Steakhouse. We opted for the steak! We shared a 1kg Tomahawk steak which was amazing, literally melt in the mouth. The restaurant itself was lovely and the internal décor was beautiful, the only thing that was missing was customers! We were literally the only people in there! It did however, mean that the service was exceptional and we didn’t feel like the staff were just hovering around us either.

 

We spent the rest of the evening just chilling in our lovely modern hotel room, watching TV and crashed after the hectic weekend. It was much easier getting back to the airport as it took less than twenty minutes from the Amman Rotana. It was a nice way to end the trip but we agreed it would have been nice to explore Amman a bit more, there’s some Roman ruins just outside the city which would have been great to see.

Our time in Jordan was lovely, if not a bit rushed, but that’s expected when trying to cram so much into just a 3 night stay. We would have loved to explore further by visiting the Wadi Rum and seeing a bit more of Amman city centre.

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.

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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.

Our Cape Town Itinerary

Of all years for Ryan to decide that he wanted to go away on holiday for his birthday, he decided that it would be smack bang in between our wedding and our honeymoon! Of course, I’m not complaining and I’m not one to say no to a holiday, especially when it means visiting another new country!

Ryan has wanted to visit South Africa for such a long time, I must say I had never really looked into SA but, once we started planning this trip I couldn’t believe how much we had to try and squeeze into just 10 nights!

Every single meal we had in Cape Town was amazing, you can read my separate post on where we dined with our food and wine recommendations here.

Day One

We left Dubai at 4am, I managed to get a 3 hour nap before heading to the airport and another 6 hours sleep on the flight! The flight was just over 9 hours long and we arrived in Cape Town just after 11.30am.

We had arranged a transfer to our hotel in Camps Bay direct with the hotel which removed the stress and hassle of having to locate a taxi at the airport. By 1pm we were at the hotel, checked in and ready to start exploring!

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Camps Bay is a beautiful area, located right on the white beach front with a great selection of restaurants and bars overlooking the sea. We stopped at La Belle for a light lunch and dived straight into the seafood, ordering mussels and calamari – straight away we knew we were going to love it here.

We stayed at South Beach which is a small boutique hotel a stones throw away from the beach. The staff were extremely friendly and constantly helped us with arranging Ubers and other excursions. The hotel has complimentary bikes which you can take out along the walkway, two pools and a bar. The rooms come with a full kitchen and fully stocked fridge and the staff leave fresh bread and croissants on your door every morning at 8am!

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That afternoon we had made a reservation at the Mount Nelson Hotel for High Tea. We sat outside on the terrace drinking MCC (Method Cap Classique, South Africa’s own champagne), eating cakes, sandwiches and scones and it was lovely.

Dinner: the Bungalow, Camps Bay

Day Two

We booked onto the 9am tour across to Robben Island for the tour of the museum and the prison. They offer three tours a day starting at 9am, 11am and 1pm, each lasting around 3.5-4hours including the ferry ride too and from the island. We booked our tickets in advance online (here) as we were advised that in the high tourist season the tours can book up quickly! You should also take your passport or ID with you so that staff can check your e-ticket against your ID (I didn’t know this but luckily had a copy of my passport with me which they accepted).

The boat ride across to the island was quite choppy (and cold!) but if you get the chance to sit outside on the boat you absolutely should. The views as you leave the harbour are just incredible with a full skyline of the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, Lions Head and the stadium built for the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa in 2012.

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The tour around Robben Island was so informative and eye opening. We were taken on busses around to different parts of the island, culminating with the tour of the prison itself. Our tour guide was an ex-prisoner who had spent almost 20 years in the prison himself for political crimes. We saw the quarry where the prisoners were forced to work every day, including Nelson Mandela. We were taken around the prison cells in each of the blocks, finishing at Nelson Mandela’s cell. The tour was so educational and I would highly recommend it.

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We spent the afternoon wandering around the V&A Waterfront. It was a hive of activity with different things going on around every corner. By this point we were hungry so headed straight to the food market, it was full of stalls ranging from Poke Bowls, biltong, pork belly, oysters, samosas, anything you could think of! We bought a selection from a few of the stalls and sat outside with a drink in the sun. 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.

