South Africa Part 5

DSC_1815On my fifth trip to South Africa, I spent barely any time in Johannesburg and in South Africa in general. Mostly we were in Mozambique, again the details of which will come later! We spent a large portion of the week in the car, but the three days in Mozambique were so worth it! We were in the middle of nowhere and that was perfect. For three days we were separated from the world, completely off the grid. It was the best way to de-stress from school and work. It reminded me how great it is to get away from everything sometimes.

If you are renting a car, which you need to, rent a big and durable car. You don’t know what kind of roads you will take and you don’t want to get stuck somewhere!

It is important to mention, again, that for a trip across South Africa, planning is very important. You should know where you are going, because getting lost a) is not fun and b) isn’t really safe. You never know where you can accidentally end up, so planning well is just safer in general. Another tip, plan a backup route. Even though the backup route is more important for Mozambique, you never know what roads might be flooded or closed or if a cows will block your path. Bring your GPS, but don’t rely on it too much. It is always better to actually know where you are going and some roads don’t even show up as actual roads on a GPS.

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Also, when crossing borders, plan for spending a lot of time and prepare your nerves for complicated discussions with the border control if you are getting tourist visa into Mozambique. Be prepared for the fact that they either barely speak any english or they don’t speak it at all.

When we got back to South Africa, we were so exhausted from our relaxing trip to Mozambique, to the point where none of us actually wanted to do anything. The last couple of days we spent relaxing. The only new place we visited was Sandton City Shopping Centre, which is a huge mall, great for clothes, shoes, jewelry and they have great places for brunch!


READ MORE:

South Africa Part 1

South Africa Part 2

South Africa Part 3

South Africa Part 4

 

South Africa Part 4

This trip was very different from the ones before. In 2012 I went to South Africa with my friends and we tried to make a difference. For the first time, we got to see the real Africa, the small villages, the citizens of which have nothing. The schools in tents and the students that walk four hours to get to those schools, but they are so dedicated, they don’t mind. It was a very different Africa. It was the poor side. The empty side. The type of place where you could drive for hours without meeting anyone at all.

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We chose a school in Ubhevu, and small town in the eastern part of South Africa, because of connections we had to the school. Ladysmith is the closest major town. It is about 20 minutes from Ubhevu.

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As we approached the school we just stared for a little bit, until we remembered the cameras we were holding in our arms. They had three tents and they used a church as classroom space. On the first day there we got to know the head of the school, some of the teachers and some of the students. We found out what they would need the most and what how we could help with the budget we had. To help them, we bought them a fridge, a freezer, paint for the building and sports equipment. The fridge and the freezer was the most important thing we could get for them, because the students at the school were very dependant on the food they served at the school. Their options were limited, since it was usually the director of the school who brought the food in every day, because they had no way to store it there. The sports equipment was a way to bring a little bit of fun to the academic day, since their PE classes were very limited without any equipment. The paint was a way to bond with the students. One of the days we spend just painting their one building and putting the handprints of all of the students and us on the walls to mark our time there.

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On our last day there we gave the best students some gifts to support academia in the school. After a long day of hard work, we walked around their village, met new people and saw some of the houses they lived in. We got to walk with some of the students to the well, where they all had to go each day to get water. They tried to teach us some Zulu, their language.

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This was a very important trip for me, since I got to find out how schooling works in South Africa. I could only help a little bit, but they were so grateful for the little help we could give.

Come back soon for more stories from South Africa!


READ MORE:

South Africa Part 1

South Africa Part 2

South Africa Part 3

 

Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix

It has been a while since our trip to Monaco (two years, to be precise), but it left an amazing impression. Since the Monte Carlo Grand Prix is to take place this weekend, it’s a good time to impose some wisdom and share our experiences, in case any of you are going.IMG_2990

We made it a long weekend event – flying out on Thursday and coming back on Monday morning. We opted to stay in Nice, France, which is just a short drive away from Monte Carlo. This was a great decision, because the picturesque city was stunning and offered refuge from the Grand Prix craziness that was going on in Monaco. Our hotel was on the side of a mountain, overlooking the city and the coast.

Our first day came with a mission – go to Monaco and pick up our Grand Prix tickets. Simple, right? Well, not really. We found parking and started walking towards the ticket stands. And here comes tip #1:

Tip #1: Carefully look up maps and road closings, navigation during the Grand Prix is difficult and you may end up in a bunch of dead ends!

Tip #2: get GPS for your car or data on your phone for navigation
DSC_5687So, we did a lot of up and down walking to get to the ticket stand. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and we got to admire the beautiful views that the city offers. We also watched a little bit of the Formula 3 race.

DSC_5704After picking up tickets (and buying team merch), we had plenty of time left in the day to explore. We hopped into the car and drove back to France, along the coast. We went past Nice, drove by Cannes, and into the small city of Frejus. Our initial goal was St. Tropez but that ended up being a bit too far. In Frejus, we visited the ruins of an ancient amphitheater and took a stroll on the beach. The coast was absolutely beautiful and if we had time, we definitely would have loved to visit more of the coastal towns. In Frejus, we got hungry, so we stopped by for drinks and tapas, which tasted great.

We then ended the day with dinner in the rooftop restaurant of Radison Blu Nice, which, again, had great food and views.

On Saturday, we went back to Monte Carlo to watch the qualifiers for Sunday’srace. We checked out our seats – Grandstand O, above the water and facing the city. We could see the pit lane, as well as parts of the finish line.DSC_5806

We decided to go for lunch in the immediate area, which proved to be a mistake, as everything was full and restaurants were not up to speed.
Sunday was race day! You could feel the excitement in the air. We got there early to see all the pre race events, including the drivers’ parade. Then we had lunch on the stands with food that was sold there (lines insane, but it wasn’t worth it to go back into town again).

