Monthly Archives: September 2014

What Happened When I was Injured Abroad

Okay, I’m almost done with Kruger National Park and our safaris posts and thought this might be the time to switch it up and talk about something else that happened to me on our trip.

As some of you might know, we did a stopover on our way home from South Africa.  We spent a week in Copenhagen and other parts of Denmark.  With our Club Carlson points we booked a 3 night stay at the Radisson Bleu Royal Hotel, a block from the Central Train Station, in Copenhagen  I’l report of the hotel later.

Anyway, on our last night before we headed into another part of Denmark, I went in the bathroom to take a shower.  We had  been touring Copenhagen all day, walked ten thousand miles or steps (which is greater), and packed our clothes to get ready to go on a 8:00 AM train to Odense.  I was feeling icky and tired.  The tubs at the Radissons we went to in Denmark are retrofitted so you can shower in them and they are also very tall tubs.  The shower controls are on the side of the tub with the portable shower head along the side as well.  The tub had a swinging door on half on the tub at the end where the shower head would be.  Yes, a swinging door!

When I had taken a shower the night before I noticed the tub was a little slippery so I laid a bunch of towels on the bathroom floor to give myself a little traction.  Can you imagine what happened yet?  Yup, you are correct but stay with me and follow along.

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I got in the shower, bent down to adjust the water temperature and before you could say “Be Careful” I had slipped out of the tub, the door swung open and my head hit the toilet seat where I swear I heard it crack.  Now I am laying on the bathroom floor, bucknaked, with lots of blood around me from my head wound.  Had to call to Blogger Hubby because with the water running from the shower and the television on, he couldn’t hear me.  The one thought that kept going through my mind was Natasha Richardson, the actress who was married to Liam Neeson and daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.  She fell on the bunny slopes and died form a head injury.  Initially she refused medical treatment feeling fine.  I knew head injuries could be serious so I was quite adamant that Blogger Hubby talk to the concierge and have him call the hotel doctor.

The hotel doctor hearing of my head injury and the fact that I couldn’t stop from violently shaking, referred us to a hospital.  He would call ahead to make the referral for us.  We also called our military insurance company – Tricare Overseas – to alert them in case I needed to be admitted as well as to inform Blogger Hubby if he needed to do anything.  They went over our plan and what they would cover and what they wouldn’t.

Now I had to get dressed while holding towels against the back of my head to try and stop the bleeding.  That done, we went down to the lobby and the concierge hailed a cab for us.  Fifteen minutes later we were at the hospital.

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We checked in and were sent to the waiting room.  Still violently shaking and feeling sick to my stomach, I laid down on the floor – we were the only ones and I didn’t see a problem with it.  The hospital staff did.  They came in and saw me and immediately found a room for me.  I saw about 3 nurses and one “bone” doctor.   I was given a blood test to determine if there was any bleeding on the brain and there wasn’t.  Diagnosis and treatment:  I needed four stitches in the back of my head, and had whiplash from when I fell backwards.  Blogger Hubby was given signs to look for in case I needed a return to the hospital.  By the way, the violent shaking was my adrenaline kicking into action.

I would have at least one severe headache for about ten days and achy neck and shoulders from the strained muscles.  I also wasn’t allowed to get my head wet for 48 hours.  Since my hair was gross and very matted with blood, I had Blogger Hubby, when we returned to the hotel get a damp facecloth and try to pull the blood out of my hair.  His comforting remark “at least the color matches your hair”.  Thanks hubby 🙂  As we left the hospital I was given a bag of prescription medicine.  When we went to check out, we found, to our surprise, that there was no charge for the visit, the blood test, the medicine – nada.  We found our that Denmark has socialistic medicine and that they take care of tourists.  If I was a visitor from another EU country, they would have billed my country for my health care.   There is a two tier system of health care in Denmark.  I was at one of the “free hospitals” under their socialized health care system.   If we didn’t want to go there then we could have gone to the paying hospital. For my injuries, it was fine and it might be fine if my injuries were more severe .  Luckily I didn’t need to make that choice.

When we were leaving that morning (and we would return two nights later) we asked to fill out an accident report.  They didn’t have a form so I wrote out what happened.  In my opinion, the hotel didn’t do enough to protect the guests from slips in the bathtubs.  This had never happened to me before and Blogger Hubby also thought that the tub was slippery.   The tub had no bath mat or adhesive grippers on the tub bottom.  It looked like they had stenciled in the grippers because when I ran my hand over the bottom of the tub, it was extremely smooth and slick.  What I will do next time if I find a slippery tub is put a towel inside the tub to stand on.

