Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Europe and South Africa - Amsterdam, Belgium, Cape Town, and Sabi Sands Game Reserve


Shots from Amsterdam and South Africa
Top: Canals in Amsterdam, Bottom left: Camps Bay in Cape Town, South Africa, Bottom right: Observing elephants while on safari near Kruger National Park, South Africa

You must be thinking... Hmmm, those countries don't go together. At all. Well, you're right. My husband Mike and I decided to go to South Africa for our honeymoon but since every flight from San Francisco to Cape Town routed through London or Amsterdam we decided to start off in Amsterdam. Besides, I love European cities and he wanted to see wild animals on safari so this was the perfect compromise. What better way to start off our marriage? :o)

We went in November 2013 so packing was a little challenging since it was winter in Amsterdam and Belgium and summer in South Africa. We went from cold and rainy 40F weather to sunny 85F in the span of a week!

Our itinerary:
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands - 3 days
  • Brussels, Belgium - 4 days (including a day trip to Bruges)
  • London, UK - 1 day (Unplanned detour - I wasn't allowed on our flight to South Africa because I didn't have enough blank pages in my passport so I had to visit the US Embassy in London!)
  • Cape Town, South Africa - 3 days
  • Sabi Sands (near Kruger National Park), South Africa - 3 days

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - 3.5 days
  • We visited the Holland Tourist Information booth at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to purchase a transit card good for metro rides for 72 hours (€16.50 per card). I'm a transit buff so I was excited to add the card to my transit card collection!
Transit card collection
Amsterday metro card added to my transit card collection
Top row L-R: Tokyo, London, Istanbul
2nd row L-R: Hong Kong, New York City, Paris
3rd row L-R: Chicago, Washington DC, Hong Kong
Bottom row L-R: Budapest, Boston, Amsterdam
  • Our friends Barb and Jim gave us a very generous wedding gift - they booked us at Hotel Pulitzer for our entire stay in Amsterdam. It was pure luxury, a total splurge! The location was unbeatable - in a quiet part of the city just a few blocks from the Anne Frank house. Reviews of Hotel Pulitzer on TripAdvisor.
Amsterdam - Night time stroll on our first night
Amsterdam - Night time stroll on our first night
  • We had our first meal in Amsterdam at Bistro Bij ons just a few doors down from Hotel Pulitzer. I ordered pea soup with Dutch bread and bacon (€6.50). The bacon looked completely different from bacon you'd find in the US. It looked raw but it was super soft and very flavorful. We also ordered tiny pancakes with butter and powdered sugar (€4.50) which were very light and seemed to melt in your mouth! Reviews of Bistro Bij ons on TripAdvisor.
Amsterdam - Pea soup with Dutch bread and bacon
Amsterdam - Pea soup with Dutch bread and bacon

Amsterdam - Tiny pancakes with butter and powdered sugar
Amsterdam - Tiny pancakes with butter and powdered sugar
  • We visited the Rijksmuseum (admission €15) to see Rembrandt's famous painting "Night Watch". It was enormous, taking up almost an entire wall in a massive hall. The painting has been vandalized on 3 separate occasions, most recently in 1990. In 1975 an unemployed school teacher attacked it with a butter knife, leaving it with large zig-zagged slashes. The painting was restored after four years but some of the damage is still visible up close (right by the dog in the painting).


Amsterdam - Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam - Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam - Night Watch being watched by patrons at the Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam - Night Watch being watched by Rijksmuseum patrons

Amsterdam - Close up of Rembrandt's Night Watch
Amsterdam - Close up of Rembrandt's Night Watch
Amsterdam - Walking tour took us through the Red Light District
Amsterdam - Walking tour took us through the Red Light District. It's not as interesting during the day. :o)

Amsterdam - Our tour guide shows us the smallest house in Amsterdam
Amsterdam - Our tour guide shows us the smallest house in Amsterdam

Amsterdam - Property tax is based on the footprint of the house
Amsterdam - Our guide explains that homeowners historically pay property tax based on just the footprint of the house. Homeowners pushed out the walls of their house to maximize space inside - notice how these houses widen at the top? The external walls protrude over their footprint and lean out!

Amsterdam - The narrowest house in the world is also found in Amsterdam
Amsterdam - The narrowest house in the world is also found in Amsterdam. This is actually the back of the house but the width of this facade only measures 1 meter, about 3 ft and 3 in.