TIP #3: bring tanning lotion! You’ll need it so that you don’t end up looking like a crab.

And then the race began! Since it was my first race, I was initially worried about recognizing the drivers, but it wasn’t an issue. It was so much fun to watch and hang out there. We loved it. When the race was over, we got to walk across the race track and as we were leaving, we heard that Benedict Cumberbatch was meeting the drivers and congratulating them! It was almost hard to tell who was more starstruck. Sadly, we didn’t see it happen.DSC_5875

After that, we left Monaco, went to the hotel to change and for dinner. This time, we got dinner in a small restaurant in a village on the other side of the cliff that our hotel was on. There were very few people and the food was, once again, amazing.

Sadly, that was it for our trip and we left early in the morning on Monday. We absolutely loved this trip and definitely recommend it to anybody!


READ MORE:

South Africa Part 2

South Africa Part 1

 

South Africa Part 3

On this trip, we took advantage of being in Africa, and we decided to go to some new places. We always wanted to see the Victoria Falls, so we headed up to Zimbabwe and Zambia, details of that trip to come :)! It was a great adventure, including lots of dead insects in our open hotel room, elephant rides, helicopter rides and sunsets over the river.

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In Johannesburg we went to some new places too! For one, we went to Soweto, a very important place for the history of apartheid and how it got overthrown. Nelson Mandela lived in Soweto, his house is open to the public and should definitely be on your “to see” list if you go to South Africa. You will get some background information on the area in the museum, but most importantly about Mandela’s life. There are several museums in the area, each dedicated to something else, I suggest you visit some of these because the history is so rich and important for everyone to know.

_DSC1153We also drove around downtown Johannesburg and found some tucked away markets. Eventually we made our way to chinatown and got some Chinese food!

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Another new place we went to this time was a crocodile farm in Johannesburg. There they have several large rather evil looking crocodiles. Over their enclosure is a rickety wooden bridge that you can cross and imagine all the great ways the crocodiles would chew you up if the bridge collapsed. Ok, I might be exaggerating a little bit, it wasn’t that rickety. They also have large snakes and lizards that you can hold. This time they even had a baby crocodile that they let us hold and pet. On top of all of these reptiles, they also have tarantulas and yes, you can hold them, if you want to. I personally refused to do that, but my little, then 6 year old, brother wanted to hold one. Apparently they are very fragile and can’t be dropped, because that would instantly kill them, so the caretakers make sure the people that want to hold them don’t drop them. So if you decide to hold them you have to be certain you won’t freak out too much. On top of having some lectures about the animals they take care of, the farm also offers dance shows where dancers perform traditional African dances. Also a great show to go to, if that is something you are interested!

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Lastly, we went for safari to Pilanesberg. The drive there is beautiful, through some small rich towns and by some shantytowns. It’s quite a long drive from Johannesburg, so I suggest you leave really early in the morning, so you have the full day there to drive around the park, but so that you aren’t too tired to drive back. If you time the trip back well, you can see the sunset over the Hartbeesport Dam. That view is priceless! With that I concluded my third trip to South Africa.

After my third trip, I knew there was still much more to see, so I was already planning my next visit. An article about my fourth visit, during which my friends and I helped out at a school in Ubhevu, is coming soon! Check back to read about it!


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South Africa Part 2

South Africa Part 1

 

South Africa Part 2

My second trip to South Africa was in the summer of 2010. This trip was very similar to the first, because I went to all the same places, Kruger Park and Cape Town. I did get to experience a couple of new things though.

In Cape Town I went to Robben Island, the prison that was used during the Apartheid. Robben island was originally used as a place for Lepers, it isolated the sick from the populated city. So one of the places we saw was the graveyard specifically used during the epidemic. We also saw the prison that was used during the Apartheid. The tour guide used to be a prisoner on Robben Island, so he gave great insight into the recent history of the island, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years.SA6

In Cape Town we also took advantage of the sunny, cloudless skies and we went up to the top of Table Mountain. We were amazed at the beautiful view from the top. The city spanned below us and we could see all the way from the small township on the outskirts of the city to the rich parts and even the soccer stadium where FIFA was hosted.

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While we were in Cape Town, we also rented a car so that we could go see sights that were slightly more removed. On our way to the Cape of Good Hope we got slightly lost. Instead of getting on the highway that would lead us to the Cape, we drove along the coast, with the ocean on one side and a township on the other. Getting lost actually worked in our favor, because we got to see more of the city and the towns surrounding it. As we drove through the different towns we noticed that they were very Dutch, still maintaining the look the first Dutch settlers brought with them in the 17th century._DSC1742

The Cape of Good Hope is one of those places that is a must see. Definitely go up to the lighthouse, from there you will be able to see the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. From the lighthouse you can clearly see the difference between the two oceans, because of the temperature of the water. And, of course, it is a great place to take pictures! :)

Another trip we took was to some of the wineries in the area, Klein Constatia and Groot Constatia. Both were great and both were just gorgeous. Whether or not you like wine, this makes a great trip, trust me, I was too young to drink when I went! South African wine is delicious, so I definitely recommend going to the wineries!

Read even more about Cape Town here!

Kruger National Park was a very different experience this time around. It was the dry season, which mean fires. Every year, fires take over the Kruger National Park and a large percentage of the land is burned, destroying the natural habitat of thousands of native animals. It was a huge difference to the never ending sea of green that I saw just a few months earlier.

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Kruger Park concluded my trip this time and it was a great way to end it. That was the last time I went to Kruger Park, but I went to so many other interesting places the next time I visited, so come back for more stories from South Africa!


READ MORE:

South Africa Part 1

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