Blogger Hubby gave my report and a copy of the hospital report to the Front Desk  manager.  As we check-out that morning the Front Desk manager came over to me and wanted to know how I was and what he could do.  We told him we were happy with the care we had received at the free hospital and there was no charge.  I did ask him if they could pay our $60 taxi fare.  He agreed and was going to give us a room credit but we had booked on points.  When we left nothing had happened but he had left me with the impression that they would reimburse me when we returned in two days.

We continued on with our journey though getting a later train to Odense. Head was very tender and I needed to find position where I could rest my head comfortably when sleeping. Eventually I washed my hair and saw pink soapsuds, was able to get the stitches out here in the United States and finally the headaches stopped. I am now going through physical therapy to help with turning my head to the left and right and it is getting better after each session.

When we checked in a few days later, nothing had been said to us about the reimbursement and we decided just to forget about it.  When we checked out the next morning we had the Front Desk Manager checking us out and he did give us the cab money.

We left immediately for the train station to go to the airport for our trip home.  It is still scary to me that an accident could happen as quickly as it did and that it could have had more serious outcome.  I now have a little fear of step in showers and would much prefer a walk-in one.  I am also always feeling the bottom surface of the shower/tub to assure myself that I won’t slip.

I was nervous when this accident happened cursing myself for not traveling with travel health insurance.  But traveling in a country with socialized medicine does make it easier on the mind if you do not buy travel health insurance.  I was very happy with the Danish health care system.  What I will reconsider is purchasing medical evacuation insurance, just in case.

Have you had an accident happen to you while traveling?  What was your experience?

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What a Trip we Had – Guided Kruger Safari at Camp Shawu, Part 7

Now that we had done our self drive through Kruger, we were going to try another type of safari – a guided safari.  This is the type that you see in the  magazines and movies.  For those who might go on one, your total cost generally involves picking you up and returning you to the airport. Since we were already in the Kruger, we asked that they pick us up at the Lower Sabie Camp.  Because of that change we were able to save a little money.  Also factored into the cost is the conservation fee which I spoke about in an earlier blog – all guests into Kruger must pay the conservation fee.

Blogger Hubby is the one who did the research and made the decision on which safari we were going to go on.  Some of them were really expensive – about $1000 per person per day.  We did not want to pay that kind of money so the budget did come into play in deciding which safari we would choose.

After much research he chose Camp Shawu which is part of the Shishangeni Lodge.  Apparently there are several camps that are associated with this lodge.  This camp has a lease on land within the Kruger – they call it their concession.  They are limited to doing safaris on their land and no others can go on their land.  Their concession is located in the southeast corner of the park near the Crocodile Bridge Gate.

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After we were picked up in  a car at he Lower Sabie Camp we were taken to the Shishangeni Lodge where we checked in and waited for our 30 minute ride to Camp Shawu.  The reception area in the lodge looked really nice so I was very excited about what our camp would look like.

As we drove to our camp, I couldn’t help but notice all the burnt land within their concession.  We had seen this during our self drive but, in our opinion, not to the extent that we saw in this concession.  It was interesting to see the paths that the animals had made.

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When we arrived at our camp and I was surprised at how small it was.  There were 5 cottages for guests – I didn’t expect something this small but others came here for that exact reason.  The reception area was nice but small – again if you have max only ten guests you so not need to have have too much.  On the verandah, there was a small splash pool – about 6 x 8.

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We were walked to our cottage and though it was very nice.  It had the typical bed with the mosquito netting around it; a stand alone claw foot tub in the corner of the large room.  The dark wood floor offset by the white tub and fluffy towels made a nice statement.  In one corner of the large room was a toilet separated by a reed screen from the rest of the room.  The sink was on the other side.  There were also two leather chairs in the middle of the room.  The shower was outdoors and not in sight of anyone else. The front of the room overlooked a large watering hole which is the draw for this camp.  A screen was across the front opening as their are no windows.  The screen is held to the inside of the room with velcro. At night they roll down a heavy vinyl shade and that zips to open but also is velcroed to the inside of the opening to get outside to your verandah.

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We quickly changed and went to the reception room for afternoon tea.  I was a little disappointed in what they consider afternoon tea.  We had tea and coffee with pizza as the snack.  In my mind, afternoon tea was with scones, little sandwiches and little treats – not pizza.  After we finished we went outside and got into our safari jeep – a vehicle that held the ten guests and our ranger.  We had a soft roof to it and there were rolled up sides if it was raining or foul weather.  Luckily the sides never came down.  The was a seat outside the front of the jeep for what I would imagine be a ranger with a gun but it was never occupied.  The ranger/driver we had said he knew the behavior of the animals and had no need of a rifle.

