Swakopmund

The drive from Sossus Dune Lodge to the coastal town of Swakopmund was definitely the bumpiest of the trip.


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However there was some nice and constantly changing scenery, and we picked up the obligatory Tropic of Capricorn photo.  This was the second time we’ve driven across this line of latitude (Madagascar the other time), so you can see I was very excited about that:

We pulled into Swakopmund right at sunset, where my sister snapped this one:

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We checked into Villa Margherita and this place was pure class.  Everything was immaculate, and the staff amazingly professional and friendly.  Sitting by the fireplace, drinking red wine, and enjoying the wifi on our iPhones (1 iPhone:1 person ratio) was a delight.

Also a delight was The Tug restaurant for dinner.  This was our opportunity to skip the red game meat and enjoy some fresh seafood, and it didn’t disappoint.

But what is Swakopmund really known for?  It’s the birthplace of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.  So Lillie and Naveena posed outside this hospital. 

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However, it should be noted that a later Google search shows this hospital has absolutely nothing to do with Brangelina.

Anyway, Swakopmund was a really delightful place–we all would have loved to have lazed around Villa Margherita and the rest of town for a few days.  Next time!

Arriving in Windhoek, Namibia

On day one within an hour’s time at Johannesburg airport, my parents arrived on South African Airways from JFK, my sister on British Airways from Heathrow, and Lillie and I on Kenya Airways from Amsterdam/Nairobi.

We then all met up in the South African Airways lounge before flying to Windhoek, Namibia together.  All of this thanks to miles from Delta, United, Continental, American, and even BMI.

We were met right on time at the Windhoek airport by Bushlore with a Land Rover Discovery LR3.  Lillie and I have experienced botched airport pick ups in Entebbe, Uganda and Antananarivo, Madagascar in the past, so this was a welcome treat.

Off to town we went.  At the Checkers grocery store in Maerua Mall we picked up some snacks for the driving ahead.  How could I resist purchasing something (sorta) named after our dog?  They were not particularly tasty, however.

Lil' Zizou

Dinner was at the much hyped Joe’s Beerhouse—nice place, glad we went, but at the end of the day nothing to get too excited about.  Lillie, however, discovered her drink for the trip. 

We spent the night at Terra Africa, which I thought was nice and a good value.

We watched our first African sunset of the trip from their back courtyard overlooking Robert Mugabe Avenue (which at one junction amazingly intersects with Nelson Mandela Avenue).

Back to Cape Town | Cruising Chapman’s Peak

Sorry to all the RSS and email subscribers who got that dumb temporary post delivered to them earlier.  I can truthfully say that it was entirely Lillie’s fault.

However, we’ve taken this as a sign that it’s time to post another update from the Cape Town trip since it’s been two months since the last.  So here are some snaps from Chapman’s Peak—west of Cape Town on the Atlantic Coast.  It’s a 9km road boasting 114 curves hugging the ocean.  A fun drive.

Starts in Hout Bay:

And ends in the town of Noordhoek.  Sweet little beach here where we dipped our toes in the Atlantic.  With a little more time, there are some riding stables that would be well worth checking out.  Part of the charm is that you can take the horses for a spin on the beach.

 

And there’s Table Mountain out in the distance:

While we didn’t hop on horses in Noordhoek, we did hop on horses in Franschoek.  Lillie will tell you that tale in the next post…

Cape Town | Part I

We’re thankful to have traveled elsewhere in Africa previously, because Cape Town is a decidedly less African experience.  Geographically, it deserves every superlative possible—it’s impossible to get away from jaw dropping vistas.

Culturally?  We found the black/white race dynamics to be too overwhelming to be really comfortable there—considering apartheid only ended in 1994, the wounds are no doubt still fresh.  But I’m not going to turn this into an inane ‘how my 4-day trip to Cape Town changed my world view’ college essay that my brother would scoff at.

