Days 15+16: More long flights, and Paris again!

Cape Town > Johannesburg > Paris > Boston. That’s a long way, and a lot of long-haul flights. Oh boy.

Luckily we had an excellent stop in Paris along the way! We landed in Paris around 5:30AM and decided to head to Montmartre, and neighborhood we didn’t have a chance to explore on our first day in the city. It was very cool to be at the top of the city while everything was still quite – we even had the famous stairs to ourselves!

We decided that we didn’t eat nearly enough French food on our first day, but really, when can you ever? As such, the focus of our day was to eat as much as possible. First stop, a lovely café in Montmartre for crepes and coffee.

We wandered the quiet streets before everyone woke up, and enjoyed the stunning views and vendors putting out their food for the morning’s markets.

After a pain au chocolate to whet our pallets, we walked from Montmartre all the way to Notre Dame – about a 2.5 hour walk. This allowed us to see so much of Paris, and was a lovely way to spend the morning! We had fun window shopping and eyeing all the yummy pastries.

We finally made it to Notre Dame, and were able to see the buttresses, something we missed the first time around.

We had just enough time to dart into one more café to pick up a baguette, croissants and macaroons before heading back to the airport.

 

By the time we made it back to our apartment in Boston we had been traveling for about 44 hours, including our time in Paris. Oof. We crashed, but not before spending some quality time with out cat, that we missed very dearly. Overall, this was the trip of a lifetime, and I’d highly recommend a trip to the amazing country of South Africa if you every have the opportunity. It was truly incredible, and something I’ll remember forever.

Now, back to reality…the hard part!

Day 14: The Most South-West Place in the World

On our final day in Cape Town we decided to go south. All the way south. The Cape of Good Hope, the most south-west place in Africa!

We rented a car downtown and started the 45 minute drive to an incredible penguin colony. Both Teddy and I adore penguins, so were extremely excited to stop in Simon’s Town. A huge colony of the fluffy birds resides here, and I can see why. They have the best real estate in the country!

There were just so many of them! And it was so much fun to watch them launch themselves out of the waves onto the sand, or back into the crashing ocean. For such awkward land birds, they are so lithe in the water. It’s amazing!

There were also loads of baby birds since it’s spring time in South Africa. The little guys are much fluffier and not quite as nimble, so it was fun to watch them waddle around. This place is well worth a stop if you’re heading down the cape!

Pretty soon we entered the Cape of Good Hope national park, and the views continued to astound us.

We decided to drive around a bit before stopping for lunch, and stumbled upon a heard of wild zebras. WOW!

I can see why they like it here. We made it down to the cape, and made the trek up to the lighthouse at the tip of Africa. This was so neat, and the views were just incredible. We could not have picked a more beautiful day.

Hello, edge of the continent!

It’s so crazy to think that the next piece of land beyond this is Antarctica!!

We started to head down to the iconic sign, but again were stopped by a wild animal spotting – this time ostriches! We had missed them in Kruger, so were pumped to see them here. Plus there were babies!

Finally we made it: the true bottom of the world (if you don’t count Antarctica).

Pretty freaking cool!

After soaking in the views and walking around a bit more, we started to head back to the city. We decided to take the scenic route (well worth it) – but it also included a harrowing section of road that was so windy, narrow and steep that we had to pull over I was so scared (told you I don’t do well with heights). This was insane. But beautiful, too!


How is this allowed?!

Luckily we survived the drive, and made it home. Time to pack up for the even longer journey back to the homeland. At least we got to stop in Paris again!

Day 13: Views and Gardens

First stop: one of the seven new wonders of the world: Table Mountain! We decided to get another Hop-On, Hop-Off ticket for Cape Town, and this proved to be an excellent way to transport ourselves around the city. We decided to head up to Table Mountain first thing in the morning since it can get quite crowded.

Through the rain started a bit while we were waiting to head up the perilous cable car, it was certainly worth it to explore this wonder. Again, my extreme fear of heights didn’t serve me well and Teddy certainly took the bulk of the pictures while we were dangling from a tiny wire moving up to the top of a sheer cliff. I was fine…

The views were truly stunning, and the longer we stayed up there the more used to it I got. I even made it close enough to the edge to look down once! I was proud.

There are quite extensive walking paths at the top of the mountain and we had fun darting in and out of the clouds seeing the incredible view in every direction. The mountain isn’t quite as flat as it looks from a distance once you’re at the top, but it sure is much flatter the any other mountain we’ve been up!