Amsterdam - Canal near the Anne Frank House
Amsterdam - Canal near the Anne Frank House
  • We spent a few hours at the Anne Frank House (admission €9) - the secret annex where Anne Frank went into hiding. I've read that the lines could be an hour and a half long but there were no lines when we went.
Amsterdam - Anne Frank House - Entrance to the secret annex
Amsterdam - Anne Frank House - Entrance to the secret annex

Amsterdam - Beautiful canals
Amsterdam - Beautiful canals and bikes
  • The Jordaan neighborhood is known for its cafes and restaurants so one night we had dinner at a restaurant called Seasons. I had an amazing scallop appetizer but I'm sad to report my duck entree was only average. Reviews of Seasons Restaurant on TripAdvisor.
Amsterdam - Seasons Restaurant
Amsterdam - Seasons Restaurant - Scallops 3 ways: pesto, garlic, and pistachio

Amsterdam - Red Light District
Amsterdam - Red Light District

Amsterdam - Narrow streets of the Red Light District
Amsterdam - Narrow streets of the Red Light District

Amsterdam - Watch for small children crossing in the Red Light District
Amsterdam - I love this sign posted above this alley. Watch for small children crossing in the Red Light District. The guy at the far right was checking out the goods!

Amsterdam - It's hard not to look at the ladies in the Red Light District
Amsterdam - It's hard not to look at the ladies in the Red Light District

Amsterdam - Condom shop near the Red Light District
Amsterdam - Condom shop near the Red Light District

Amsterdam - Condom window display at the Condomerie shop near the Red Light District
Amsterdam - Condom window display at the Condomerie shop near the Red Light District
  • Several friends told us to visit Winkel 43 to have the "best apple pie in the world!" We came here twice and got brunch on our last full day in Amsterdam. Reviews of Winkel 43 on TripAdvisor.
Amsterdam - Quiche at Winkel 43
Amsterdam - Quiche at Winkel 43

Amsterdam - Granola with yogurt, apples, and honey at Winkel 43
Amsterdam - Granola with yogurt, apples, and honey at Winkel 43

Amsterdam - Winkel 43's famous apple pie and whipped cream
Amsterdam - Winkel 43's famous apple pie and whipped cream

Amsterdam - Bikes
Amsterdam - Bikes
  • We visited the Van Gogh Museum (admission €15), a short walk from the Rijksmuseum. The grounds around the area are really pretty.
Amsterdam - Van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background
Amsterdam - Van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background

Amsterdam - One of many of Van Gogh's self-portraits
Amsterdam - One of many of Van Gogh's self-portraits

Amsterdam - One of 3 versions of Van Gogh's Vincent's Bedroom in Arles
Amsterdam - One of 3 versions of Van Gogh's Vincent's Bedroom in Arles

Amsterdam -  I amsterdam letters located between Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam -  I amsterdam letters are between Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum

Amsterdam -  People love climbing on the I amsterdam letters
Amsterdam -  People love climbing on the I amsterdam letters

Brussels, Belgium - 4 days
  • We took a Thalys train from Amsterdam Centraal Station - Brussels Zuid (Gare du Midi). There were plenty of trains every day so we just bought a ticket the day of. The journey took about 1 hour and 40 minutes and it cost us €79 per ticket.
  • We stayed at The Dominican, located on a quiet street just a few minutes walk from Grand Place, the central square of Brussels. Reviews of The Dominican on TripAdvisor.
Brussels - Grand Place at night is gorgeous
Brussels - Grand Place at night is gorgeous

Brussels - Panoramic of Grand Place
Brussels - Panoramic of Grand Place captured on my iPhone. Not bad, right?
  • It was freezing in Brussels and I was dying for something warm and I was craving Asian food. We found a Korean restaurant near Grand Place - yum! I wanted to know what vegetables were served with the dish I was ordering but our waitress spoke limited English. She answered us in French (Belgium's official languages are Dutch, French, and German). Uh oh. Mike speaks French but he had a hard time understanding. Our waitress asked another waiter for help and I overheard her speak to him in Mandarin. I speak Mandarin! Language barrier solved. Who knew we'd come to a Dutch/French/German speaking country and end up using Mandarin? :o)
Brussels - Korean food
Brussels - Korean food served by a Mandarin-speaking Chinese wait staff :o)

Brussels - Mike loves waffles so we had get some... every night!
Brussels - Mike loves waffles so we had get some... every night! These Liege Waffles contain sugar crystals inside the batter for extra crunch and sweetness.

Brussels - Liege Waffles with various toppings
Brussels - Liege Waffles with various toppings. Also known as the "tourist waffle".

Brussels - Behind the counter
Brussels - This was Mike's second waffle of the night. The shop owner was very sweet and took a picture of us behind the counter. Check out those humongous tubs of Nutella!

When we got our second waffle the shop owner made an observation. I thought this was a cute exchange.

Shop owner: You're on your honeymoon, aren't you?
Mike: How'd you know?
Shop owner: You two are excited.
Me: Ha, that's nice! It's true.
Shop owner: She looks very happy and the gentleman looks tired.

