A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: vedette

Oasis in the little Karoo

Prince Albert, South Africa

5 reasons to visit this charming Karoo town

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You will be forgiven for thinking that Prince Albert is a town that should be passed by on your way to Cape Town or, at most, used as a stopover to break the otherwise taxing journey. You could not be more wrong however as I have discovered on a recent visit to this quant Karoo town.

The town seemed sleepy when we arrived late on a hot Sunday afternoon but over the next few days we discovered that there are exciting surprises tucked away in every corner of this charming Karoo town. Below are just five reasons to spend a few days in this part of the world.

1) Visit the SoetKaroo winery

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Roughly in the middle of the town's main road you will find SoetKaroo winery at the home of Herman and Susan Perold. Their backyard is a one hectare vineyard and their garage has been converted to a wine cellar from where they have been producing the local dessert wine SoetKaroo since 2004. Due to a lack of space annual production is currently only three thousand bottles and the wine can be bought exclusively from the tasting room in their dining room.

2) Watch the sun set over the little Karoo

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On a clear day make sure that you drive to one of the nearby hills from where you will be able to enjoy the wonderful colours of a sunset over the little Karoo. Relax with a glass of local wine as you watch the horizon light up in the warm and bright colours of the last rays of the sun.

3) Browse the town's many antique and curio shops

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Take a leisurely stroll down the tree-lined Church street and browse through the many antique and curio shops as well as the local museum and tourist office. You are likely to find that interesting read or dusty antique you have been looking for and are bound to learn a few interesting fact about the history of the town and the area.

4) Visit the Bergwater vineyards

About 20km outside of Prince Albert on the road to Klaarstroom you will find the imposing wooden building of Bergwater estate as it lies in the beautiful Prince Albert Valley. This friendly winery is well worth a visit and you are likely to walk away with a few bottles of wine after a tasting session in their tasting room. The selection of white wine includes Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc while the reds include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a Merlot and Shiraz blend called Rendezvous.

5) Feast on some delicious Karoo lamb

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A visit to the little Karoo will not be complete until you have had a meal of delicious Karoo lamb. The special taste typical of lamb from this area comes from the Karoo bossie (scrub) that the animals graze on. You are likely to find rack of Karoo lamb on the menu of almost all the local restaurants. Accompanied by a glass of local red wine it is the perfect way to end your day.

Next time you are on your way to Cape Town do yourself a favour and take the turn off that says Prince Albert Road and find out for yourself why so many people return to this little town in the Karoo each year.

Posted by vedette 23:42 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

My favourite guesthouse

Boston, USA

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Having stayed in an abundance of different lodgings in all parts of the world over the last few years – some I would love to return to and others I could not leave fast enough - it takes a very special place to top my list of favourite guesthouse of them all. And a very special place it really is!

I was travelling through New England with a friend and we consulted the Rough Guide for places to stay in Boston a few days before arriving there. The Beech tree inn was recommended in the guide and a short and pleasant phone call later we were booked in for a few days.

It was late afternoon when we turned into the quiet tree-lined suburban street of Brookline and drove up to the quaint multi-story Victorian house with the lovely green garden and old shady corner tree. As we pulled into the driveway I couldn’t help but smile at a sign clearly aimed at preventing people from blocking the entrance to the driveway: “Don’t even think about parking here!”. Probably a lot more effective than your average no parking zone sign I thought. After parking in an ‘acceptable’ parking space at the back we entered the house and were welcomed by the wonderfully warm and friendly innkeeper Nancy, who immediately made us feel comfortable and at home.

While we were completing our check-in detail Nancy requested information of a friend or relative in our home countries that the guesthouse could contact in case of an emergency. I realised that never before has a guesthouse or hotel asked for this and I was impressed with this practical yet thoughtful gesture.

Nancy explained that the house used to be a commune for students until it was converted to a guest house. Knowing that we were new in town Nancy gave us a lot of very useful information and tips for our stay in Boston. This included how to use Boston’s public transportation system the T, how to get to the best local restaurants, and why unless you have tickets to the game, it is a very good idea to stay away from the nearby Fenway Park when the Red Sox are playing. This turned out to be very good advise as the world series was underway and a few nights later we heard that some Red Sox fans were turning over cars near Fenway park after they lost to the Yankees. The game was in New York City!

Our room was a lovely loft twin room on the top floor of the house. It was inviting and homely with many special touches that made it feel like more than just a guesthouse room. We were in a room without an en-suite but the bathroom was just across the hall and there was soft white fluffy bathrobes and slippers available for us in our room. Each room had a file containing lots of useful information about the area and Boston itself. There was also a video player in our room and an extensive video tape library was available for the use of guests in the downstairs area.