Dinner: The Pot Luck Club, The Old Biscuit Mill

Day Three

We wanted to visit Cape Point and Boulders Beach but didn’t want to do this as part of a big group so we decided to hire a private driver for the day so we could arrange our own itinerary and move around at our leisure. I contacted several companies but we decided on using the company Citi Shuttles. They were really professional and helpful during our correspondence with them and mid range price. We were required to make the full payment upfront as they did not want their drivers to be carrying large amounts of cash so we made the payment using TransferWise to reduce the bank charges.

We started our day at 8.30, driving the coastal route down to Cape Point. On the way we stopped at Hout Bay and went down to the harbour for a coffee and a wander around the stalls. From here, you can take a trip across to Seal Island.

The coastal route was beautiful and at one part you drive on a road that has been carved into the edge of the cliff. We got to the Cape of Good Hope in good timing and avoided all of the queues at the entrance to the National Park. We saw wild ostriches roaming around and baboons! We attempted to have our picture taken with the sign “Most Southernly Point in Africa” but we couldn’t quite fight our way through the tourists so we went for a short hike up one of the trails. It was so windy down there, I’m glad I chucked my hoody in last minute!

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We then headed to the lighthouse and hiked up the hill to the top. The views were beautiful. We had made a lunch reservation at the Two Oceans, when we arrived we had the choice of tables but within half an hour the restaurant was packed inside and out. They have a great selection of seafood platters and we chose one with langoustines, prawns, calamari and mussels, with a bottle of Chenin Blanc to soak it up!

 

After our amazing lunch, we headed down to Boulders Beach. The beach is famous for being the home of around 2,000 penguins! I’m not sure what I was expecting but to be honest, it was part of the trip that I would say could be missed out if you’re pushed for time. It was completely crowded and you pay an entrance fee of around $20 per person and the walk way is relatively short. It was cute seeing the penguins but it didn’t really feel any different than being in an overcrowded zoo.

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Dinner: Bilboa, Camps Bay

Day Four

On our final full day in Cape Town we woke up to thick fog, cloud and mist. This morning, we had planned to hike up Table Mountain, starting at 7am. Initially, we intended to do this alone as I had read online that you don’t necessarily require a guide and that the route is signposted. However, I was slightly apprehensive due to the weather so contacted reception and they strongly advised us not to go alone, especially with the weather conditions and that we book with a guide. Our hotel kindly then contacted and booked a guide for us to start the hike at 11.30 (as he was already half way up the mountain with another group!)

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Our guide, Johan October, was so passionate about nature and his main priority was getting us up to the top safely. So we started the hike at 11.30 and could not see a thing the entire way up due to the clouds. It was disappointing however, we still feel so accomplished that we completed the hike. I would not advise doing this hike without a guide, especially when the weather is unpredictable. We took the easy route, Platteklip Gorge, and found parts of it very challenging. We had to scramble over rocks at certain points and the whole trail is not well signposted, I think we came across two on our whole hike. Also, due to the weather conditions we only crossed paths without around 8 other hikers. Johan advises that from December onwards the route would be much busier and so you may feel more confident doing it without a guide.

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We took the cable car back down which took less than five minutes as we had booked our tickets in advance to save queueing twice and headed straight to the Codfather to reward ourselves with a huge amount of seafood!

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Dinner: Paranga, Camps Bay

Day Five

Our last morning in Cape Town was spent chilling in our apartment and having breakfast before heading onto the next part of our trip, Stellenbosch! Again, we booked a transfer with our hotel in advance however, you can just as easily book an Uber from Cape Town out to the wine lands.

We absolutely loved our time in Cape Town. Prior to travelling there I was slightly apprehensive but we didn’t have any issues at all. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. It’s really easy to get around and everyone uses Uber as it’s much more convenient and also cheaper than taxis. You also find that everywhere has WiFi so you can pre-order your Uber before leaving. We were advised by our hotel not to carry large amounts of cash with us which was no issue at all because everywhere we ate / visited accepted card, including entry to the nature reserves. It is also custom to tip 10-15% for good service so it’s helpful to have some notes on you for that, we found it was definitely appreciated but not expected.

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