Brussels - Manneken Pis
Brussels - Manneken Pis. For some reason everyone wants to see this little bronze statue of a little boy urinating. He has a wardrobe of over 900 outfits, some were gifts from visiting dignitaries of other countries. According to the official City of Brussels website, a city employee dresses Manneken Pis on 36 fixed dates - they have official ceremonies for this!

Brussels - There are tons of chocolate shops near Grand Place
Brussels - There are tons of chocolate shops near Grand Place

Brussels - Chocolate with hazelnut is sold by weight
Brussels - Chocolate with hazelnut is sold by weight

Brussels - Some of the chocolate looks too beautiful to eat
Brussels - Some of the chocolate looks too beautiful to eat

Brussels - More waffles and their toppings
Brussels - More waffles and their toppings

Brussels - Mike goes for waffle #2
Brussels - Mike goes for waffle #3

Brussels - Waffle with nutella
Brussels - Waffle with nutella

Brussels - I love checking out the snack aisle at the grocery stores
Brussels - I love checking out the snack aisle at grocery stores. Interesting potato chip flavors! I don't think we have these in the US.

Brussels - Guild houses in Grand Place
Brussels - Guild houses in Grand Place

Brussels - Grand Place looks so different during the day
Brussels - Grand Place looks so different during the day

Brussels - We took a chocolate tour and got to make our own chocolates
Brussels - We took a chocolate tour and got to make our own chocolates. The tour wasn't that good though it was highly rated on TripAdvisor. I think it comes down to the tour guide. :o(

Brussels - Making hazelnut filled pralines during the chocolate tour
Brussels - Making hazelnut filled pralines during the chocolate tour. In Belgium pralines is a term for chocolates with whipped and creamy centers.

Brussels - One of the chocolate houses we visited during our tour
Brussels - One of the chocolate houses we visited during our tour

Brussels - Posing with the city center in the background
Brussels - Posing with the city center in the background - the tour took us all over the city

Brussels - Our chocolate tour took us to famed Pierre Marcolini
Brussels - Our chocolate tour took us to famed Pierre Marcolini

Brussels - Chocolate selection at Pierre Marcolini
Brussels - Chocolate selection at Pierre Marcolini

Brussels - Earl Grey and Madagascar chocolates
Brussels - We sampled Earl Grey and Madagascar pralines at Pierre Marcolini

Brussels - Chocolate selection at Pierre Marcolini
Brussels - Chocolate selection at Pierre Marcolini

Brussels - Macarons at Pierre Marcolini
Brussels - Macarons at Pierre Marcolini

Brussels - Chocolate truffles
Brussels - Chocolate truffles

Brussels - Over 1000 different beers are brewed in Belgium
Brussels - Over 1000 different beers are brewed in Belgium, including Trappist beer, the only beer without a label (top center) - made by monks. The beer is also known as Heaven Pissing on your Tongue.

Brussels - Swing dancing at cafe/bar Monk
Brussels - Swing dancing at cafe/bar Monk. Mike and I met dancing so we always look for places to dance when we travel.

Brussels - Dinner at Bonsoir Clara
Brussels - Dinner at Bonsoir Clara. I thought the food was just okay for the price. Reviews of Bonsoir Clara on TripAdvisor.

Brussels - Post-dinner snack of frites!
Brussels - Post-dinner snack of frites!

Everyone raved about Belgian frites so we were excited to try them. We got toppings of mayo and curry ketchup but after I bit into my first fry, I said, "It tastes like... fries." Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe I'm just an a-hole. :o)

Brussels - Traditional Belgian waffle with powdered sugar
Brussels - Traditional Belgian waffle with powdered sugar at Le Falstaff, the oldest "Art Nouveau" cafe in Brussels. Reviews of this cafe on TripAdvisor were really bad. The service was pretty lacking and the waffle was average.
  • We took a 1 hour 15 minute train ride from Brussels Central Station to visit Bruges, the capital and largest city of the Flemish Region of Belgium. Our train ticket, including return was €27,60 per person. Bruges is beautiful and it's easy to walk around. I printed out a few pages from a Rick Steves travel book and visited one of the chocolate stores he mentioned, The Chocolate Line. They had really creative flavors, definitely worth a visit! Reviews of The Chocolate Line on TripAdvisor.
Bruges - The Chocolate Line
Bruges - The Chocolate Line

Bruges - Chocolate pills at The Chocolate Line
Bruges - The Chocolate Line sells Chocolate pills with memorable lines like - Never eat more pills than you can lift. I could give up chocolate but I'm not a quitter. Man can't survive on chocolate alone, but a woman can.