All I’ll say is that if you go to Cape Town, go there with some sense of self-awareness and perspective.  Otherwise, I reckon for some it would be a destination rated highly on a "stuff white people like" list—nice beach, good food and wineries, etc.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you about the beaches and wineries we visited…

Cape of Good Hope

We’re about 10,215 miles from Seattle here.  Side note: amazingly, not the furthest we’ve ever been from home—Fort Dauphin, Madagascar wins that prize at 10,778 miles.  (if anyone can name a further airport from Seattle than Fort Dauphin/FTU with regular commercial air service, please drop a comment—from a quick search, I couldn’t find anything).


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I love geographic extremes—so visiting the southwestern most point of the African continent at the Cape of Good Hope was a thrill.  Looking up the cliffs next to Good Hope, you see Cape Point (just a few minutes drive between the two).  There’s actually some serious history behind the area, so it’s a cool feeling walking out to the lighthouse on the cliffs marking this spot.

In the second photo below, the white car is our rental parked at the Cape—and that’s a wild ostrich on the right stalking the parking lot!  That was a new wildlife sighting for us, but we just found them too creepy and weird looking.

The drive down is just gorgeous, to boot.  One of the highlights of the drive (other than me breaking the passenger side mirror within an hour of landing in Cape Town) was bringing the car to a near stop to yield for a baboon hanging out on the road.  Living with baboons in your neighborhood would be a total nightmare, but this was a nice tourist treat.

Boulders Beach

Along the drive between Cape Town and Cape Point is Boulders Beach—a popular hang out spot for African penguins.  We were there end of day, so they had all returned to shore to dry off for the night.  Watching these guys shuffle their feet around on the beach was still highly amusing.

This is actually a busy little waterfront town that the penguins are integrated within.  So lots of penguin crossing signs around town.

 

 

Then there was one last wildlife sighting: a Rock Hyrax aka dassie (pronounced like dussy, I think).  The scale isn’t very good in this photo, but they are decent size at more than 8 lbs. 

I lied in the previous post.  There will be a couple separate posts on Cape Town.  Part II to come…

First Class to South Africa

Everyone’s been asking for photos of the in-flight experience over to South Africa, but nobody clamoring for actual South Africa photos.  So let’s kick things off as demanded…

This photo basically sums up how completely over the top the First experience on Cathay Pacific is:

Now let me explain what you’re looking at above.  I’m sitting across from Lillie in an ottoman turned buddy seat, eating caviar and salmon, while Lillie is sipping on some Krug champagne (we easily finished the bottle on this flight).  Not a bad way to occupy some time on a 16 hour flight from JFK to Hong Kong.

When it’s bedtime, the flight attendants (two dedicated to the max of nine First passengers) will lay down a mattress pad, and spread out a duvet onto a now fully flat bed that easily fit my long legs (not feasible for me in most business classes).  You’re also issued some Shanghai Tang brand pajamas so you don’t have to wrinkle your suit/jean pants.  Also take note of the 17″ TV and accompanying orchids:

For some orientation, here’s a shot from my suite of Lillie in her suite (yes–the proper term is suite, not seat):

Now for food.  The brilliant part about the food service in First is that it’s entirely on demand.  You get your menu at the start of the flight, and then you can order whatever you want whenever–no prescribed meal times.  Awesome on long flights that require some sleep management to combat jet lag.

The flight attendants are far from shy about trying to feed you every single thing on the menu.  I was amused at the sheer quantity of dinnerware on my tray table here.  That’s some braised pork neck with jasmine rice, spring rolls, basket of assorted bread, butter, hot sauce, and a pot of Hong Kong style milk tea.  The Häagen-Dazs came later.

On our Hong Kong to Johannesburg flight, we had what I am unequivocally proclaiming to be the greatest breakfast of all time.  For me it comprised of: caviar and salmon to start things off, a collection of dim sum, a few slices of back bacon, croissants with honey, Hong Kong style milk tea, and finally a berry smoothie.

But what set this breakfast apart was the setting–Lillie and I were sitting across from one another, 40,000 feet in the air, with the glow of the sun rising over the Indian Ocean on the shore of Mozambique.  Simply unreal.

