my jaunts: a south african safari

this guy pursued this girl all night. sometimes the girls will lead them on for days on end. we're not so different, really.

this guy pursued this girl all night. sometimes the girls will lead them on for days on end. we’re not so different, really.

i’ve been thinking a lot about how i wanted to write about last month’s safari in south africa.  before going, i thought i knew what i had signed up for, but it took me about five minutes on the safari vehicle to realize i was completely wrong!  so i think the best way to fill you in is to just copy my notes from my travel journal so you can relive my surprise/fear/awe/disbelief/love of the entire experience.  enjoy!

the south african bush. #nofilter

the south african bush. #nofilter

notes from my journal:

from nelspruit airport to sabi sands private game reserve is 2.5 hours by car.  the sights we saw while en route: cows walking freely, women with baskets/packages on head, goats, people walking everywhere, funeral homes, banana and eucalyptus trees, soccer matches played by kids/teens, speed bumps, KFC, unfinished stone houses, babies strapped on backs with colorful clothes, bright electric blue birds.  our driver, colin, was 31.  he lives nearby with two sons with tribe names.  he asked many questions: do americans protest?  tell me about your government.  how many languages are you speaking (he spoke three: english, africaans, and his tribe language)?  do you like will smith (he loves “bad boys”)?  his boys love KFC.  the journey was 210 km, but over 2 hours due to most of the road being unpaved and extremely bumpy.

this is our awesome ranger and tracker at arathusa - if you go, you gotta get with double D (dries and derick)!

this is our awesome ranger and tracker at arathusa – if you go, you gotta get with double D (dries and derick)!

so we arrive at sabi sands, our private game reserve that shares a border with kruger national park (animals roam freely between both), around 3pm.  we go through security at the gate, where they search our car for guns – apparently there are still poachers around.  we drive through to our lodge (many lodges in this reserve) called arathusa. we check in, drink some nice mango juice, get a warm towel at reception, and are walked to our hut.  upon putting down our things, our guide tells us the evening game drive leaves in…ten minutes!  we rush to change clothes and hurry out to the vehicle, where we are immediately whisked away!  no instructions other than “do not stand up – the animals may charge!”  noted.

this is a photo of another vehicle with a lion lying in front. this is how close we would get to the animals! it's insane! usually we would drive up to a pride of five to seven lions and just chill with them for 20 minutes.

this is a photo of another vehicle with a lion lying in front. this is how close we would get to the animals! it’s insane! usually we would drive up to a pride of five to seven lions and just chill with them for 20 minutes.

the vehicles are massive with four rows of seats: first row for the ranger (driver), and three rows of three seats each for guests.  seats are stadium style and blankets are provided.  rides are at dawn and dusk, aka feeding times.  the animals are used to seeing the vehicles because they have seen them since birth and do not feel threatened, so we came very close to the animals.  as in, a LION touched the tire i was sitting over!  very frightening and amazing all at once.  the vehicles are open air, no doors, no roof, nothing between that hungry lion and me.  #ohhello

if that's not going to cause your heart to pause, i'm not sure what will. mama lion at kapama game reserve.

if that’s not going to cause your heart to pause, i’m not sure what will. mama lion at kapama game reserve.

the ranger drives and radios other drivers to see if anyone has seen anything. the tracker sits in a seat on the hood of the vehicle and looks at the footprints in the road to follow the tracks to the animals.  at night, the tracker shines a light looking for the red eyes of nocturnal animals (when you finally find the pair of red eyes, the sight is really quite surreal: oh, there’s a pride of lions?  onward for a closer view!).

this is what you find at night when searching for nocturnal animals. #scary

this is what you find at night when searching for nocturnal animals. #scary

on our first drive, we saw a pride of lions, a leopard (very difficult to see since they travel alone and are constantly on the move), many deer-like animals, giraffe, and many birds.  on our second drive, we saw two lion prides, zebras, buffalo, warthogs, rhinos, and more.  my favorites are the awkward giraffe and the stupid-looking elephant – we saw a family of elephants surround their baby when they smelled the lion dung on our vehicle.  had to leave immediately or else they would have charged!

this is a leopard that is really close.

this is a leopard that is really close. we followed him for 40 minutes as he walked around and marked his territory. so beautiful (the leopard, not the marking of territory).

these elephants smelled lion dung on our car and freaked out. they immediately circled the babies and prepared to charge. we exited quickly.

these elephants smelled lion dung on our car and freaked out. they immediately circled the babies and prepared to charge. we exited quickly.

animals are everywhere and we come so close!  i’ve gotten nervous several times when we go off the road to track an animal, running over bush and trees in the process.  in a pinch, how would we escape?  today, one pride was quite skittish, and we had no easy escape – terrifying, but we were also only 20 feet away from five lions – so surreal!

just a crazy close elephant ripping apart a tree.

there is no zoom here – just a crazy close elephant ripping apart a tree. she charged us post-photo. terrifying/i love her.

the african buffalo: hideous and dangerous.

the african buffalo: hideous and dangerous. i left the sides of the vehicle in the frame so you can see how close we were. the surrounded us. then charged us. after my heart resumed beating, we drove on.

all of this is extremely bizarre and awesome.  i feel miles away from cape town, and even further from home.  where are we?!

just a couple of rhinos out for a snack.

just a couple of rhinos out for a snack. i’m not entirely convinced that these guys aren’t really dinosaurs. can someone prove that to me?

our safari schedule:

5:30am – wake-up call

5:45am – coffee and tea at the bar

6:00am – morning drives

6:45am – sunrise

7:30am – coffee/tea stop in the bush with your vehicle

my husband stopping for morning coffee in the middle of the bush - not much protection here from a lion.

my husband stopping for morning coffee in the middle of the bush – not much protection here from a lion.

