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Friday, January 4, 2008

Franschhoek & a Review of the Garden House (Nov 11th)

Today didn't start so well - one of my lovely nails fell off - I caught it in the bathroom door. Argh! :-(

We had a nice breakfast of fruit salad followed by poached eggs on toast with venison sausage and then started our journey to Franschhoek, a short drive away.

We took the coastal route past Betty's Bay and saw lots of fabulous scenery along the way. Here is a photo of one of the views:


Lovely view along the coast, Western Cape
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We stopped in a place called Somerset West, just outside Cape Town to visit a shopping mall and had a look around the shops and a coffee, then continued our drive to Franschhoek, stopping in Stellenbosch along the way.

Stellenbosch was a pleasant university town surrounded with lots of greenery, hills and vinyards. We had a bit of a drive around town, got lost and then found a vineyard with a nice garden area and stopped for a spot of lunch and a glass of vino.

The scenery here is beautiful - lots of rolling slopes covered in vines and lots of hills, trees and flowers.

We arrived in Franschhoek in the early afternoon and checked into our guesthouse - The Garden House



The Garden House, Franschhoek



The garden house is very central - just a few minutes walk from the village. We began our stay in style with a glass of vino on the verandah with Annette and her two dogs Noodle and Benjy.

The Garden House & Franschhoek turned out to be one of the highlights of our stay in South Africa.

Here is a short review of the garden house...

The accomodation is a lovely cottage in the garden, with a very tastefully decorated large bedroom, a bathroom to die for with a huge tub and walk in shower, plus a his 'n' hers sink. Here is a photo of the bedroom:



Our room at The Garden House, Franschhoek
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and the fabulous bathroom...



Bathroom at The Garden House, Franschhoek
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The room also has a seating area, a fridge with complimentary drinks and lots of books and info on the area.

The owners Annette and Barry are originally from England and are lovely friendly people. They are both full of knowledge of the local area and really helped us to have a fantastic stay there.

We shared a glass of vino or two with them on the verandah over the course of our stay.

The garden is also very pretty with lots of flowers, a nice decent sized swimming pool and great views of the hills.


Garden and pool at The Garden House, Franschhoek
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Breakfast here was also a very pleasant change from the bacon and eggs. We had fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola, warm croissants, cheeses and smoked trout - very tasty!

This afternoon we didn't do much. Had a wander round Franschhoek village, which is very nice with lots of shops, restuarants, vineyards and fantastic scenery.

Dinner this evening was at Le Bon Vivant and was lovely. I had a prawn starter followed by springbok, which was very nicely presented. Stuart had a springbok starter followed by beef and I finished off my meal with a dessert called the "Ultimate Chocoholic", which consisted of chocolate souffle, white chocolate ice cream and a couple of other chocolate delights.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hermanus Day 2 (Nov10th)

Today was a lovely relaxing day. After nearly two weeks of eating fat boy's breakfasts I managed to control myself and just ate some fruit and toast. We took a walk along the cliff path into the centre of Hermanus and spotted a few whales along the way. The weather had turned back to sunny and warm and we just spent the morning wandering along different bits of the cliff path and round Hermanus itself.


View of the area surrounding Hermanus
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We also saw the town's "whale crier" who walks around Hermanus blowing his horn in a specific way depending on where he has spotted whales. Hermanus is the only place in the world that employs a full time whale crier.


Whale Crier of Hermanus
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Hermanus is one of the world's top 12 land based whale spotting places in the world and it is easy to see why. We spotted a whale showing its tail, swimming or jumping out of the water hundreds of times during our stay.


Whale Breaching, Hermanus
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We went to a lovely restaurant called Lemon Butta for our lunch and managed to get a seat next to a huge window overlooking the sea. The lunch was very tasty and very good value, working out at less than £20 between us for around twenty pieces of sushi (tuna, prawn and crab), a large salad and two glasses of sparkling wine each. Typically the best whale spotting moment of the day happened when I went to visit the bathroom and Stuart saw a whale "cartwheeling across the bay"!