Bruges - Fried onion praline at The Chocolate Line
Bruges - Fried onion praline at The Chocolate Line. It was actually really good! Salty and sweet.

Bruges - Interesting flavors at The Chocolate Line
Bruges - Interesting flavors at The Chocolate Line - chili, wasabi, and pot!

Bruges - Super cute streets of Bruges
Bruges - Super cute streets of Bruges

Bruges - Super cute streets of Bruges
Bruges - Super cute streets of Bruges. It looked like something out of a movie.

Bruges - One of the bridges of Bruges
Bruges - One of the bridges of Bruges

Bruges - Seafood dinner in Bruges
Bruges - Seafood dinner in Bruges

London, UK - 1 day
  • We flew from Amsterdam - London (layover) - Cape Town, South Africa but we had an unplanned 30-hour delay in London. I was denied my connecting flight to South Africa because I had 3 blank visa squares on one page but I didn't have one blank page. I couldn't make an appointment at the US Embassy so I emailed them and told them I'm showing up the next day at 8:30am. I posted my dilemma on Facebook and a bunch of friends chimed in that I should just show up - it would probably work. One of my co-workers said he had an appointment in the morning so he might see me there.
  • When we got to the US Embassy there was already a loooonnnngggg line by 8am but it turns out it was for foreigners applying for visas to visit the US. Phew! I went to the other side and explained my situation. The lady at the gate told me they received my email and were expecting me!! Unbelievable, in a good way. I couldn't bring my phone in and Mike couldn't come with me so he just waited across the street at a hotel. The wait could be hours long; we had no idea.
  • Everything worked out amazingly well - I was in and out with 48 new pages within 90 minutes. I bumped into my co-worker Navin and we chatted for about 20 minutes while I waited for my passport to be processed. Great experience!
  • Our flight to Cape Town wasn't until 9pm so we had time to go sightseeing!
London - First stop, the StubHub! London office
London - First stop, the StubHub! London office to visit some of my co-workers who transferred there from San Francisco

London - I HAD to go to the London Transport Museum!
London - I HAD to go to the London Transport Museum!

London - I was in heaven!
London - I was in heaven!

London - London Transport Museum
London - London Transport Museum

London - We also caught a matinee of From Here to Eternity
London - We also caught a matinee of From Here to Eternity. Bought the tickets at TKTS London. Sorry StubHub!

London - Trying to stay dry in the freezing rain
London - Trying to stay dry in the freezing rain. Only a few more hours to go until summer weather in South Africa!

London - Streets of London
London - Streets of London

For our flight from London to Cape Town I upgraded our seats from economy to premium economy for £399 a person. At £798 that was over US$1000! I figured it was our honeymoon and we just went through a super long layover, why not? I turned out to be THE WORST DECISION. And let me tell you why. We were seated in the first row of the premium economy cabin which meant that we had less legroom than other seats. In fact, we were given these leg bolsters which we could put our legs on in the reclined position but when the seat was reclined I had even less room which meant I could never straighten out my legs. I laid there with my feet up hitting the wall and my legs bent. It was torturous! I'm only 5' 6" so I could only imagine what it was like for my 5' 11" husband. Poor guy. The food was unremarkable and I slept not a wink on our 12 hour flight. I should've saved ourselves US$1000 and stayed put in economy. NEVER AGAIN, VIRGIN ATLANTIC.

Cape Town, South Africa - 3 days
  • I had booked and planned everything for Amsterdam and Belgium and my friend Dave gave us the contact info for his travel agent in South Africa so Mike worked with her to take care of everything. All I knew was we had transportation, accommodations, and tours taken care of for the next week so we were on auto-pilot. We worked with Chantelle at Icon Expeditions, a division of Rhino Africa Safaris. Our itinerary was perfect! Reviews of Rhino Africa Safaris on TripAdvisor.
  • 1 stamp on my passport on entry (why did I need a full blank page again?)
  • When we arrived in Cape Town our driver took us to our hotel to check in and drop off our luggage. We headed directly to Robben Island for our first tour.
  • Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, 18 of those on Robben Island. We were given a tour by former prisoners. We visited Robben Island on November 21, 2013 - exactly two weeks before Nelson Mandela's death.
Cape Town - Poster in the ferry departure hall at the Robben Island Museum
Cape Town - Poster in the ferry departure hall at the Robben Island Museum

Robben Island - You can see Table Mountain in the distance
Robben Island - You can see Table Mountain in the distance

Robben Island - The limestone quarry
Robben Island - The limestone quarry where Nelson Mandela and other prisoners toiled every day, breaking limestone into piles of rocks. Prisoners had no protection from the incredibly intense sun and heat.