9:00am – return for breakfast (one day, they surprised us and we had a bush breakfast outside – we were greeted with champagne and gorgeous views!)

10:45am – bush walks with guides, where you walk through the bush on foot (completely terrifying for me)

2:00pm – lunch

3:00pm – high tea

3:30pm – afternoon drives

5:30pm – sundowner cocktail stop – pretty crazy to drink a gin and tonic while side-eyeing a giraffe nearby

6:00pm – sunset

6:30pm – return to the lodge (one night, they surprised us and we had a bush dinner in the dark – someone saw hyena circling – so crazy.  we had a lesson in stargazing and ate delicious food (the food at safaris is plentiful and amazing – you do not go hungry).

headed back to our vehicle post-bush dinner.

headed back to our vehicle post-bush dinner. the stars were so bright in south africa! our rangers pointed out the southern cross and other constellations.

we met so many amazing guests from around the world at arathusa, and many had travel stories that were so inspirational (so many places to see, so little time!). we ate meals together, and chatted over cocktails pre-dinner.  our second safari was at a more upscale lodge (kapama karula), and was lovely, but did not have the same community feel to it as arathusa did.  if you’re looking for a good place that gives you amazing guides, plentiful animals, and a really great safari experience, i would 100% recommend arathusa.  check out my reviews of arathusa and kapama karula on trip advisor, as well.

the view from our room included these cuties! very loud (and apparently dangerous), they had a group of seven that hung out together. these are the babies.

the view from our room included these cuties! very loud (and apparently dangerous), they had a group of seven that hung out together. these are the babies.

these are the footprints/tracks the tracker looks for when searching for the animals. the large round ones are elephants, and we learned how to identify the tracks of rhinos, hippos, leopards, lions, and more.

these are the footprints/tracks the tracker looks for when searching for the animals. the large round ones are elephants, and we learned how to identify the tracks of rhinos, hippos, leopards, lions, and more.

 

my jaunts: cape town, south africa

the colorful bo-kaap neighborhood

the colorful bo-kaap neighborhood, which we explored in cape town on our extra day that we added.

cape town is one of the most unique cities i have visited.  located in the southeastern tip of africa, it confusingly feels like europe due to the british and dutch colonization from years past, and is often described by the rest of africa as “not the real africa.”  yet look a little deeper, and something new is bubbling up.  as the nation continues to separate itself from the all-too-recent apartheid (a post on that later), the landscape is changing.  a new generation of youth who never knew (or only vaguely remember) the blatant segregation of races now together create a sense of optimism through shared beers at hipster pubs, the growing popularity of football among the entire nation, and a feeling of creativity that permeates the city, replacing the formerly rigid afrikaaner mindset.

stunning vistas while driving along the western edge of the cape peninsula

stunning vistas while driving along the western edge of the cape peninsula

also, the scenery is breathtaking.  table mountain surrounds the city center and provides stunning views on sunny days (though beware: table mountain is often shrouded in clouds, making breathtaking vistas impossible for days at a time), while cosmopolitan beach towns line the atlantic ocean with posh restaurants and cafes.  heading south from the city, the cape peninsula is a day’s drive and provides views only paralleled by big sur in central california (and minus the thousands of tourists).  if that’s not enough, the cape winelands are to the east of the city and boast unbelievably picturesque vineyards famous for cultivating excellent pinotage amid cape dutch architecture.

it is easy to be overwhelmed by a city such as this, and i had no idea where to start. we spent five days in cape town, and i still feel as if i did not see enough and that i missed out on some key sites.  to help future visitors, i’ve put together my ideas on must-sees, based on how many days you have on hand.

for one day in cape town:

if you get to choose which day to visit, choose saturday.  start by taking a cab to the old biscuit mill in the eastern, industrial part of town.  gradually turning from a warehouse district into a creative hub, the former biscuit mill houses the neighbourgoods market each saturday.  hundreds of vendors converge with clothes, jewelry, and food.  oh, the food.  stalls of african comfort food, sushi, paella, mediterranean salads, ostrich burgers, brai (african bbq), and more, surround rows of communal tables set with fresh flowers and burning candles.  you must go to see the new face of cape town: young, diverse, and all creating something that seems to be more brooklyn than africa or england.

the neighbourgoods market entrance in the old biscuit mill in cape town

the neighbourgoods market entrance in the old biscuit mill in cape town

following lunch and shopping, take a cab to the nearby convention center and hop on the double-decker tourist hop on/hop off buses.  for one day, i recommend the red route.  head to the top of the bus and listen to the guide as you speed through downtown, long street, and district 6, where black residents were forcibly removed from their homes in the 1970s and forced to live in townships outside the city (the district 6 museum is worth a stop).  if in need of a pick-me-up, stop at the mount nelson hotel (nicknamed uncle nellie) for high tea (make reservations in advance).  otherwise, continue on to table mountain.

a view of the city bowl district from the top of table mountain; looking northwest toward the atlantic ocean.

a view of the city bowl district from the top of table mountain; looking northwest toward the atlantic ocean. you can see the cape town stadium (from the world cup!) near the northern coast.

at the base, head to the cable car lines (tip: buy your tickets in advance to bypass the 45-minute wait), and zoom to the top of the mountain, which takes hikers approximately four hours to ascend.  the views are unbelievable and the photos do not do it justice.  back on the bus, head to swanky camps bay, a beach town known for its cosmopolitan vibe, and get out for a glass of champagne or espresso from a sidewalk cafe while watching the waves.  return to the bus for drives northward along the coast past more beaches, the world cup soccer stadium, and finally to the v&a waterfront.  very touristy, but worth a stop to see locals catching a televised rugby or soccer game at the large amphitheater.