After enjoying the view and a cup of coffee to begin to warm up, we hiked around a bit more before heading down. This was so, so neat and I completely understand why everyone says it’s a must-see while in Cape Town. It truly is incredible! And we didn’t die in the cable car on the way down – I was concerned.

We jumped back onto the trusty bus and headed to our next stop – the Kirstenbach National Botanical Gardens. Frequently ranked as on of the best in the world, we were eager to explore this massive space nestled under the mountains. It really delivered. This place was stunning.

We spent hours wandering the trails, enjoying the wildlife, soaking in the views and just relaxing. If we lived here, we’d go every weekend! It was just beautiful. I especially enjoyed the areas focused on the scents of plants, and another area focused on medicinal plants. Also interestingly, this garden is unique in that is only has plants indigenous to South Africa. It was very cool to see plants from all over the country, and many that we’d never seen before.

Finally we caught the last bus back into the city (we were really enjoying the gardens). The views of the coast back were nothing short of jaw-dropping.

I can’ see why the rich and famous clamor to live here – it’s incredible!

We reached our hotel and enjoyed a bit more South African wine before calling it a day. One last South African adventure was scheduled for tomorrow.

Days 11+12: Cape Town

We flew from our safari in Kruger National Park (in the north-east part of the country) down to Cape Town (in the south-west) on Monday afternoon. Knowing that we didn’t want to have to make plans for our first day in Cape Town with the limited internet we had in Kruger, we jumped on a recommendation we received from not one, but two people on safari: a wine tour. Specifically, a wine tour with the company Wine Flies. For a very reasonable rate they picked us up in Cape Town and brought us to five wineries all around the primary wine region of Cape Town.

We started at Villiera, which is known for its community engagement and environmentally-friendly practices. Here we learned about the wine making process, and got to explore a vineyard.

From there we explored another location where we had pairing with cheese, headed to an extremely small location where we had custom chocolate pairings, got to have two glasses directly from the barrels in which they were being aged, and even when to the winery of a former world-famous rugby player. What a day! To say we were sleepy at the end was a huge understatement – we tried SO MUCH WINE.

The tour was well worth it – our guide was entertaining and fun, and we go to experience a wide variety of the wine culture. Plus, we didn’t have to drive ourselves! Added bonus. Needless to say we had a quiet evening before heading to an (early) bed.

 

The following day we focused a bit less on wine tasting, and rather attempted to learn more about beautiful Cape Town. We started by heading to the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, known for its colorful houses and beautiful spice shops.

We headed to a nearby market with loads of African goods before heading down to the V&A waterfront. This area was hopping, and we had just enough time to eat a quick lunch before heading over to Robbin Island.

After a brief boat ride, on which we were treated to excellent views of table mountain, we arrived at the island. It’s just a bit off the coast of the city, but served as a notorious prison and leper colony for many years before being turned into a museum in 1995. We were met by a group of busses, and we drove all around the island with excellent commentary. We learned about the history of the island and some of the extreme conditions that inmates were forced to endure.

After reaching the main prison area we joined a different guide and he brought us through the interior of the main prison. All of the guides on the island are former political prisoners who were on the island. This is a very humbling experience: learning about the conditions and treatment while on the island from someone who experienced it first hand. It’s very moving.

We also saw the cell in which Nelson Mandela served much of his sentence while he lived on the island. I’m certainly glad this place is a museum now – it’s quite beautiful but I can’t imaging being there as a prisoner.

After an extremely bumpy ride back to the main island, we had a bit to eat on the waterfront before heading back to our hotel. Tomorrow had more adventures in store!

Days 9+10: Safari Part Two

Going on safari is incredibly relaxing. We followed the below schedule each day:

  • Wake up around 5:15AM, brush teeth and get dressed quickly.
  • Head to the main camp for coffee and biscuits at 5:30AM
  • Morning drive from 6-9AM
  • Enjoy a huge, 2 course (cold and hot) meal from 9-10:30 or whenever we’re done.
  • Head back to camp, shower, nap, relax or read, maybe explore camp a bit
  • 2:30 head back to the main camp for fresh juice and snacks
  • Afternoon drive from 3-6PM
  • Head to tent, freshen up
  • 7:30-10 enjoy an incredible, multicourse meal with wine and excellent company
  • 10PM head back to the tent to sleep

It really can’t get more relaxing. Camping, incredible animals and scenery, superb food and relaxation. The last two days of our safari were just as memorable as the first. Again I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Going on safari is something I’ll never forget. We’re already trying to figure out our next safari adventure because it was truly one of the best experiences of our lives.