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We didn’t see much on this first safari except near the end there was a report on the radio of a cheetah.  We went racing across the land to meet about 6 other jeeps to look at the cheetah.  When he got up to move, all the trucks followed.  This went on for about 15 -20 minutes and it got to a point where I didn’t care for it.  I really felt like we were stalking the cheetah.  I had seen him, I had taken photos of him – I didn’t need to feel like I was bothering him.  Another thing that our driver/ranger did was to get us between a mama rhino and her baby with the papa rhino.  We also got a little too close for my comfort.  Once again, when they moved, we followed.  I just felt like we were harassing the animals.  Just my personal opinion.

Toward the end of our safari we stopped and got out of the vehicle for “sundowners”.  The driver/ranger brought out wine and beer and a few little treats – dried mangos, nuts and biscuits (Cookies).  The last 20 minutes back to the camp was in the dark.  The driver/ranger had a spot light that he held as he drove looking for some of the nocturnal animals like badger.  We never saw any animals.

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A very hearty dinner was a 7:00 in the reception area.  There were 5 table for two people.  Two choices were given to you and you selected one.  Our first night it was lamb chops or pork chops.  They were fine but what was outstanding was their butternut soup.  I felt a little nickled and dimed at dinner because if I wanted water, I had to pay for bottled water.  Their water is “safe” they say although it is brackish and they do not serve it.  For what we were paying, and it was about $450 per person, per day – they  should have filled our water glasses with bottled water if we requested it.  Beer and wine was extra as well.

This camp is on a generator and that can present some problem.  They turn the generator off at 11:00, which is fine but we were charging our cameras and since we only had one outlet that did present a problem.  The generator was also turned off at different times of the day.

Although our room looked really nice, it was not very functional for us.  We like to read a little before bed.  Although both sides of the bed had lamps, only one had enough light to read by.  The other one was useless.  No light in the corner where the toilet or the tub were.  A small light over the mirror by the sink but no outlet for Blogger Hubby to shave by.  There was a dual outlet between the two leather chairs and one of the outlets had a lamp plugged in; the other outlet didn’t work.  We had to unplug the lamp and have them get an extension cord to plug in our camera, kindle, iPhone, etc to use when we had electricity.  There was no drawers or bureau to unpack your clothes.  In the closet should have been drawers but they were broken and on top of the bureau.  There was also only luggage stand yet we had two pieces of luggage, mine and my husband.  There was no light whatsoever where the luggage was and that made it difficult getting things out of your suitcase or finding what you needed.

No drawers
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Here is one of the drawers
               Here is one of the drawers

In the closet we had one bathrobe to share 😦    Maybe I am being spoiled but two would have been so much nicer.

More about our safari and the Camp tomorrow and yes, there were some very good parts of this aspect of our trip.

 

 

 

What a Trip we Had – Self Drive Kruger, cont’d, Part 6

What a Trip we Had – Layover in London, Part 1

What a Trip we Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip we Had – Touring Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip we Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip we Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

What a Trip we Had – Kruger Self Drive and Satara Rest Camp, Day 1 Part 6

Our morning routine was the same each day.  We got up and left our bungalow about 6:00 when the gate opened into the park from the rest camp.  We were able to view the beautiful African sun rising over the savannah – the skies were pink, the sun a bright yellow/orange color the most glorious of colors.  We could  see the animals as they would begin the early morning hunt. Breath taking!

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After we drove around on the roads, both paved and washboard, for a few hours, we would all meet at a rest area where we would cook our breakfast.  This quickly became my favorite part of the morning.  The rest areas were generally managed by men and sometimes their wives as well.

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You could rent a propane braai from the rest area manager  so you could cook your meal.  They rented for aobut 30 rand which is about $3 USD.  It looks like a wok on a metal pipe where the propane heats up the braai.  There was a certain order in which we cooked our food – we would first cook the bacon (South African bacon is the best), remove it and  then in the bacon fat you would saute the sliced onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.  These would then be removed to another dish/pan and it was time to cook the fried eggs in the bacon fat.  While the eggs were cooking sliced bread would be place near the top of the braai so they would toast.  Everything was cooked in one pan.