the south africa vs. scotland rugby match at the v&a waterfront in cape town. the rowdy brazil world cup game followed with a packed ampitheater.

the south africa vs. scotland rugby match at the v&a waterfront in cape town. the rowdy brazil world cup game followed with a packed ampitheater.

add a second day:

hire a guide (i strongly recommend graham at wilderness touring) and head south to explore the cape point peninsula.  bring a camera to capture the winding roads hugging sharp cliffs that descend to crashing waves from the atlantic ocean.  pass quaint towns with cape dutch architecture, and head to table mountain national park for glimpses of ostriches and baboons near the cape of good hope.  eat lunch at two oceans restaurant, but don’t sit outside unless you’re willing to risk losing your dinner roll to a hungry baboon (seriously).  continue north along the eastern side of the peninsula, stopping at simon’s town to see penguins (penguins!!) as they frolic along the sand.  a total highlight.  end the day with a stroll through kirstenbosch gardens, the ethereal botanical gardens of cape town,and a true gem of the city.  complete the night with dinner at manna epicure in the gardens district.

penguin sighting at simon's point on the eastern edge of the cape peninsula - i love them!

penguin sighting at simon’s town on the eastern edge of the cape peninsula – i love them!

add a third day:

remember your guide?  bring him back for another day, and head to the winelands.  explore stellenbosch, a charming town in the middle of the winelands with a pristine downtown (think: santa barbara).  choose a few wineries to visit.  i would recommend vrede en lust for the wine enthusiasts, meerlust for the creatives (find charmaine gola and have her tell you everything you ever wanted to know about wine in south africa), webersburg for a traditional winery in cape dutch architecture, and delaire graff for a completely ridiculous display of wealth that will leave you awestruck.  people may suggest you stop in the french town of franschhoek:  skip it; too touristy.

the webersburg wine estate is a perfect example of cape dutch architecture.

the webersburg wine estate is a perfect example of cape dutch architecture.

add a fourth day:

continue to explore cape town.  spend some time strolling the city at leisure.  we stayed at liberty lodge in the gardens district (read my trip advisor review here), and it was a perfectly central location that was safe and allowed for walking to most city center sites.  shops and restaurants line kloof nek street, which turns into the famous long street as you head north to downtown.  stop in the vintage shops of long street, and especially at clarke’s bookshop, which specializes in cape town and south african literature.  walk through bo-kaap, the colorful muslim neighborhood with brightly painted houses set against the backdrop of table mountain; visit the bo-kaap museum to talk to residents and understand the history.  afterwards, enjoy lunch or tea at any of the hipster-esque cafes along bree street (i recommend dear me brasserie for excellent salads).  if you have the time, visit robben island to see where nelson mandela was imprisoned (you must reserve in advance).

the dear me brasserie near long street in cape town

the dear me brasserie near long street in cape town

add a fifth day:

rent a car and head to babylonstoren.  read my gush of a post here.

what to read: long walk to freedom by nelson mandela, you can’t get lost in cape town by zoe wicomb

what to watch:  searching for sugar man

when to go: summer is better weather-wise and allows for better views from table mountain.  however, winter is the best time for safaris, so you may be forced to visit capetown pre-safari in the winter.  weather is mild, but bring some layers (see my post on what to pack here).

my map of cape town!

my map of cape town!

travel tips: how to properly pack a carry-on by rolling your clothes

how-to-pack-a-carry-on-by-rolling-clothes

in my last post, i wrote about how to choose the minimal amount of clothes for a two-week city/safari vacation in the winter (we just returned from south africa last month). all of the clothes in that post are included here for packing purposes, with the exception of the clothes i wore on the flight (which included my bulkier shoes and jacket). it seemed daunting given the number of clothes i had to bring to south africa, but it worked perfectly!  this week: how to fit all of those clothes into a carry-on duffle bag.  a few notes on the duffle:

  1. we were told to bring soft-sided duffles because many safaris do not accept “rollies.”  i did not find this to be true because we saw rollies at both of our lodges.  if you get similar information, you may want to check first before buying a new bag.
  2. that being said, it was very freeing to have the duffle because they are so much lighter and easier to maneuver.  plus, they’re cheap.  i got mine at REI for around $30 (currently only available in stores, and not online).
  3. you, like my husband, may think i am misspelling “duffle,” and that it should be “duffel.”  both are accepted.  despite previous posts, duffle will continue to be used exclusively on jaunt.
my husband with his carry-on duffle after passing through "security" at the hoedspruit airport.

my husband with his carry-on duffle after passing through “security” at the hoedspruit airport.

so how many of you roll your clothes when packing (i.e. roll the actual articles of clothing, not pack them in a rollie)?  this is something i had read about many times (travel bloggers just looooove to talk about rolling clothes), and i kind of thought it was a bunch of nonsense.  how can any packing method save more space than folding clothes flat?!  well, this is why i’m no engineer.  turns out that rolling clothes saves much more space, and i have the photos to prove it.

the clothes after traditional folding - looking tall!

the clothes after traditional folding – looking tall!

to start the experiment, i folded my clothes like i would normally – simply laying them flat and folding in half (or thirds if a long tunic).  the clothes were bulky (remember, packing for winter with sweaters and pants), and stacked very tall in the duffle, while leaving empty, unused space on the sides.

the packed bag with folded clothes

the packed bag with folded clothes – not bad! everything fits, but not much room for any purchases bought on the trip.

so then i tried the rolling.  i folded my clothes in half (hot dog, not hamburger), and then folded the arms across, as well, and then literally rolled into a little cylinder (see photo at top of this post).  it was shocking how much more room i had in my bag! magical!