There was a wonderful continental breakfast available every day including fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals, bread and scones which you could enjoy in the dining area while catching up on the local news with the morning’s edition of the Boston Globe or New York Times. Loving flavoured coffees I was spoilt for choice and could choose from a selection of French Vanilla, Hazelnut and Irish Cream. After breakfast, before you rush off for the day you can get an up to date weather forecast, conveniently pinned up on the fridge to help you plan for either a park or museum day. Another lovely touch.

When we arrived back ‘home’ during the course of the day there were always tasty freshly baked biscuits that Nancy made during the course of the morning. Guests were invited to help themselves and the supply never seemed to end.

I have very fond memories of my time in Boston still today and I have no doubt that the Beech Tree Inn played some role in this. I realised there that the comfort and style of your accommodation can greatly influence your impression of a travel destination. I am sure that the Beech Tree Inn will continue to leave guests with wonderfully pleasant memories of Boston.

Posted by vedette 02:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Spoil your senses in magical Marrakech

Marrakech, Morocco

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Approximately 400 kilometres from the unforgiving Sahara desert and near the foothills of one of Africa’s most recognised mountain ranges, the Atlas, lies the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

Marrakech, known as the Red city because of the colour of the light reflecting off it’s pink shaded buildings, is the second largest city in Morocco with a population of just over one million. It is a city alive with vibrant culture and rich history, it has many peaceful gardens, lively souks and friendly people. But to me most of all this is a city of sight, sound and smell.

Exploring the old fortified city, the medina, on foot is ideal although the streets are noisy and chaotic and crossing the street is not for the fainthearted. You will contest for space with busses, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, donkey cars, donkeys, wheelbarrows and a number of other unidentified objects with wheels.

In the medina you will find the main square Djemaa El-Fna, which is overlooked by the bell tower of the famous Koutoubia mosque. By day Djemaa El-Fna is bustling with people weaving around one another and past bright fruit and juice stalls scattered across the square. The enchanting sounds of snake charmers’ flutes rise up from all corners of the square and it is impossible to escape the wonderfully rich smell of oriental spices as it drifts past. By night the square is magically transformed into a large open air food fare with bright lights and colourful food stalls.

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From one of the corners of the square a small street leads you into the labyrinth of alleys that is arguably the most popular souks of Morocco. The friendly shop owners will try to lure you closer in an attempt to sell you not only bright Moroccan lamps, local handmade carpets and kilims and exotic spices but also many things you would probably never consider buying. It is easy to see how, if you are not careful, you may walk away with something you have never heard of before wondering how you ever lived without it and starting to think of the best way to get it back home.

The city is littered with small squares set around sparkling water fountains and lined by bright little shops, cafes and bars overlooking the activity on the square. And it is from here that you should enjoy the breathtaking light as the sun sets over the red city, casting a silhouette of white ibises perched on top of the city walls while the call to prayer echoes through the early evening from a nearby mosque.

Posted by vedette 08:43 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

The most perfect bar in the world

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Location, location, location. Not just true for residential properties as we discovered on holiday in Croatia when we stumbled onto what I consider to be the most wonderfully located bar / cafe in the world. There truly can be no better location than on top of the rocks on the outside of the Dubrovnik city wall, overlooking the tiny island of Locrum and the deep blue water of the Aegean sea.

We made this wonderful discovery purely by chance. Strolling on the inside of the city wall we heard music but initially could not determine exactly where it was coming from. We followed the sound and discovered a few steps leading to a hole in the city wall. We stepped through the hole and was welcomed by the most wonderful sight.

People were sitting at tables scattered on various levels of smoothed rock, while they enjoyed their drinks, the sun and the music. There was a small bar area from where drinks were served and near the water’s edge quite a few sunbathers took full advantage of the hot sun before cooling of with a dip in the ocean.

There were no fancy cocktails and no real food, only beer, wine and a small selection of spirits. But the wonderful music, relaxed atmosphere, inspiring views and the most breathtaking sunset imaginable lured us back every late afternoon for the duration of our holiday.

Posted by vedette 11:26 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

The world's most dangerous road

La Paz to Coroico, Bolivia

Word of mouth and a whole lot of hype
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If you want to travel to the Amazon rainforest from La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, one of your options is to take the Yungas road to the town of Coroico. From Coroico you can then continue all the way to the small town of Rurrenabaque in the Amazon basin. This sounds simple enough, however the road between La Paz and Coroico is known to be the worlds most dangerous road. The majority of the road is gravel and it descents from 3 600m above sea leave to 1 100m over a distance of just more than 64 km. Many tourists do actually travel on this road every year, but they do it on bicycles!