Robben Island - Our tour guide was a former inmate
Robben Island - Our tour guide was a former inmate

Robben Island - The crowd lines up to view Nelson Mandela's old prison cell
Robben Island - The crowd lines up to view Nelson Mandela's old prison cell

Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's old prison cell
Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's old prison cell

Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's old prison cell
Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's old prison cell

Robben Island - Prison courtyard next to Nelson Mandela's cell
Robben Island - Prison courtyard next to Nelson Mandela's cell

Cape Town - Cool directional arrow signs pointing to different destinations in the world
Cape Town - Cool directional arrow signs pointing to different destinations in the world. This is at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. San Francisco is the farthest away at 16,690 Km!
  • We stayed at a small boutique hotel The Cape Cadogan Hotel. We had an amazing room and breakfast (made to order) was included. The hotel was walking distance to some shops and restaurants but we had to take a taxi to the Waterfront. Reviews of The Cape Cadogan on TripAdvisor.
Cape Town - Sitting area of our suite
Cape Town - Sitting area of our suite

Cape Town - Bedroom area
Cape Town - Bedroom area

Cape Town - I loved this tub which was right in the middle of the room
Cape Town - I loved this tub which was right in the middle of the room
  • We booked a Shark Cage Diving Tour with Marine Dynamics. We were picked up by 6am so our hotel was kind enough to pack us a breakfast to enjoy on the road. We had about a 2 hour drive to Kleinbaai where Marine Dynamics launch their boats. We had breakfast at their headquarters and learned about the days events. Reviews of Marine Dynamics on TripAdvisor.
Kleinbaai - Our boat for the Cage Diving Tour
Kleinbaai - Our boat for the Cage Diving Tour - the cage is at the back of the boat and will be lowered and attached to the boat when we reach our destination

Kleinbaai - Getting suited up for our dive
Kleinbaai - Getting suited up for our dive

Kleinbaai - Watching the first divers climb into the cage
Kleinbaai - Watching the first divers climb into the cage. 8 people would get in at a time. You hold your breath and hang on tight! The water is FREEZING.

Kleinbaai - Another item off the bucket list!
Kleinbaai - Another item off the bucket list! I screamed under water and no one heard me. Got me a mouthful of sea water, is all. Surreal experience - we were so close to the sharks that all of us were tempted to reach out and touch them.

Kleinbaai - We survived cage diving
Kleinbaai - We survived cage diving

Kleinbaai - Watching the sharks circle from the safety of the deck
Kleinbaai - Watching the sharks circle from the safety of the deck

Kleinbaai - A shark taking the bait
Kleinbaai - A shark taking the bait

Kleinbaai - We saw fur seals on our way back to shore
Kleinbaai - We saw fur seals on our way back to shore
  • Even wearing a wetsuit the water was freezing cold. Mike couldn't even take pictures with his smartphone in a watertight case because his fingers were so cold. We were shivering and scared to death. It was probably a huge shock to our system. 
  • In hindsight, I would not recommend the cage diving tour because they chummed the water to attract sharks to our boat and used decoy penguin and seal cut outs to bring them closer to the cage. Sharks have bad eyesight so they navigate by smell. The chum probably confused them and I noticed at least one shark was bleeding, probably from ramming his head into the cage as he lunged for what he thought was a seal. I don't support swimming with dolphins so I don't why it didn't occur to me that this was also something I shouldn't support. Now I know and I won't make the same mistake again. I hope if you're reading this, you'll be a more responsible traveler than I was.
  • Mike wanted to go to The Test Kitchen for dinner and on a whim he asked our hotel to help us get a reservation. The Test Kitchen books up months in advance but luckily (for us) someone at our hotel wanted to cancel their reservation so we took theirs! We got back to the hotel after our shark tour and barely had time to rinse off before we left for dinner. Reviews of The Test Kitchen on TripAdvisor. We got the 5 course Discovery Menu which cost about 590 Rand / USD$57 per person.
Cape Town - Our evening started off with amuse-bouches
Cape Town - Our evening at The Test Kitchen started off with amuse-bouches from the kitchen. I can't remember what these are but they were dusted with gold flakes!