Days 7+8: Safari Part One

SAFARI TIME! When planning a trip to South Africa, there was one thing on our minds: a safari. We ended up traveling with Outlook Safari’s, and can’t say enough incredible things about this company. They catered to our every desire, and we really loved our experience. They truly made it a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Our safari was four days: we flew in from Johannesburg on the first day, and headed to Cape Town on the last day. Since we saw so many cool things, I’ll break this into two parts.

Our quick flight from Johannesburg dropped us at Skukuza airport – very convenient since we were staying at Skukuza rest camp. This is a very family-friendly camp, and I’d recommend it for budget traveling. It’s easy to access and the game viewing is amazing.

Our guide picked us up, and even on the drive from the airport (10 minutes to camp) the wildlife spotting began.

Impalas! These guys are everywhere. After setting up shop in our tent (very cozy!) we headed out for an evening drive. About half of the drive was during daylight, and the other half was after the sun set. Almost immediately we started seeing animals. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here – suffice it to say, the drives were incredible.

Seeing these animals in the wild was awe-inspiring. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable and clearly had a love for this place and the animals. Every drive brought something new and incredible. It was amazing. We couldn’t wait for more.

Day 6: Hot Air Balloons and Monkeys

Another day, another South African adventure: this time high, high in the air. We were going on a hot air balloon ride!

We made the 45 minute drive to the hot air balloon field and by 5:30AM we had warm cups of coffee in our hands, several biscuits, and had a front row seat to the inflation of the balloons. This was a very fun process to watch, and took about 30 minutes. There is a LOT of air that goes into these balloons!

After everything was inflated, we got a brief safety briefing and we all jumped into the basket. The “jump” was actually more of a climb – these things don’t have doors! We scrambled over and got settled in for our 1.5 hour ride. We started by shooting straight up. I am extremely nervous about heights, so I was a bit nervous about this activity. However, I trust science, and LOVED it! I wasn’t scared a all! This was extremely weird for me – even when hiking I get terrified at the top. I frequently have trouble driving over bridges and get freaked in elevators. This was crazy! And the fact that I wasn’t horrified made me even more excited!

Or trip started in the middle of a valley, and us and one other balloon shot straight up to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Stunning.

We wandered over to the edge of the valley, and got so close to the tree tops that someone in our basket even picked some leaves off of one.

The silence and the view was just so stunning, it’s hard to explain.

We even saw giraffes in the wild! That was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Wild giraffes from a hot air balloon – wow.

We landed in a small valley over the mountains about 1.5 hours later, and I was so sad for this amazing experience to end. We were served lovely mimosas upon arrival as the balloon was deflated and packed up, and then headed back to the balloon field. We indulged in an amazing and delicious breakfast with a stunning view of the mountains now that the sun had rose.

All in all, this was by far one of the most amazing mornings of my life! It was quite a thing!

After dragging ourselves away from the breakfast buffet (always a challenge), we headed to our next destination – a monkey sanctuary! This facility adopts animals that are no longer wanted. Some were pets, move stars, trained pick pockets – you name it, these animals did it. There are about 200 animals in the facility, and they roam freely as you walk through. I got to hold one’s hand and I fell in love – she was awesome.

Another monkey was a bit more devious and managed to plop onto Teddy’s head a snag his glasses. This was extremely concerning as he has horrible eye site and had to drive us home! Ahh! After hoping that the monkey would drop them for a good ten minutes our guide called in a backup and that person bargained with the monkey to trade the glasses back for marshmallows. When Teddy (thankfully!) got his glasses back 20 minutes later they were completely mauled – bit marks all over the lenses, bent out of shape, but still wearable! Yay!

We held onto our belongs a bit more after that harrowing experience, but it was still awesome! I’m a big monkey lover, so it was extremely fun to see these guys running around everywhere. They were so cute and friendly, too. The work this facility is doing really is amazing, so it was great to support such a wonderful cause.

After a rather adventurous day we headed to a local brewery for a flight of South African beers before heading home. What a day!