the packed bag with rolled clothes

the packed bag with rolled clothes – so much more room! tons of space for toiletries, gifts purchased on the trip, and more.

an added perk was that it was extremely easy to pack and unpack at the lodges.  i would just grab the rolled clothes and leave them rolled until i wore them.  i think it prevented wrinkles this way, as well.

all rolled up and ready to go - with room to spare!

all rolled up and ready to go – with room to spare!

do you have a preferred way to pack?  would you recommend rolling clothes?

travel tips: safari + cape town + 2 weeks = carry-on!

how-to-pack-for-south-africa-safari-carry-on

i recently returned from a two-week trip to south africa (patience, grasshopper, for the full details), and what a fantastic travel experience that was.  five days in cape town were followed by six days spent safariing, with a few days of travel on either end (turns out it takes a really, really long time to get to south africa from dallas…somewhere in the middle we spent 12 hours in london.).

how-to-pack-for-south-africawhen talking to our travel agent, she nonchalantly mentioned that we should pack light, and “oh by the way, don’t pack your rollies!”  excuse me?  ”roller bags.”  oh.  in other words, good luck packing for two weeks with winter clothes (yes, winter in the southern hemisphere between june and august) in one duffel bag (apparently, certain safari lodges prefer the duffels for ease of transfer…not sure it would have made a difference, as we saw plenty of rollies while on safari).  i could have packed two duffel bags, but after lufthansa lost my bag on our honeymoon in 100-degree athens, my carry-ons have been getting a lot more love.

how-to-pack-for-a-safari

so, where to begin with packing?  i’m not going to lie: it seemed daunting, even for me, a self-proclaimed packing guru.  especially since being more of a city girl, i had zero “active/camping” clothes for these so-called bush drives.  turns out, it was much easier than expected.  the clothes i packed (with the exception of one safari shirt that i decided was useles) are all shown above.  let’s start with what you’ll need for six days of safari (12 safari drives, two per day):

  • 2-3 pairs of light weight safari pants (#13 and #14).  i bought two pairs of pranna pants, and they were my favorite purchase for the trip.  they were light enough for the warm days, rolled up into capri pants for the hot afternoons, and were warm enough for the cool evenings.  they were also quick to dry in case i needed to wash them, and were very small when rolled up for packing.
  • 1 pair of leggings or long underwear (#24, rolled).  if you go in the winter like i did (note: this is the best time to go in south africa because it is easier to see the animals), the weather can get extremely cold when the sun goes down.  we started our drives before sunrise, and i appreciated that extra layer (sometimes the temperature was in the mid- to low 30s when we started the drives!).  you may not need this if traveling in the summer months, or if traveling to safaris in warmer locations.
stopped for coffee and muffins on our south african safari

stopped for coffee and muffins on our south african safari; staying warm with north face jacket layered over tee and sweater (#4 and #10), safari pants (#14), and fleece headband (#20).

  • 5-6 t-shirts (long or short sleeves) (#1 – #5) – rather than buying shirts specifically made for safaris, i brought my standard target/h&m long sleeved shirts that i would wear at home.  i made sure the colors were neutral (so you don’t scare the animals away), and found these to be perfect for the drives.  i regretted buying a  more expensive safari-specific shirt that i will probably never wear again.  i also packed one short sleeved shirt, which proved useful on one warm afternoon.
  • 2 pairs of jeans/slacks (#15 and #16) – i brought one pair of dark skinny jeans and one pair of black pants to wear during the day (between drives) and in the evenings for dinner.  this was plenty as no one dresses up much for meals, even at the more luxurious lodges.
  • 2 colorful scarves (#6 and #12) – i bought two at target right before i left, and they became my go-to accessories for the entire trip!  perfect for the evening meals and added a much-needed pop of color to my otherwise neutral outfits.
just taking a selfie with some elephants.

just taking a selfie with some elephants. notice my nice sweater outfit (#5 and #11) while my husband is safari’d out.

  • 1 pair of comfortable tennis shoes (#19) – you do not need to buy a new pair of walking shoes for your safari as you will be doing very little walking (if you exit the vehicle, a lion may eat you).  i brought a pair of running shoes, which was just fine and didn’t require me to spend any additional money.  they also kept my feet warm in the cold mornings.
  • 1 pair of nice flats (#25) – to wear during the day and in the evenings
  • 1 hat or fleece headband, gloves, & scarf (#20 and #21) – as mentioned above, it gets extremely cold when the sun goes down, so you will want something to keep you warm,  this only applies to the winter months in countries that get an actual winter (e.g., june – august in south africa).
  • 3 sweaters (#9, #10, and #11)- for layering with the long sleeved shirts on especially cold days, and also for wearing around the lodge.
  • minimal jewelry – i wore a simple gold bracelet, watch, and earrings (that i purchased  in cape town) on safari, and that was plenty.  i also did not bring my engagement ring, but just wore my band for the extent of the trip.
  • 1 jacket (see photo above) – this will be your most important purchase, because you want something versatile enough to move around in, but warm enough for cold drives.  i chose a north face zip up in heathered grey, which was perfect and didn’t require a scarf due to the high neck.  other guests wore fitted puffy jackets that seemed to do the trick just as well.
a lovely day at babylonstoren farms

a lovely day at babylonstoren farms, wearing a sweater (#8) over a tee (#2) with a colorful scarf (#6).

since we explored cape town for five days prior to the safari, i also needed city clothes. in addition to the clothes i mentioned above, i brought the following:

  • 2 additional sweaters for layering over the shirts during the day (#7 and #8)
  • 1 additional pair of jeans (#7)
  • 1 additional short-sleeved shirt for the travel days (worn with the north face jacket) (not separately pictured, see photo above)
  • 1 additional pair of leggings for the travel days (#18)
  • 1 additional pair of comfortable flats for exploring the city (#22)
  • 2 pairs of chandelier earrings to dress up outfits at night (not pictured)
exploring the winelands of stellenbosch (outside of cape town) on a cool day.