Cape Town - A view of the open kitchen
Cape Town - A view of the open kitchen

Cape Town - Another amuse-bouche
Cape Town - Another amuse-bouche

Cape Town - Ceviche
Cape Town - Course 1: Ceviche, lightly curried dressing, bbq carrots, ras el hanout honeycomb

Cape Town - Grilled scallop
Cape Town - Course 2: Grilled scallop, fine bean, tofu miso sake, braised scallop dressing, miso on toast, braised shitake, raw shitake

Cape Town - Pork belly
Cape Town - Course 3: Pork belly, parsley pressed apples, wild rosemary infused honey, blue cheese cream, crackling

Cape Town - A palate cleanser - citrus and apple sorbet
Cape Town - A palate cleanser - citrus and apple sorbet

Cape Town - Pausing between courses to take a photo
Cape Town - Pausing between courses to take a photo

Cape Town - Pan fried line fish
Cape Town - Course 4: Pan fried line fish, cauliflower and quail egg ravioli, charred spring onions and fennel salad

Cape Town - Assiette of chocolate
Cape Town - Course 5 (me): Assiette of chocolate, grilled white chocolate and cinnamon sponge, caramelia cremeux, guanja parfait

Cape Town - Rhubarb terrine
Cape Town - Course 5 (Mike): Rhubarb terrine, roasted strawberry butter, clotted cream, rose granite

Cape Town - Dessert amuse-bouches
Cape Town - Dessert amuse-bouches - chocolate covered honeycomb, truffles, more chocolate, and more gold flakes
  • On our last full day in Cape Town we took a Cape Point half day tour - we covered a ton of ground! But first, we had breakfast at our hotel.
Cape Town - The Cape Cadogan dining room
Cape Town - The Cape Cadogan dining room

Cape Town - The Cape Cadogan breakfast spread
Cape Town - The Cape Cadogan breakfast spread. We also ordered breakfast entrees.

Cape Town - Pure honey
Cape Town - Honey right from the honeycomb - I added some to my tea

Cape Point Tour - Camps Bay
Cape Point Tour - Camps Bay

Cape Point Tour - Camps Bay
Cape Point Tour - Camps Bay

Cape Point Tour - Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Cape Point Tour - Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Cape Point Tour - Penguins at Boulders Beach
Cape Point Tour - Penguins at Boulders Beach

Cape Point Tour - Penguins at Boulders Beach
Cape Point Tour - Penguins at Boulders Beach

Cape Point Tour - Penguins at Boulders Beach
Cape Point Tour - Penguins at Boulders Beach

Cape Point Tour - Boulders Beach
Cape Point Tour - Boulders Beach

Cape Point Tour - Baboons near Cape Point
Cape Point Tour - Baboons near Cape Point

Cape Point Tour - Climbing to the top of Cape Point
Cape Point Tour - Climbing to the top of Cape Point

Cape Point Tour - View at Cape Point
Cape Point Tour - View at Cape Point

Cape Point Tour - The wind was ridiculous at Cape Point
Cape Point Tour - The wind at Cape Point was ridiculous

Cape Point Tour - Cape Point
Cape Point Tour - Cape Point - Is my hair okay?

Cape Point Tour - Cape of Good Hope
Cape Point Tour - Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town - Heading up to Table Mountain
Cape Town - Heading up to Table Mountain

Cape Town - View from the gondola heading up to Table Mountain
Cape Town - View from the gondola heading up to Table Mountain

Cape Town - Heading up to Table Mountain
Cape Town - Heading up to Table Mountain

Cape Town - Clouds sit right on top of Table Mountain
Cape Town - Clouds sit right on top of Table Mountain

Cape Town - I'm so glad I had my jacket while we were on Table Mountain
Cape Town - I'm so glad I had my jacket while we were on Table Mountain

Cape Town - View from Table Mountain
Cape Town - View from Table Mountain

Cape Town - Very strong winds on Table Mountain
Cape Town - Very strong winds on Table Mountain

Cape Town - Views from Table Mountain
Cape Town - Views from Table Mountain

Cape Town - The photographer at work on Table Mountain
Cape Town - The photographer at work on Table Mountain

Cape Town - A glimpse of the shanty towns
Cape Town - A glimpse of the shanty towns on our way to the Cape Town Airport

Cape Town - A lot of people on our airport bus got a chuckle reading the slogan on this plane
Cape Town - A few people on our airport bus got a chuckle reading the slogan on this plane

Sabi Sands reserve (near Kruger National Park), South Africa - 3 days
  • We stayed at the Simbambili Game Lodge on the Sabi Sands Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. We had a huge suite with our own deck and plunge pool looking out to a nearby watering hole. We even had a separate living room (which we never used). All meals were included during our stay. Reviews of Simbambili Game Lodge on TripAdvisor.
  • We couldn't leave the lodge and venture out because (1) it was way too hot during the day, (2) there was really nowhere to go, and (3) you can't go wandering around on your own among wild animals. The schedule worked this way:
    • Morning game drive starting at 5:30am
    • Stop for coffee/tea at 8am and then back to the lodge
    • Breakfast at 8:30am
    • Nap until 2pm
    • Lunch at 2pm
    • Afternoon game drive starting at 4:30pm
    • Stop for a cocktail at 7pm and then back to the lodge
    • Dinner at 8pm
  • I joked to friends that seeing animals on safari was like ordering them online. Before each game drive we would tell our guide what animals we wanted to see. They either knew where the animals would hang out or they would radio other guides and find out where they were. Our tracker would also scan for animal tracks to locate them. Amazing.
Sabi Sands - Our suite at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our suite at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Our suite at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our suite at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Our bathroom at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our bathroom at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Our shower and soaking tub at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our shower and soaking tub at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Our deck and plunge pool at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our deck and plunge pool at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Our view of the watering hole from our plunge pool
Sabi Sands - Our view of the watering hole from our plunge pool