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Our experienced family members brought all the breakfast food, coffee, tea, marmalade, jam, and butter as well as plates, cups and silverware.  It was the best breakfast I had ever had.  The gentleman who managed the rest site would earn extra money by washing your dishes and his wife would watch your children while you ate.  We went to the overlook at the rest area while the manager washed our dishes for us to take with us.  At our first breakfast, the wife held and walked with our grandson while we ate.  It was a means for them to supplement their income.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it – it was so different than here in the States.  Perhaps with South Africa’s apartheid history it made me feel a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t want to take advantage of these people however, I changed my mind and saw that it helped them and there are not many opportunities to earn money, particularly in the Kruger.  This was a theme that I also saw in Soweto near Johannesburg of people trying to earn extra money doing menial work. Something to continue thinking about.

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We would return to our bungalow around noon-ish and inevitability we would all take a nap after a little snacking.  After all, we had been up early in the morning.  We would head out again around 3:00 in the afternoon till about 5:30.  We’d come in and get ready for dinner.  Every night we had a braai with South African sausages (and I have no idea of what they are filled with), lamb chops, steaks, and chicken kabobs.  We certainly ate well.  What I found out on this trip is that South Africans love their meat and their meat is very good.

We would get up early in the morning.  Now, don’t groan but we would be up and out of the bungalow by 6:00 AM.  It would be cool/cold then since we went during the tail end of their winter.  Sweaters on, long pants but not a need for more than that.  The best way to dress was in layers.  We would find ourselves later in the morning and in the afternoon wearing short sleeve shirts and shorts!

Within the park, there were eleven bird hides (we call them blinds) where you would walk into the structure and sit or lean against the slatted openings in the hide so you could observe the birds without them seeing you. You are encouraged to “be quiet” within the hide.  We were along a watering hole and there were many birds but also a crocodile.

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When you are driving through the park, not only are you looking for the animals but also looking to find other cars that are pulled over wondering what they are seeing. Many times if you ask someone, they’ll tell you but if you want to be sneaky and see something that you want to keep to yourself, then when a car is approaching quickly open up a map and pretend you are looking at it. When they see you looking at the map, they’ll keep on driving thinking you are lost.  Sneaky but effective.

Some days you would see lots of animals; other days, not as many.  You needed to scan the horizon, look close to the roads and finally look for colors or movement that were a little out of place.  My daughter-in-law was fantastic in spotting animals, telling us stories about the animals that she learned from her parents as well as naming all the animals and birds that we saw.

If you don’t have a spotter like we had, you can sign-up at the reception center in each camp to go on a tour with a ranger.  You can even go on a night safari with them.  These are great opportunities if you want a safari like the locals.

I really enjoyed the local way and to be honest it was so much less expensive than going on a guided tour.  Of course with the guided tour, the rangers keep in communication with each other on their radio and will drive you over when something is spotted by another ranger.  Of course, I’ll talk about it when I write about our guided safari. If you are going to do a safari the local way be aware that you need to book about one year in advance – really.  You can book directly with the South African National Park Service.  Click here for the link.  The bungalow prices are considerably less expensive and much more authentic.  It is safe as well.  Consider having this kind of trip into the Kruger.

 

What a Trip We Had – Kruger Self Drive and Satara Rest Camp – Day 1, Part 6

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip We Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

We needed to be at our rest camp, Satara, before 6:00 PM when the gates close. We drove along the paved road leading to Satara seeing elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, herds of impala, kudu, zebra and so much more.  I couldn’t believe how well these animals were hidden; they just blended in including the elephants and giraffes.  Hard to believe but true.

Finally, we were about 5 km from our rest camp gate when we rounded the bend in the road and found a male lion walking along the road.  He looked a little ragged, like he had been in a fight.  A little further up were 8 lions just lying in the road.  Obviously we sat and waited…….and waited…….and waited.  One by one the lions would get up and walk a little but they were not leaving the road.  We enjoyed this but we knew that the gates would close at 6:00 and it was 5:30 at this time.  There is a penalty you have to pay if you arrive after the gates close.  We were getting a little anxious but the lions weren’t.  Traffic was stopped in both directions and everyone around us was getting worried about getting to the rest camp in time.  Finally one car decided to be brave and drive around the lions; we quickly but cautiously followed and made it to the camp on time with about 10 minutes to spare.