The last stop on the tour?  The WC.  Yes, there’s a full length mirror to admire yourself in your airplane PJs, two windows, and a vessel sink:

We spent pretty much 48 hours in this space through the trip–flying JFK-Hong Kong-Johannesburg-Hong Kong-San Francisco.  Definitely worse places you could be for such a long haul, I reckon.

Finally, just to be crystal clear, we obviously didn’t shell out the $26,000/each (not a typo) this routing would set you back on Orbitz.  This was all paid for with Alaska Airlines miles–that’s how we roll.

Expect three more posts on this trip–all presumably far less interesting than this: on Cape Town and surroundings, brief stopovers in Hong Kong, and a boring/nuts and bolts post on miscellaneous trip planning minutiae.

Lillie is 30

The paper shredder I got Lillie for her 28th birthday had set a pretty high bar for gifts.

So for Lillie’s 30th, we’re heading to Cape Town, South Africa for the next several days.  Making it all the better, we’re heading there via Hong Kong in first class on Cathay Pacific–no more of this business class nonsense!

We’ll be celebrating the big day with Krug champagne and caviar on the 16.5 hour flight from JFK to Hong Kong.

Stay tuned for the trip report…in the meantime, happy 30th birthday Lillie!

First Glimpse from Churchill

We just got back to Winnipeg from Churchill after a day of polar bearing.  From a quick look at the photos, there are a few keepers.  But those will wait until a proper post and trip report upon return to Seattle.

In the meantime, here’s some Where’s Waldo? action.  It’s a glimpse of what a partially frozen Hudson Bay looks like on a 4 degree cloudy day.

From a distance on Hudson Bay...

More to come soon…

The Final Slog Home

Only a few more flights left to get home.  First up was Cathay Pacific from Osaka to Hong Kong (3 hours) and then onwards to Vancouver (another 12 hours).  One of the knocks on their business class seats is that they are terrible for couples.  And they are.

It’s impossible to have a conversation with a neighbor in these little cubicles.  However, after 19 days Lillie and I had nothing left to talk about, and we enjoyed the alone time.  These seats were awesome.  Even at 6’2" I was easily able to full stretch out in the lay flat seats.

A great entertainment system with large screen to boot (watching 30 Rock episodes for the 17th time):

 

The food wasn’t very memorable as we mostly slept on these flights.  But again for completeness, here are the photos.  I did learn I love Hong Kong-style milk tea, so that was probably the highlight.

Hong Kong Milk Tea and Nuts Salmon with asparagus, dill potato salad, liguarian olives, and capers.; Mixed salad with lemon myrtle dressing; Yuzu soba noodles. Stir-fried beef with assorted mushroom in oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice, and Chinese mixed vegetables. Haggen Dasz and Hong Kong Milk Tea  Braised beef shank with dried mushrooms in oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice, and Chinese mixed vegetables. Lemon cheesecake with mixed berry compote.

Descending into Vancouver, it was great to look out the window and see the late sunset with the water and mountains.  It really gave us the feeling we were almost home (or at least back in the Pac NW).  On landing at 9pm we got to use the Nexus iris scanning machine for the first time.  Worked like a charm and we were through customs and immigration in seconds.

We had initially planned on renting a car and driving back down to Seattle.  Instead, after some scheming it worked out cheaper and easier to spend the night and fly down the next morning.  So we enjoyed the Ramada by the airport for free, courtesy of the sadly now defunct Best Rate Guarantee program, and then Alaska Airlines down to Seattle at 6am.

Our friend Jen was kind enough to pick us up from the Vancouver airport and take us to a bubble tea joint in Richmond for some socializing.  It was good for us both to talk to someone other than one another.  Plus Jen was also kind enough to pay for us as we were loonie-less.

Happy to report that our upgrades for YVR-SEA cleared and we got to enjoy the 25-minute flight not in coach.  In the end, Lillie batted 1.000 on non-coach seating this trip while I had to suck up the very first flight SEA-DTW in the back of the bus.  Woe is me.