Sabi Sands - Our deck and private living room at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our deck and private living room at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Our private living room at Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - Our private living room at Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Heading out on our first game drive
Sabi Sands - Heading out on our first game drive with our guide Charles. Our tracker, his name was Service, sat on the hood of the car and well, looked for animal tracks.

Sabi Sands - Water buffalo
Sabi Sands - Water buffalo

Sabi Sands - Giraffe spotted!
Sabi Sands - Giraffe spotted!

Sabi Sands - Giraffe feasting on some tall trees
Sabi Sands - Giraffe feasting on some tall trees

Sabi Sands - A group of impala
Sabi Sands - A group of very skittish impala. Look at all the little babies!

Sabi Sands - A lioness rests and calls out to her cubs
Sabi Sands - A lioness rests and calls out to her cubs

Sabi Sands - This is how close we can get to the animals
Sabi Sands - This is how close we could get to the animals

Sabi Sands - Warthog
Sabi Sands - Warthog

Sabi Sands - Elephants and baby elephants
Sabi Sands - Elephants and baby elephants

Sabi Sands - The baby elephant is curious
Sabi Sands - The baby elephant is curious

Sabi Sands - The bull elephant gets between us to protect the baby
Sabi Sands - The bull elephant gets between us to protect the baby

Sabi Sands - The elephants move away

Sabi Sands - The bull elephant moves toward us so we drive off
Sabi Sands - The bull elephant moves toward us so we drive off. Male elephants experience a periodic condition called musth - they can exhibit highly aggressive behavior and experience a large rise in reproductive hormones. Notice the dark secretions discharged around the temporal ducts? It's called temporin and it's secreted when an elephant is in musth.

Sabi Sands - Young lions napping
Sabi Sands - Young lions napping
  • I feel really lucky capturing this next series of shots. We sat in the truck for a while and watched this young lion and and lioness. This young lion's brother had been killed by 2 other lions and our guide Charles felt soon he would be killed by those same lions. A lion's pride is a group consisting of mostly females and their young, and 2 or 3 territorial mates that are usually brothers or pride mates. Lions protect their pride's territory which could be up to 100 square miles. This young lion was in another lion's territory and Charles felt his days were numbered. He explained that the lioness had just given birth to cubs so she wasn't going to mate again but that didn't stop the lion from trying. Watch what happens when he does.







Sabi Sands - Some of these images stitched together
Sabi Sands - Some of these images stitched together

Sabi Sands - Service serving up cocktails before sunset
Sabi Sands - Service serving up cocktails before sunset

Sabi Sands - Dinner around a fire pit
Sabi Sands - Dinner around a fire pit

Sabi Sands - Shrimp appetizer
Sabi Sands - Shrimp appetizer

Sabi Sands - Game drive day 2: Leopard spotted in a tree
Sabi Sands - Morning game drive day 2: Leopard spotted in a tree

Sabi Sands - Another group joins us to watch the leopard
Sabi Sands - Another group joins us to watch the leopard

Sabi Sands - Charles patiently waits for us to snap pictures of the leopard
Sabi Sands - Charles patiently waits for us to snap pictures of the leopard. When guides spot animals they'll radio their location to guides at nearby game lodges.

Sabi Sands - The leopard is busy snoozing
Sabi Sands - The leopard is busy snoozing

Sabi Sands - Two loud vehicles circle the leopard and he's still sleeping
Sabi Sands - Two loud vehicles circle the leopard and he's still sleeping

Sabi Sands - Impala
Sabi Sands - Impala

Sabi Sands - Service serving coffee and tea during our morning game drive
Sabi Sands - Service serving coffee and tea during our morning game drive

Sabi Sands - L to R: Mike, Service, me, and Charles
Sabi Sands - L to R: Mike, Service, me, and Charles

Sabi Sands - Back in the car after our coffee break
Sabi Sands - Back in the car after our coffee break. Time to head back to the lodge for breakfast.

Sabi Sands - The front entrance of the Simbambili Game Lodge
Sabi Sands - The front entrance of the Simbambili Game Lodge

Sabi Sands - Breakfast spread
Sabi Sands - Breakfast spread. Entrees are made to order.