exploring the winelands of stellenbosch (outside of cape town) on a cool day. staying warm in a large sweater (#9) layered over a long-sleeved tee (#3) and skinny jeans (#15).

with the cooler weather, you can re-wear each shirt twice (or wash it, if you so desire).  all of this – safari and city gear – fit into one carry-on sized duffel bag – stay tuned for next week’s post on how to roll these clothes into the duffel – with photos!  to make it all work, i wore my largest items (running shoes and north face jacket) on the travel days, and packed my travel sized toiletries in my tote bag that fit under my seat.

dress comfortably for a long day(s) of travel

on our last day in south africa (sad), and about to embark on a 48-hour trip home. dressed comfortably in north face jacket, scarf (#12), leggings (#18), and tennis shoes (#19).

do you have any suggestions for packing light on an urban/safari mix vacation?

 

travel tips: pros and cons of using a travel agency

having a tour guide on our drive around the cape peninsula allowed us to enjoy the views without the stress of driving.

having a tour guide on our drive around the cape peninsula allowed us to enjoy the views without the stress of driving.

last fall, i purchased the jetsetter book during the dallas gilt city sale, and was excited to see that it came with a voucher for a free travel planning session for an upcoming vacation.  my husband and i had wanted to visit southern africa for awhile, so decided to use the voucher for that trip.  this was my first time to use a travel agency in my travels, and i quickly realized it is a different way to travel; one which has pros and cons:

pro: it is much easier to plan a trip with a travel agency.  i had an unusually busy year at work, and my husband was in the middle of his first year as a college professor.  neither of us had a lot of time to research the specifics of our trip, which is where the agency really helped us.  they were able to pull together a draft itinerary after a brief phone call; they asked for our dates, budget, and general interests, and several days later sent us a two-week itinerary.  further, our agent was from south africa, so she was able to include places and tours that we may not have chosen on our own, but in hindsight are extremely glad she did (e.g. driving along the cape peninsula – stunning!).

there are penguins in south africa! thanks to our travel agent, we saw them!

there are penguins in south africa! thanks to our travel agent, we saw them on our tour of the cape peninsula.

con: the agency plans the details.  as a frequent traveler, i’m used to making my own itineraries, and researching fun local places that are specific to my tastes.  agencies try to match your tastes as well as they can, but unless you have worked with them before, they may not know you as well.  for example, when we received our itinerary, i was surprised to see that every day was already planned, with no room for exploring, which is my favorite thing to do in a new place.  we ended up adding a day in cape town – which we now know we desperately needed – in order to have the kind of trip we are used to, one filled with wanderings and spending time walking around different neighborhoods rather than just a series of tours.

the colorful bo-kaap neighborhood

the colorful bo-kaap neighborhood, which we explored in cape town on our extra day that we added after seeing the original agency itinerary

pro: agencies line up the details, and make it extremely convenient while traveling.  this was absolutely the best part of it all.  the agency arranged for an airport pick-up, and took us directy to our hotel.  i cannot tell you how many times i have lugged my own baggage on public transportation while trying to communicate in a foreign language.  the airport pickup was divine!  the agency also had pre-purchased tickets to the cable car to table mountain, which allowed us to skip the line, and visit at our convenience.  we also had a private guide for two days, who turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the trip due to his local knowledge and thoughts on the history of south africa.  for each leg of the trip we had a planned shuttle, including a flight within south africa that the agency booked for us directly (we booked our own international flights since i was flying on miles). the conveniences added up, and made the trip run smoothly and easily, and allowed us to spend more time enjoying the country than worrying about the stress of logistics.

view of cape town from the top of table mountain, which we sped up thanks to the cable car and our pre-purchased tickets from the travel agency (see ya, lines!)

view of cape town from the top of table mountain, which we sped up thanks to the cable car and our pre-purchased tickets from the travel agency (see ya, lines!)

con: i’m still a little confused on the price.  we gave our agent our budget, and she said it would be sufficient.  however, we ended up staying at some extremely luxurious hotels, especially on our last safari.  we did not need something so luxurious, and it became evident that we could have saved some money by asking for less exclusive lodges.  however, jetsetter is a luxury travel service, so i’m sure they were just doing their job based on the expectations of their typical clientele. (also, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to safari in style, especially when we were upgraded to a room larger than our LA apartment for the last two nights!).

this hotel room was larger than my last apartment; the bathroom, twice the size of my current kitchen. a bit more than we needed, but wasn't complaining about the free upgrade. :)

safari selfie! this hotel room was larger than my last apartment; the bathroom, twice the size of my current kitchen. our original room (part tent!) was a bit more than we needed, but i wasn’t complaining about this free upgrade. :)

final verdict: i would use an agency again, but have more input early in the process.  i am able to plan the dates and research points of interest for me, while utilizing the agency to handle the logistics and find lodgings within my budget. asking for an itemized cost sheet prior to making the down payment would have helped me to gauge whether any part of the trip was outside of my expectations, as well.  something else i enjoyed about the experience is that the final itinerary they sent us was extremely detailed and we referenced it often on our trip.  it was also easy to scan to family members so they knew our whereabouts in case they needed to contact us.  overall, using the agency was a positive experience that i would repeat with some tweaks.

have you ever used a travel agency to assist in your trip planning?  would you recommend it?

climbing the kirstenbosch gardens in cape town with our guide, graham. he was so amazing!

climbing the kirstenbosch gardens in cape town with our guide, graham. he was so amazing!

my jaunts: babylonstoren

the lemon trees at babylonstoren look fake. just saying.