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We immediately went to the Reception Building where we checked in and were given the keys to our family cottage.  I’m not sure what my expectations were of the rest camp but they were exceeded.  In Satara, there are different camp sites.  You can be in the area of the rest camp where it is for tent camping, another section is for those with a trailer, or rent a one bedroom bungalow, two bedroom bungalow or a family lodge that sleeps about 16-18.  We were in a 2 bedroom family bungalow that had a kitchen livingroom/diningroom along with an outdoor dining area with braai (South African barbeque).  Each bedroom had their own bathroom which made it very convenient.  Maids would come in and tidy up your rooms, make your beds, and replenish your towels.

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I was very impressed with the rest camp.  We had the mini-market/gift shop, coffee shop, reception area, amphitheater that had movies or presentations in the evening, swimming pool, playground and so much more.  We were in Circle D and in the center was an open space where kids could play as many kids did while we were there.

We got settled into our bungalow putting things away, feeding the baby while our husbands began working on the braai – South African barbeque.  This was to happen every night.  South Africans love their meat and it is such great meat too.  We would have South African sausage (not sure what it was stuffed with), chicken kabobs, lamb chops, steaks and so much more on our patio – we never ate inside.  We certainly ate well.

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After dinner we  walked to the perimeter gate that encircled the rest area to see what was on the other side of the fence.  We had our flashlights with us and we were able see eyes glowing at night.  When we shined our flashlight, we found spotted hyenas staring at us.  I had to keep reminding myself that there was a fence between us and them.   We also took the opportunity to look up in the southern skies to see the constellations that we don’t see here in the northern hemisphere.  The Southern Cross was pointed out to us.  While we we looking up at the skied we heard the sound of owls.  Turned out they were Scops Owls – my first ever sighing of owls.   As we sat on our patio and talked about all that we had seen and done who comes strolling up but an African Wildcat.  It looks just like a domesticated cat but it isn’t.  They are somewhat rare so it was a great surprise to see one coming up toward our patio.

At 9:00, yes 9:00, we went off to bed to get ready for our first full day of going of safari.

What a Trip We Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

What A Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip we Had – Touring Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip we Had – What I Packed, Part 4

This was the part of the trip that I was anxiously waiting for – going to Kruger National Park!  The night before we flew to Kruger we went to our hotel near the Johannesburg Airport to meet our son Chris, his South African born wife Haley and their 7 month old son.  They were flying in from Washington DC and after a long, overnight flight we thought they would like us to take the baby for a little while so they have a little quiet time.  It was a joyous reunion at the Protea OR Tambo Hotel.  We had a  quick dinner at the hotel, we went back to our rooms to go to bed since we would be leaving the hotel at 6:15 AM.

We arrived at the airport in Nelspruitt, one of several airports that service the Kruger. We picked up our rental car, a combi (a three row van with large glass windows around) and headed off to Kruger via Hazy View and the Paul Kruger Gate entrance.  It’s a little less than 2 hours from the airport to the gate we used.

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At Hazy View, there was a small shopping center with a grocery store where we picked up last minute snacks for our time in Kruger.  Haley’s parents were going to be with us in Kruger and they had pre-ordered our meats from a butcher near another entry into the park.  It was all packaged and frozen for us – made our shopping that much easier.

Blogger Hubby and I were going to be having two different types of safaris.  With our family and extended family, we were going to do it the local way – we were going to be staying in a rest camp and then driving around the park by ourselves.  The other experience we would be having would be with a guided safari with Camp Shawu.  They have a private concession within Kruger National Park and that is the land that you travel on to view wildlife.

We entered Kruger National Gate through the Paul Kruger Gate.  There are numerous gates all around Kruger like there are with our national parks.  As we went into the building at the gate to get information, we saw our first animal – a warthog.  There are conservation fees accessed at this park.  If you are a day visitor you’ll pay the fee at the gate otherwise it is accessed with your reservation and you will pay when you check-in.  Make sure you get the paper showing that you paid it – you’ll need it when you leave the park.

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P1000966One thing that we picked up at the gate was a guide to the animals and birds in the Kruger.  We found that it was invaluable for identification as well as checking off the animals that we saw.  It also had maps of the Kruger and showed where all the rest camps were.

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My next posts will detail the self-drive safari, what we saw, what we did and our impressions of staying in a rest camp. After that I’ll write about the guided safari and my impressions of that and what I think was best for us in terms of experience and for our budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

When you are on a month long trip, planning must take place as to what you are bringing so you don’t overpack.  I’m limited to one suitcase on our trips so I try (operative word – try) to pack smartly.  The challenge on this trip was the variable weather.  It could be cool/cold in Cape Town, cold in the mornings on safari but hot during the afternoon, windy, pleasant, cool and possibly rainy during other times on our trip.  What’s a gal to do?