We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around Hermanus, looking at a few shops, walking along the cliff path and just enjoying the sunshine and the whale spotting. We even spotted a few Dassies, which are like big guinea pigs:


Dassies on the cliff path in Hermanus
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In the evening we decided to just have some food on our patio as we were feeling a little sick of eating out all the time, believe it or not! We ate some smoked trout, salad, crackers and cheese washed down with a bottle of Cap Classique. Hopefully this will give us more room to enjoy all the restaurants that we booked in Franschhoek.



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Overall I have really enjoyed Hermanus - it is a great place to stop for a relaxing and interesting couple of days.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hermanus - Day 1 (Nov 9th)

Today was our longest drive - Mossel Bay to Hermanus. We drove the 300km to Hermanus via Swellendam where we stopped for lunch. Went to a nice restaurant owned by a gay couple - one who told me "I love your nails". I didn't bother telling him that they weren't real. We chatted for a while and I told him we were on our honeymoon. He went away and came back a few minutes later to tell us that he had also recently got married, but he couldn't tell me earlier as his parents were sitting nearby and they were very homophobic! I was quite surprised they hadn't already guessed. Anyway, we had a lovely lunch and then got back on our way to Hermanus.

Just as we were about to arrive in Hermanus the weather turned very horrible - cold and rainy with dark clouds. We checked into Pat's Place, our guesthouse for the next two nights and were pleased to find that it was pretty central - near to the cliff path and just a 10-15 minute walk from the centre of Hermanus.

Here's a picture of our room - the honeymoon suite:



and our little private patio with a jacuzzi bath. Very nice, but a shame the Shell station was just over that wall!


Our Patio at Pat's Place
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We were really happy with Pat's Place overall - good value for money, nice owner, comfortable rooms and a nice garden with a pool.

Since it was pissing it down we went to a place called the Wine Village just outside Hermanus and spent a long while browsing all the different wines, tasting a few and generally wasting time until it stopped raining. We bought a bottle of Cap Classique and a Sauvignon Blanc for the weekend and then drove back into the centre of Hermanus for a quick wander around.

We were very surprised that we didn't have to look at the sea for very long before seeing a whale. Hermanus is one of the top land based whale watching spots in the world, but we didn't expect to see the whales so quickly. We spent a while looking at them and hoped for some better weather tomorrow for a day of whale spotting.


Whale's Tail in Hermanus
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In the evening we had a nice Italian meal in the center of Hermanus and then it was back to the guesthouse for another early night.

You can read reviews of Pat's Place here.

You can also read more about Hermanus here.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cape Town & Robben Island (Nov 2nd)

If you want to visit Robben Island it is advisable to book your tickets a few days in advance if you can. You can either book by phone or in person at the ticket office on the V&A waterfront. We booked our tickets on Wednesday morning and the first available slot for us was Friday at 5pm. The 5pm tour is the last of the day and will get you back at the V&A Waterfront for around 8.30pm. Given the choice I would recommend taking an earlier tour unless you are there in the hotter months of the summer. November is late spring in South Africa and it gets dark around 7.30pm. It's also very chilly on Robben Island at that time in the evening. Whatever time you go take some warm clothes with you!

This morning we walked down to the V&A Waterfront again, had a wander around, a coffee and took the Cape Town hop on hop off sightseeing bus (R100 for 1 day, R180 for 2 days). The bus tour was very enjoyable and is a good way to get an overall view of the city and its history.


Photo from Cape Town bus tour

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The bus stops at the V&A Waterfront, Aquarium, various stops downtown including the District Six museum and the Jewish museum, Table Mountain Cable car, Camp's Bay and various other stops. We would have liked to stop at a few places, including the District Six museum, but we were a bit tight for time so just sat on the top deck of the bus for the full journey, listening to the commentary, enjoying the view and taking photos.


View of Camp's Bay, Cape Town
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We got off the bus at Sea Point, quite near to our guesthouse, had a late lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant then had an hour of relaxation before going back down to the Waterfront for our Robben Island tour.