the lemon trees look fake. just saying.

i just returned from SOUTH AFRICA on wednesday, and holy moly what a fun trip.  seriously, you need to go to south africa.  it’s going to take me some time to compile posts about this past month-o’-vacation, but i’ll do my best.  to start: babylonstoren.

the meditation garden under mulberry trees. i imagine it is quite nice during the summer.

the meditation garden under mulberry trees. i imagine it is quite nice during the summer.

while researching places to see in and around cape town, this place kept standing out.  this farm/restaurant/winery/hotel/gardens seemed other-worldly and intrigued me from the beginning.  as best as i could tell, it was a farm/set of gardens/winery first, from which the restaurant, which requires a reservation two months in advance, sources its delicious food.  later, accommodations were made available, so guests could experience the farm for several days.  only a 45 minute drive from cape town, i decided we had to visit.  we extended our trip by one day, and secured a rental car for the drive there.

the grounds of babylonstoren in the middle of the cape town winelands

the grounds of babylonstoren in the middle of the cape town winelands

after our travel agency failed to secure a reservation for lunch (reservations at babel, the restaurant, are hard to come by, and are first reserved for guests staying the night), we tried ourselves, also to no avail.  without a reservation, guests are welcome to eat in the greenhouse near the back of the gardens, which offers a series of sandwiches and salads also made from farm ingredients.  we decided to take our chances with the greenhouse.

the greenhouse restaurant that does not require a reservation. pretty chic!

the greenhouse restaurant that does not require a reservation. pretty chic!

on the day of our visit, with the rental car delivered to our guest house, we died laughing as we foolishly entered the car from the wrong sides: my husband attempting to drive from the left side (passenger seat in south africa), and me attempting to navigate from the right side (driver’s seat in south africa).  whoops.

epitome of free range chickens.

epitome of free range chickens.

the drive to babylonstoren was easy, uneventful, and beautiful. wineries roll by with mountains and low clouds in the distance.  upon arrival, we were given a delightful map (i have a thing for great maps), and made our way to the entrance through the vineyards.  we were greeted by free-roaming chickens and a donkey, and two jolly women in aprons manning the store (at the store, you can purchase chutneys, meats, cheeses, books, beautiful linens, glasseware used at babylonstoren, etc.; it is worth a visit.).

cured meats for sale in the shop

cured meats for sale in the shop

accountant-by-day, i like to have a plan (i was told by a south african in the airport that that is a purely american habit, but surely not so), so we headed to the hotel reception to learn of any tips or suggestions before we wandered the grounds for the day.  there we met lionel, the most friendly and delightful man on site, who has been with the farm since they opened.  he happily led us around several of the gardens, pointing out “illusion stones” that appear to be actual stones in paths, but when presssed, deliver exciting surprises for children, like shooting water streams.  i was excited, too.

i heart babylonstoren.

feeling happy, and also like i am in the middle of a kinfolk article.

lionel also took us to the guest houses and showed us around – beautiful!  note to self: next time, book a night onsite (trust me).  click here for photos and prices, as i was too enamored by the decor to actually snap any photos.  it is evident that the customer service at babylonstoren is impeccable, and lionel mentioned that guests can pick their own fruits and vegetables from the garden to prepare themselves in their kitchen, and children are awoken early in the morning to help the staff fetch eggs from the chicken coops.  bicycles are on site to explore the grounds, and various hiking trails are available (one of which leads to a delightful-sounding lagoon, at which a canoe is ready for intrepid adventurers).  *swoon*

this is where they house insects that help keep away harmful pests. my husband was intrigued, though he didn't spot any current residents.

this is where they house insects that help keep away harmful pests. my husband was intrigued, though he didn’t spot any current residents.

by this time, i was starting to feel like i was in a kinfolk article, and was wondering if this was all just a little too perfect.  and then it got better.  lionel offered to check availability at the restaurant, and they found room for us to dine for lunch.  it was delicious.  menus are written daily on the large white wall, and salad courses are separated into three color groups: yellow, green, and red.  i ordered the yellow, and it was filled with carrots and pineapple skewers, butternut patties, tangerines, and a persimmon.

the yellow salad at baylonstoren - a work of art, yes?

the yellow salad at baylonstoren – a work of art, yes?

the portions were extremely large, and extremely reasonably priced.  i believe we paid approximately $50 (pre-tip, which was a snafu in and of itself when we accidently only tipped approximatey $0.70; much to our – and our waitress’ – horror; don’t worry, we rectified) for two salad starters, two mains (mine fish, my husband’s pork loin), three sides (which accompany the mains), a shared dessert, and two glasses of rosé.

menu du jour for the babel restaurant - i was so excited to eat there! it did not disappoint.

menu du jour for the babel restaurant – i was so excited to eat there! it did not disappoint.

to work off our gluttony, we wandered the gardens for the next couple of hours, which were seriously dream-like.  there are fountains full of fish, paths made of acorn shells, houses for bees to make honey, a meditation area under mulberry trees, a wandering path of tree stumps, chicken coops, etc., all the while people, turkeys, guinea fowl, and chickens wander freely.  we kept asking ourselves “where are we??” and not being able to come up with an answer.  after strolling and sitting and photographing to our little hearts’ content, we visited the shop (purchases of wine, candles, soap, and the babylonstoren book to accompany us home), and headed back to cape town.  a truly memorable day.

bees live here!

bees live here!