My first concern was what shoes I would bring. I obviously brought my gym shoes for rugged walking, and warmth but I also wanted to bring some other shoes to appear to be more city like or dressed up if we went out and to change out my gym shoes.  I chose two pairs that I purchased from DSW.com

This first pair is a Clarks Privo Haley Stork Sport Flat shoe that I purchased in black. I felt that I could wear it with my slacks or with a dress.  It was very comfortable and if my feet got cold, I could always wear black socks underneath it.  I believe it is on sale now through Amazon.com

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The second pair,  Clarks Hare Sport Flat,  are in a taupe tone that would go well with khaki and brown pants.  They are currently sold out at DSW but you might be able to find them or a similar style elsewhere:

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I wanted a pair of blacks pants that wouldn’t wrinkle that could be dressed up or down.  I don’t care for the “slinky” pants that you sometimes see in travel stores.  Since the weather would be unpredictable, I wanted something that had a little structure and wouldn’t be flimsy.  I found these Original Fit Ottoman Knit Bootcut Pants at Travelsmith and I would recommend them.  These pants coordinated well with a grey/white herringbone pair of pants that I brought.  The colorful tops would work well with both of them.

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I also had a pair of medium weight knit pants in a coffee au lait color from Eddie Bauer in the  Travel section on their website.  I did bring a pair of jeans but only wore them a few times – it got hot in the afternoon in the Kruger and I wore shorts then.   The other pair of pants I brought was a grey and white herringbone style pants that could be dressed up or down depending what I wore with it.

I did wear my Smart Wool socks and my feet felt very comfortable.  They are not hot and they are not itchy as you might expect with wool.  I highly recommend them.  They have various weights so find what works best for you.

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I brought two sweaters, a black cardigan and a merino wool pullover.  I also brought a sweater set – short sleeve pullover with the matching cardigan, both in violet.  With a floral scarf I got several outfits out of this combination.  Violet cardigan with short sleeve black jersey under it or violet short sleeve sweater with black cardigan over.  The scarf looked great with both and could dress it up a little.  I could also do black on back or violet on violet.  I was pretty happy with my choice.

I always travel with my Ex Officio travel underwear since they dry overnight and my PacSafe purse with is as pretty close to pickpocket protection as any I have seen.

I had my LL Bean barn coat with my with the flannel lining for those cool times.  I didn’t want to bring a raincoat with me so instead I bought one of those rain slickers that come in a little packet and made out of thin yellow plastic.  I think we got ours at Niagara Falls a few years ago and I just kept it.  At this point, space was a consideration so if I looked geeky, so be it.

Rather than using the travel cubes, I used zip-lock storage bags.  One for undies, another for socks.  I rolled my jersey tops and my knit pants.  I also brought with me my CamelBak for when we would be out for the day and I had multiple things to take with me like my Kindle, snacks, tour books, etc.

camelbak

Speaking of tour books, I really like the Rick Steves series.  I had the good fortune to meet Rick when he and his girlfriend were on the same cruise as we were.  I had seen his shows on PBS as well as borrowing some of his DVDs from the public library but meeting him in person was a real treat.  Since then I tend to read and follow, to a degree, his guidebooks.  Perhaps he is dumbing things down for us but I like knowing which direction I need to walk to find the particular castle that we read about.  We would have found it easy enough at the TI center (Tourist Information) but he saved us some time and steps.  He lists bus numbers, train stops, etc…he makes it quite easy to travel.  Although we do enjoy his guidebooks, we do our own research as well.

There were a few things that I didn’t need to pack because the weather was cool/cold and overcast while we were touring the wineries but who knew.   Each trip is a lesson for us and it does get easier.  Do you find that packing is easy or difficult for you?

 

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guesthouse – Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

As I mentioned in this post, our guest home owner Karen, made arrangements for me to do a Soweto Township Tour and to go to the Apartheid Museum.  After I was picked up, we also picked up a mom and her two children from the Netherlands and off we went to Soweto.  It was explained to me by the tour guide that the name Soweto stands for South West Township.

Around the turn of the century the area was originally developed to house black workers who labored in the gold mines that this area was known for.  The white population, at this time, lived in the center of Johannesburg.  About this time the roots of apartheid began to take root.  Later on in the 1950’s more blacks were relocated to the township from black area of Johannesburg.  The problems of Soweto have included poor housing, overcrowding, high unemployment and poor infrastructure. This has seen settlements of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets becoming part of the Soweto landscape.   The homes that we saw were, for the most part, concrete or brick homes sharing electricity from power lines.  I couldn’t believe how many extension cords there appeared to be and all I could think is how dangerous it was.  Within these communities people find creative ways to earn a little bit of money.  One man had a ripped and torn tarp wrapped around three poles and within this area he set up a barber shop.  I didn’t enjoy this tour as I felt like I was gawking at the residents – i know I wouldn’t want anyone coming into my neighborhood staring and seeing how we live.