Robben Island
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Robben Island was very interesting and is definitely well worth a visit for anyone going to Cape Town. The island is most famous for its maximum security prison which housed prisoners during the apartheid years, including Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned here for 18 of his 27 years in prison. Robben Island was also a leprosy colony between 1846 and 1941 and a milatary training facility during the second world war. It has been a museum since 1997.


The trip over to the Island, which is 12km away, takes around 30 minutes by catamaran. We were originally sitting downstairs and made the mistake of deciding to go on the top deck for some views. The views of Cape town were great, but it was so choppy and rough that we couldn't easily get back down the stairs again and spent most of the rest of the journey holding on to the railings for dear life.

Once on the island the first part of the tour was a bus tour around the island, showing us the different blocks of the prison, the wildlife (lots of penguins) and some views of the city. This part of the tour lasted around half an hour,


View of Cape Town from Robben Island
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The next part of the tour was the most interesting and was with an ex prisoner. We sat in one of the communal cells, with a few bunk beds at one end and listened to his stories of his time there as a political prisoner. The small cell that we were in originally housed up to 50 prisoners at a time and had only a couple of toilets and showers. After this we moved to a different prisoner block and saw the original prison cell of Nelson Mandela. In his time in prison the leaders were kept in a separate block from everyone else to prevent them influencing everyone else, but they managed to get round this by stuffing tennis balls with messages and "mistakenly" hitting them over to the other section during recreation time. This part of the tour lasted around an hour and we were given lots of opportunity to ask questions before taking the boat back to the mainland.


View of Cape Town from Robben Island
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In the evening we had dinner at a Belgian restuarant at the waterfront, which we had wisely booked this time, then it was back to the guesthouse to try and get a good night's sleep before getting up at 5,30am for our flight to Port Elizabeth.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cape Peninsula (Nov 1st)

Today we hired a car from the guesthouse (R450) and took a drive down Cape Peninsula down to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. The drive was lovely and although it was very cloudy when we started our journey, the cloud burned off and we enjoyed the scenery and the views. Our first stop was at Boulder Beach to see the penguins.


Penguins on Boulder Beach, Western Cape, South Africa
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It was great to see all the penguins just wandering about the beach in their natural habitat. There were wooden walkways leading down to the beach and some of the penguins were gathering really close to the walkway, allowing me to get a few great close uo shots.



Friendly Penguin on Boulder Beach, Western Cape, South Africa
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After saying hello to all the penguins we continued our drive down towards the Cape of Good Hope, which is the most South Westerly point of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. The drive through the national park was fantastic and we saw ostriches and baboons just wandering around.



Monkeys at Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa
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Monkeys at Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa
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We took a walk up the cliff at the Cape of Good Hope for some views of the sea and Cape Point.

And Stuart posing by the most south westerly tip of Africa sign.


Monkeys at Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa
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Next we drove round to Cape Point which was very busy with tour buses and lots of cars. There is a funicular railway here to take you to the top of the cliff, but we decided to do the healthy thing and walked to the top. Unfortunately the cloud had come in by this point so when we arrived at the lighthouse right at the top we were completely surrounded by clouds and couldn't see a thing.

We had a sandwich for lunch from the food shop at Cape Point. There is also a restuarant there with great views, but it was a bit busy with all the tour bus parties.


Monkeys at Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa
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The cloud cleared again on our drive back up the peninsula and we stopped in Simonstown for a wander around and then in Constantia, the wine area, where we did a quick bit of wine tasting.

The scenery around the Constantia area was also lovely with lots of rolling hills, vineyards and flowers.


Monkeys at Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa
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In the evening we had a South African cooking evening in Blackheath Lodge. Sophia Lindop, a South African chef came to the lodge and cooked us a fantastic three course dinner. A lovely starter of mackerel and avacado, followed by a main course of trio of beef, kudo and springbok with a very nice potato gratin and veggies, followed by some tasty little lemon pots. I had never tried Kudo or Springbok before, but the meal was very enjoyable and Sophia entertained us with her stories and explaied a bit about her background and how everything was cooked. The meal was washed down by lots of wine and we had a great laugh.

Here's a photo of Sophia (left) and her assistant. Sophia has an award winning food blog.


Sophia Lindop, South Africa

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