We had heard a lot about this cycle trip before we came to Bolivia. Friends have done it before, we met several travellers that have either completed the trip or were on their way to do so, and it is mentioned in every available South American guidebook and travel website. So naturally we decided that this was definitely something we had to do as we will probably only get one chance in a lifetime.

So on a nippy March morning we joined a group of travellers and began the tour with a local tour operator in La Paz. Our trip started with an hour drive in a mini-van to La Cumbre, from where the cycle road officially starts. The tour operator guides gave us our bikes, helmets, vests and gloves and then tested our breaks and gave us some instructions on how to handle the bike in different situation along the road. When everyone was ready we set off.

I was very surprised and alarmed at the pace at which everyone sped off and it didn’t help that I could not recall when last I rode a bike. At least the first stretch of the road was tarred and had double lanes, two luxuries that would soon disappear as we head into the notorious gravel stretch of the road. The scenery was mind blowing though and helped to some extent to take my mind of the sheer drop close to the shoulder of the road.

I knew this was a bad idea
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It wasn’t long however until my suspicions were confirmed. Although this trip came highly recommended by several people and it seemed like a good idea when we booked it the day before, I quickly realised that this was actually an incredibly bad idea. Especially if you are terrified of heights. We were cycling very fast, the wind was blowing very strongly and I was terrified! I looked around at the other bikers though but no-one seemed to share my sentiment and they all look like they were having the time of their lives.

We cycled through a wet tunnel and then pushed our bikes through a police check point on the other side. After the checkpoint there were a few uphill sections which I actually preferred as I didn’t feel that my life was flashing before my eyes. Just before the last hill I was absolutely drained and our mini-van driver picked me up, put my bike on the roof rack and we drove to the next pit stop. This was the end of the tarred road and the rest of the journey would be gravel road.

At the pit stop one of our guides, an Australian adventure type, took my bike of the roof rack. I had one look at the dirt road ahead and the steep vertical drop at it’s side and told him: ‘Mate, you can put that bike right back, I am staying in the van.’ He looked puzzled and probably thought: ‘You mean you don’t want to scream down this narrow, muddy, slippery road which has no shoulder, no barrier, many hair-raising bends and vertical drops of more than 2000m, on a mountain bike?'

I must say that riding in a mini-van that just fits on the road wasn’t that much more pleasant either. But at least I wasn’t driving and the driver looked fairly relaxed and did this every day after all. That was all I could think to make myself feel better because there was no going back and I only had two options, the bike or the van.

Its not just to scare you
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You might think that this road’s reputation is hyped for tourism but there is no denying that this road is dangerous and claims the lives of a large number of people every year. As we drove I saw various grim reminders of the road’s undesired reputation. There were numerous memorials next to the side of the road for people who lost their lives in either a bus or bike accident. I could just make out the tiny specks that were wrecks of busses that have tragically plunged over the edge in the past.

We were told that just the week before a French girl on a bike stopped and stepped of her bike to let a truck pass. She made a fatal mistake however when she stepped off on the left side of her bike. The side that the edge was on. As she tried to move out of the way to let the truck pass she stepped to close to the edge, slipped and tragically fell over the edge. Our guides informed us of the golden rule off the road before we started: ‘ALWAYS step off on the right side of your bike to make sure that your bike is between you and the cliff at all times’.

I was a bit anxious when we approached the notorious ‘death corner’ but we passed it without incident. This is a blind corner on the single lane with a frightening drop to the left. Approaching this corner you have little chance of knowing if there is any traffic coming from the other way. As we approached death corner I saw a man with a red flag indicating that there was traffic approaching from the other side. This allowed us to move into a suitable position to let the other vehicle pass safely. Our driver explained that the men are all members of the same family from whom the road claimed several lives in an accident on that corner. They now voluntarily man the corner every day and probably save hundreds of lives in the process.

Relief!
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I stayed in the mini-van for the remainder of the trip as the road continued to snake and wind its way slowly down to the Amazon basin. The morning’s snow-covered mountain peaks were gone and instead we started to pass dense jungle, small waterfalls and the temperature and humidity started to rise significantly.

Finally, almost five hours after we started our journey in La Cumbre, we reached Coroico, where at an altitude of 1 100m our trip officially ended. The cyclists were all hot, sweaty and exhausted after the trip and we enjoyed a cold drink at a small café in town. I doubt that there was anyone in the group more relieved than myself that the ordeal was finally over. As everyone excitedly recalled the day’s events and talked about their desire to repeat the trip some day, I just smiled and quietly promised myself: ‘Never again!’

Posted by vedette 00:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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