 

my jaunts: claremont, california

claremont

as i mentioned last week, a long weekend in claremont, california has convinced me of the smaller-town lifestyle.  while in town for a wedding, i explored the town (population: 35,000) 33 miles northeast of los angeles that feels more like a weekend retreat than a suburb of the second largest city in the US.  the more i travel, the more clearly i articulate my ideal city.  it is becoming in my mind something very close to claremont: a smaller town with education and culture (i’m realizing the smaller towns with performing arts, galleries, speaker series, etc. all surround college campuses), a thriving local economy (i.e. locally owned shops and businesses), and access to a city.  the only other town i have found that is close to this is san luis obispo in central california.

seaver house at pomona college, one of the claremont colleges. lovely amongst the lush trees.

seaver house at pomona college, one of the claremont colleges. lovely amongst the lush trees.

the locals refer to claremont as the town full of trees and PhDs, and it’s easy to sese why: trees line and cover the streets of claremont, instantly tranporting you as you exit the 10 freeway from the craziness of LA into the laid back lifestyle of this college town.  the claremont colleges are located here, adding youth and culture that is evident in the many festivals, performing arts, and speaker series that occur throughout the year.

the pomona college museum of art, just across the street from the claremont village

the pomona college museum of art, just across the street from the claremont village

in the middle of town, just east of the colleges, is the claremont village (see map below), which is nine square blocks filled with eclectic shops, locally-owned restaurants, and the most adorable city hall you’ve ever seen (a group of friends was eating a picnic on the grounds when we walked by…is this real life?).  my favorite stores included vintage odyssey, where i purchased my usual vintage travel photos, and barbara cheatley’s gift shop, where i could have spent the entire day browsing through their unique gifts (as it was, i settled on a copy of fitzgerald’s on booze).

vintage odyssey in the claremont village

vintage odyssey in the claremont village

on the southeastern edge of the village sits the packing house, a large, open, former citrus packing house filled with a dozen or so stores and restaurants inside.  i loved its locally owned bookstore, claremont forum bookstore and gallery, where i bought a travel photography coffee table book from the 60s, which i ogled over later that evening.  packing house wines is located next door, and offers a large selection of wines by the glass or bottle with live music.

the claremont forum bookshop and gallery

the claremont forum bookshop and gallery

we didn’t have time to eat many meals in claremont, but the two we did enjoy were fantastic.  dr. grubbs is a quick and casual restaurant in claremont village and has large portions of freshly made, flavorful, and healthy foods. i had the grilled pesto chicken over couscous for something like $11.  the next day i tried the mediterranean food a few blocks south at saca’s.  both restaurants were casual (ordered at the counter), yet delicious.

just a typical picnic outside claremont city hall

just a typical picnic outside claremont city hall

who should go: angelenos who need a break from the LA grind (you can even take the metrolink directly to claremont village!)

nearby cities: visit claremont as a day trip while visiting los angeles, or stop by after a trip to palm springs (claremont is located just west of ontario, where the closest major airport to palm springs is located)

claremont-village-map

1. dr. grubbs, 353 west bonita  2. saca’s mediterannean cuisine, 248 west 2nd  3. packing house wine merchants, 540 west 1st  4. vintage odyssey, 201 west bonita  5. barbara cheatley antiques, 215 yale avenue  6. folk music cent, 220 yale avenue  7. the claremont forum bookshop and gallery, 586 west 1st  8. cloud nine paperie, 216 west 2nd

my jaunts: a little of this and a little of that

the past few weeks have been exceptionally crazy with planning for all of my upcoming travels.  this is by far my favorite time of year, if i could just keep up with everything!  i’m currently exploring claremont, california, which may be my new favorite small town (full of trees and Ph.D.s as one local described last night), and i can’t wait to share a few thoughts in more detail next week.  for now, here are a few of my favorite adventures from the past couple of weeks.  happy friday!

you can't go wrong with the view of the griffith observatory and hollywood sign from the oversized armchair at the cottages of silverlake

you can’t go wrong with the view of the griffith observatory and hollywood sign from the oversized armchair at the cottages of silverlake

  • staying at the cottages in silverlake, los angeles – a longer post will be needed to do this place justice (stay tuned), but suffice it to say that this is one of my happiest of places.  the owners are always so accommodating, and the view alone makes me curl up in that oversized arm chair and do nothing but read and ponder.
deep ellum brewing co.'s dallas blonde.

deep ellum brewing co.’s dallas blonde.

  • exploring dallas’ craft beer scene – following d magazine’s beer issue, i am even more psyched than before to try new local beers.  my favorites so far have been deep ellum’s dallas blonde and peticolas‘ golden opportunity, which my husband and i used to fill up a growler at the new lakewood growler in lakewood, dallas.  this bar/growler stop also lets you bring in food from nearby restaurants to make an evening of things.  will definitely be returning. often.

    such a jaunty poster in dallas county health's foreign immunization office!

    such a jaunty poster in dallas county health’s foreign immunization office!

  • shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots…everybody – yep.  travel immunization time!  a quick jaunt to dallas county health department proved to be a) helpful and b) memorable.  and how cute is their bulletin board on international travel?  it made my four shots (only slightly) more bearable (did i mention i am afraid of needles?)! this safari better be flipping fantastic
seaver house at pomona college, one of the claremont colleges. lovely amongst the lush trees.

seaver house at pomona college, one of the claremont colleges. lovely amongst the lush trees.