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Leaving this area we went to where Nelson Mandela lived as well as Desmond Tutu.  This seemed to be more commercial with restaurants, entertainment and ATM machines abound.  Of course, you had the souvenir hawkers with tables of wares they were selling.

Nelson Mandela's home
Nelson Mandela’s home

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We also had 30 minutes in the Hector Pieterson Museum.  Hector was a young 13 year old boy who was killed when police opened fire upon protesting students.  One of the main objections that the students were protesting against was that they were to be taught in Afrikaans, regarded as the language of the oppressor.  Hector was shot and killed and although he was not the first student to be killed, he is immotalized because of a famous photograph of another student carrying Hector with Hector’s sister at his side.  While we were at the museum, his sister was working there and we got to meet her.   I didn’t think 30 minutes was enough time and if you go there on a tour, try to get a little more time at the museum.  While we were there a school group came so they too could learn about their past.  The day of the killing, June 16th, has become a holiday known as Youth Day in South Africa.

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I also visited the Apartheid Museum which is on the grounds of an amusement park and casino – seems like a strange choice but nevertheless, that is where it was located.  Half of the museum was dedicated to Nelson Mandela and his contemporaries and their struggle and story.  The other half was about apartheid through the years.  Entering the museum, you are given a ticket that indicates which door you are to enter through – it would be either white or non-white.  Mine was non-white.  As I entered I saw the identification papers that non-whites needed to carry with them.  I kept thinking back that perhaps our country wasn’t that different decades/century ago from where South Africa was a few decades ago. Like our country, there were whites/Europeans who were against apartheid.   It made me feel uncomfortable but I felt like it was something that I needed to experience.  Photography wasn’t allowed in the museum otherwise I would show you some pictures I took.  You need to take my words that this was a powerful museum.

Blogger Hubby did the HoHo bus (Hop on, Hop off) and after we compared notes I think he saw more than I did except for Soweto but he could have included it on his tour.  If I were to do it again, I would follow my husband’s plan.

What A Trip We Had – Uxolo Guesthouse, Johannesburg, Part 2

We arrived in Jo’burg a few days before our son and his family were scheduled to arrive.  I felt that it gave us “older people” a chance to acclimate to the time change and to see a little of Jo’burg.

Months prior I booked the Uxolo Guesthouse through AirBnB.  The guesthouse is located in a residential neighborhood north of the central city.  In my correspondence with Karen Morgan, the owner, she recommended Norman, a driver that her guests use, for transportation to get us from the airport to her home.  We contacted Norman and he agreed to pick us up at OR Tambo Airport and drive us to the Guesthouse for 350 Rand ($35 USD).  As he drove us to the Guesthouse he pointed out the sights and gave us some history about Jo’burg and South Africa.

We pulled up to the Guesthouse and Karen  came out to greet us.  We walked inside and I was excited about the choice I made for our lodging.  The decor was definitely South African.  The home felt very warm and just what we wanted.

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There was even a built in pool in the yard

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We had a large room with a small courtyard with a working water fountain off our room.  The down comforter duvet with the large overstuffed pillows was very inviting.  Our private bathroom had a shower stall which we prefer.  Most homes in South Africa do not have heat but there was an electric portable heater in our room if we needed it – which we didn’t.

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There were many sitting areas in this home that made it comfortable for us.  In addition, she had a pool table in a room overlooking the covered terrace where we would have breakfast every morning.  When it was very cool in the morning, the shades would come down.  Karen’s main rule is not eating in your room (she likes to keep it clean for future guests) so we would bring our snacks to the terrace area to consume.

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Karen went out of her way to be helpful and accommodating to us though in speaking with repeat guests, she does this all the time for all guests when she can.  While we were sitting on the terrace with Norman and Karen, she asked us our plans.  Norman made a suggestion for dinner that night which we followed with an appointed time that he would pick us up.  Karen also made arrangements for me to go on a Soweto Tour and that I would be picked up at the door the next morning by the tour company.  Blogger Hubby wanted to go into Jo’burg to do the HoHo bus tour (Hop On, Hop Off) and Karen drove him to the train station, about 15 minutes away,  to take the Gautrain into the city the next day.