Thanks go out to Jimmie for the early morning pickup from Sea-Tac to get us back home to Mr. Zizou.  Once more with his new fox from Fushimi Inari:

Ziz!

Props to anyone who made it this far.  This is not a trip for everyone’s tastes, but for our money it was quite fantastic.  And speaking of our money, after doing final accounting we did very well on our budget to actual.  I won’t get into the line items here, but will say that it’s very much possible to travel the world (in some style) for reasonable prices.  So get on out there.

Until the next trip…

  THE END

Last Day in Kyoto

We had two things left on our must see list—Nijo Castle and Fushimi Inari.  Despite them not being even close to one another, we made it happen.

First we hopped the JR West train from Kyoto Station to the Inari Station.  This drops you right off at Fushimi Inari.  Nothing but Torii (gates) and stone foxes here.  Really lovely stroll (albeit with lots of stair climbing).

We felt a little bad on occasion here as there seemed to be more people visiting here for religious purposes than for tourist purposes.  That certainly did add to the charm, though.  We really wanted to buy a stone fox from a gift shop in this town, but everyone seemed to sell the same ugly colored ceramic one.  Thus we had to settle on a stuffed one for Zizou (previously pictured).

Three trains later and we were at Nijo Castle—this was built in the 1600s.  The place was pretty well fortified with two separate moats:

What stole the show for us here was the garden.  If only we could make our backyard look a fraction like this.

There’s no photography inside the buildings (which are very cool), so you’ll have to see the rest in person.  You’ll also need to hear for yourself the nightingale floors.

Back at Kyoto Station, we headed to the 9th floor for some ramen.  There are a whole bunch of ramen restaurants here, and we were immediately confused to see long lines at vending machines in front of each of the restaurants.  We then realized that you place and pay for your order at these machines.  Then you hand your receipt to the hostess and sit down.  Another delicious meal.

We wrapped up the meal with some ice cream cones:

Our bags were still at Kikokuso, so we made the quick 10 minute walk from Kyoto Station over there to pack our things up one final time.  We said our final goodbye to the adorable proprietors and rolled out luggage back down to Kyoto Station to start heading to the airport.

Along the way, we spent some of our last yen at one of the ubiquitous drink vending machines that are on every street corner and then some.  They can look something like this:

We had actually read about this Fanta drink in some Japanese tourist magazine I got in Seattle before the trip.  So when we saw it in a vending machine we had to get it.  It’s a hyper carbonated grape soda that you shake before opening—and there are large grape jelly globs in it.  The weird part about it was that it was actually pretty good.

With the energy from this drink, we caught a train earlier than planned from Kyoto Station.  We hopped the JR West Haruka to Osaka Airport (KIX).  This is a 2,800 yen ride typically.  The trick though is to buy a one day JR West pass for 2,000 yen that covers the route.  We also used this same one-day pass to go down to Inari earlier in the day, so it was nice value.Seventy-five minutes later we were at KIX to start our long trek back home.

Sayonara, Japan.  We will definitely meet again…

Kaiseki at Kikokuso

Email and RSS subscribers will need to click over to klugusamy.com to view the below photos–sorry ’bout that.

As great as the toilet was, the kaiseki dinner and breakfast are what we were really excited (and nervous) about.  The husband half of the team does all the cooking while his wife served us in this private dining room adjacent to the garden:

Every single course of dinner was delicious and beautifully presented.  Many items were things we’d never seen or heard of before, but that didn’t get in the way of the taste.  Neither of us wasted a single bite.

Here’s a slideshow with the full course.  Pardon the vague captions, but it’s honestly the best we know!

 

While not quite as elaborate, breakfast was a continuation of dinner.  Waffles it ain’t, but delicious again.  Another slideshow:

 

As you might guess, these meals were not particularly cheap.  They were a really outstanding and classy way to wrap up our trip, though.  When in Kyoto and thereabouts, everyone should budget on a splurge like this.