  • discovering claremont – ok, in all seriousness, this town is amazing.  tree-lined and covered streets filled with vibrant flowers and a cute little family eating a picnic in front of city hall that is in the center of the town’s village, which is filled with delightful boutiques and restaurants (and a perfect bar for watching game 1 of the world cup), all abutting the beautiful claremont colleges.  i want to move here and then convince all of my friends to move here, and we shall each own a perfect craftsman and subscribe to american bungalow.

what adventures have you been uo to recently?  i’d love for you to share in a guest post, as well!

my favorites: best texas swimming holes

thank goodness for summer! time to relax and slow down.

thank goodness for summer! time to relax and slow down. (taken at jacob’s well in wimberley)

and just like that, spring is over.  the temperatures are creeping up, and not cooling off at night.  my husband and i walked to our neighborhood wine night (yes) last week, and i was struck by how quickly jeans season ended.  after years in california with its cool nights, we’re back in texas, where it’s time to shed pants for summer shorts and skirts.

just relaxing at jacob's well in wimberley, texas

just relaxing at jacob’s well in wimberley, texas

so its the perfect time to talk about my favorite texas swimming holes.   i’m much more of a city girl than a nature lover, but california taught me a lot about appreciating nature (maybe it was our proximitiy to griffith park that helped me live at peace with coyotes and that rogue mountain lion), and now i can’t get enough of the perfectly and naturally formed swimming pool, shaded by trees and open to all. there are three that i’ve really enjoyed visiting: two in or near austin and one in far west texas.

the scene at jacob's well in wimberley, texas (the dark circle in the water is the 30-foot well)

the scene at jacob’s well in wimberley, texas (the dark circle in the water is the 30-foot well)

  • jacob’s well, wimberley, texas – just southwest of austin in the beautiful texas hill country lies wimberley, a place i visited a lot growing up and never fully appreciated until i was older.  jacob’s well is a 30-foot deep well in the middle of a shallow creek, surrounded by rock cliffs and shaded by trees.  though the well is deep, the surrounding creek bed only has about two feet of water lined with slippery rocks.  scuba divers used to dive to the bottom of the well, and crawl through a narrow space at the bottom that opened up to another drop-off, estimated to be around 150 feet deep (a couple of deaths caused the city to grate over the drop-off and prohibit scuba diving).  go early as lines can form in the summer, bring a picnic and goggles, and find a warm rock on which to sun bathe while taking a cool dip in the well.
cooling off in austin's barton springs

cooling off in austin’s barton springs

  • barton springs, austin, texas – located in the middle of austin at zilker park, barton springs is an austin favorite.  formed from natural springs from main barton spring, the water is refreshing and sparkling (read: freezing, no matter what time of year), and is where the party’s at.  the city has lined the springs with cement to make it into more of an outdoor pool, and there are plenty of grassy areas or bleachers to set up for the entire day.  the people watching is fantastic (especially if you go outside the gates a bit further down), and remember: topless sunbathing is allowed everywhere in austin.
sun bathing at austin's barton springs, with a token guitar player in the background

sun bathing at austin’s barton springs, with a token guitar player in the background

  • balmorhea springs, balmorhea, texas – so, this one is…remote.  we stumbled upon this gem during a trip to marfa in far west texas, and it is definitely worth a stop.  these springs have the clearest water i’ve ever seen, and are located at balmorhea state park.  for $7, you can enter the springs, swim for awhile, and enjoy the grounds.  there are campgrounds and cabins onsite, and it seems to be a favorite among kids.  this would be a perfect stop during a tour of west texas that could include a couple of nights in marfa, a stop in alpine, a drive through big bend with a stop at terlingua (home of the texas chili festival), and a visit to the mcdonald observatory (see more of my thoughts on that here).
mountains in the background at balmorhea springs

mountains in the background at balmorhea springs

the next step is to find some swimming holes closer to home around dallas – do you have any favorites in your part of the world?

rushing grass-filled stream at balmorhea springs

rushing grass-filled stream at balmorhea springs in west texas

my favorites: letterpress stationery

a collection of some of my favorite letterpress stationery and notes over the years

a collection of some of my favorite letterpress stationery and notes over the years

in honor of the national stationery show (nss) that occurred this week in new york city, i thought i would devote this week’s post to my love of pretty paper.  i’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere after college i fell in love with all things letterpress.  as someone who still prefers handwritten letters over emails, i find so much joy in a colorful or witty or charming notecard that has been made locally (anyone want to join my challenge to write one letter per day in july??  i totally stole that idea from someone, so apologies if it was you!).   see below for a few of my favorite stationery stops across the US.  and learn more about some of the best stationery in the business here (anyone want to go with me to nss in 2015??).

we are 1976 in bishop arts, dallas

the bishop arts location of we are 1976 – must.take.letterpress.workshop.

1. we are 1976, dallas, tx – this store has it all.  from greeting cards and graphic posters to felt donuts and handmade jewlwery, i could spend hours here.  with a couple of stores in town, i have found that my favorite is the bishop arts location, which i visited several weeks ago.  my heart just about skipped a beat when i saw the giant letterpress behind the counter and learned they also offer classes for cards, posters, and business cards!  can you even imagine how delightful teal pressed jaunt cards would be?  i can.

sugar paper los angeles poster

lovely words from sugar paper los angeles, next to my international vogues and venice postcard…bliss.

2. sugar paper la, los angeles, ca – what started as a small venture in the brentwood country mart has turned mega popular across the US thanks to their recent target line.  i adore their polka dots and gold inlay and basically anything they write in script, like my “work hard and be nice to people” poster i purchased from them a few years back.  they have the most pleasing cards and colors, and never cease to outdo themselves (seriously, check out their new kate calendar for 2015…never too early to plan!).

kate's paperie in new york city

ten years ago this summer (sigh), shopping for stationery with my bestie and coming out with too, too many finds (my bag not pictured!).

3.  kate’s paperie, new york city, ny – i stumbled in here on a trip to new york with my best friend, and we instantly fell in love.  first, it’s huge.  second, it has cards you’ve never even dreamt of.  perhaps this was the moment i fell in love with letterpress.  i’m pretty sure we spent a couple of hours (and many, many dollars) at kate’s, and came away with some delightful treasures.

do you have any favorites i should add to my list?