The guesthouse is in a residential neighborhood.  The first thing you notice is walls/fences and security  around the homes with an armed response to a security alarm system.  Our guest home also had a male employee who sat inside the front door all evening long.  Now don’t let this scare you – we never saw any type of violence in South Africa in all the locations we were in but to deny that there is violence in this country would be a fallacy.

We were a five minute walk (and we felt safe) to a local mall that had two grocery stores inside, pharmacy, coffee shops with meals and clothing stores.  We could pick up items that we left at home.  One night we even bought our dinner there at the hot food salad bar section of the grocery store and brought it back to the guest house – and it was good.

The breakfast was a buffet of fresh fruit and juices, tea, coffee, eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausage – a delicious and hearty meal to begin the day off right.

I would highly recommend The Uxolo Guest House in Jo’burg.

What A Trip We Had – London Part 1

After being gone a few days short of a month, we are home.  It’s not often we take a trip such as this and we relished most of it.  Much planning and thought went into this yet, there was also spontaneity.  We learned much during this trip and about our traveling style, where we are willing to scrimp a little and where we are willing to spurge a little.  The great news is that we came home still speaking and still loving each other.

I’m not planning on going into a lot of detail about the planes we took or what we had to eat unless I feel that it is important.  On this flight from IAD to Heathrow we flew Business Class on points.  On previous United flights I, in my opinion,  will say that I have never felt like we have had great service or food.  This crew was a little different – they seemed friendly.  Yes, friendly.  Turned out that they were a British United crew.   No wonder they were friendly.  United Business Class on this 767 was narrow and I knew that prior to our flight nevertheless, we were able to stretch out and get a few hours of sleep.  So, no complaints from me.

As I mentioned before, we learned that we had to pick up our luggage since our connection was over 13 hours.  We found Baggage Express in Terminal One, where we would be departing from, and brought our bags there.  The charge was 10 pounds per bag for 24 hours.  We gladly paid the twenty pounds to leave our bags there for our day of exploring in London.

London – what can I say.  It was amazing.  This was my first time there and I sought all sorts of advice from people.  How to get into the city, what to do, etc.  Against all the advice that we received, we decided to take the Tube into the city from Heathrow.  We did it for several reasons.  The Heathrow Connection and the Heathrow Express were quicker and much more expensive.  Additionally, it dropped you off at Paddington Station and you still needed to get to the sights that we wanted to see by Tube.  Conversely, by taking the Tube in we got off exactly where we wanted to and in this case it was the Westminster stop.  Riding the Tube gave us a little time to close our eyes and feel a little more rested after our overnight flight.

Before we left the states, we downloaded a map of the subway stops and then plotted what we wanted to see and where they were located in relation to the subway stops.  We also downloaded a map of London and highlighted what we wanted to see.  We also downloaded a quick self guided walking tour in central London from TripAdvisor.  Over planning perhaps but we didn’t want to waste any of our time figuring out what we wanted to see and where it was located.  We decided to see a few of the more famous sights and then the afternoon would be spent at the British Museum.  You know what they say about the best laid plans.

When we exited the tube, the first sight we saw was Big Ben against a glorious blue sky as we stood at the entrance of a bridge over the Thames.  We saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and walked down to Lord Nelson’s column.  As we were walking around we decided to forego the British Museum.  It truly was a beautiful day, cool breeze, sunshine and we knew that we would be on another airplane ride for the flight to Johannesburg.  I just didn’t want to give up the day outside as worthwhile as the British Museum would be – that will just have to wait for another trip.

Big Ben
Big Ben
London Eye
London Eye

With that decision taken care of we enjoyed our stroll through St. James Park, walked over to Buckingham Palace and viewed the Queen Victoria Memorial statue sitting in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

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The one place that I hadn’t been to yet was Harrods.  Yes, I wanted to go there just to see it.  Here are some of the sights from Harrods:

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After this we headed back to Heathrow on the Tube.  We were tired.  We retrieved our suitcases, checked them in, went through security and to the South African Airlines Lounge where they had great hot food, drinks and most importantly showers.  The shower to me was better than a box of Godiva chocolates – it was heavenly.

With a long trip like we were in the middle of, I found that I liked having a long layover like we did in London (should have been 15 hours but was 13 hours due to late take-out). Having time in London allowed us to see a city that I hadn’t been to before as well as getting outside walking around in delightful weather breathing in the fresh air and feeling the sun on our faces. We felt re-energized as we began our final leg from London to Johannesburg.