Sabi Sands - Drinks station
Sabi Sands - Drinks station

Sabi Sands - Open air lounge and dining area
Sabi Sands - Open air lounge and dining area

Sabi Sands - We have a view of the watering hole from the dining area
Sabi Sands - We have a view of the watering hole from the dining area 

Sabi Sands - Other side of the lounge
Sabi Sands - Other side of the lounge

Sabi Sands - Reading in bed after breakfast
Sabi Sands - Reading in bed after breakfast

Sabi Sands - Animals gather at the watering hole
Sabi Sands - Animals gather at the watering hole - this is the view from our deck

Sabi Sands - Mike takes pictures of animals gather at the watering hole
Sabi Sands - Mike takes pictures of animals gathering at the watering hole

Sabi Sands - Afternoon game drive day 2: Baby giraffe spotted!
Sabi Sands - Afternoon game drive day 2 with our new guide, Liam: Baby giraffe spotted. At birth they can measure 2 meters (6 ft 6 in)!

Sabi Sands - This kudu looked majestic
Sabi Sands - This kudu looked majestic

Sabi Sands - Service sits at the front of the vehicle shining a spotlight as we head back to the lodge

Sabi Sands - Service spots a chameleon in a tree
Sabi Sands - It's completely dark out and Service asks Liam to pull the car over. Liam walks over to a tree 50 meters away and comes back with this chameleon! I ask Service how he spotted the chameleon in a tree from a moving car. He said that the clump of "leaves" on the tree were a different color. What.

Sabi Sands - Fantasy suite
Sabi Sands - We come back from the game drive to find our suite beautifully decorated. We're having dinner served in our room this night! Mike said he felt like we were on The Bachelor and that we were in the fantasy suite.

Sabi Sands - Candles everywhere in the bathroom
Sabi Sands - Candles everywhere in the bathroom

Sabi Sands - A bath drawn and candles everywhere in the bathroom
Sabi Sands - A bath drawn and candles everywhere in the bathroom

Sabi Sands - A bath drawn and candles everywhere in the bathroom
Sabi Sands - A bath drawn and candles everywhere in the bathroom

Sabi Sands - Champagne to toast our honeymoon
Sabi Sands - Champagne to toast our honeymoon

Sabi Sands - Table set up for in-room dining
Sabi Sands - Table set up for in-room dining

Sabi Sands - In-room dining
Sabi Sands - In-room dining

Sabi Sands - We had a perfect evening until this jumping spider crashed our party!
Sabi Sands - We had a perfect evening until this jumping spider crashed our party! Look at the size of that thing!
  • Liam asked which animals we wanted to see and I asked for zebra. It was like we were shopping online for animals and our guide delivered!
Sabi Sands - Game drive day 3: Zebra spotted!
Sabi Sands - Afternoon game drive day 3: Zebra spotted!

Sabi Sands - Baby zebra
Sabi Sands - Baby zebra

Sabi Sands - We tracked a male leopard along a dry creek bed
Sabi Sands - We tracked a male leopard along a dry creek bed

Sabi Sands - The leopard stops to rest
Sabi Sands - The leopard stops to rest

Sabi Sands - The leopard takes off when he smells a hyena
Sabi Sands - The leopard takes off when he smells a hyena

Sabi Sands - The hyena sniffs around
Sabi Sands - The hyena sniffs around

Sabi Sands - We have to do some off-roading through bushes
Sabi Sands - We have to do some off-roading through bushes. Liam asks us to duck from thorny bushes.

Sabi Sands - We catch a leopard feeding on an impala in a tree
Sabi Sands - We catch a leopard feeding on an impala in a tree

Sabi Sands - Dinner on our last night
Sabi Sands - Dinner on our last night

Sabi Sands - Morning game drive day 4: Female leopard spotted
Sabi Sands - Morning game drive day 4: Female leopard spotted

Sabi Sands - Leopard on the move
Sabi Sands - Leopard on the move

Sabi Sands - She got really close to us
Sabi Sands - She got really close to us

Sabi Sands - We track her for a little bit
Sabi Sands - We track her for a little bit

Sabi Sands - Liam takes a look and brings his rifle with him
Sabi Sands - Liam takes a look and brings his rifle with him

Sabi Sands - Other guests wanted to see white rhino and Liam found some
Sabi Sands - Other guests wanted to see white rhino and Liam found some

Sabi Sands - This is a brother and sister pair of white rhinos
Sabi Sands - This is a brother and sister pair of white rhinos. The name white rhino might be misleading because they're actually black in color. You can recognize a white rhino by the square shape of its jaw - perfect for eating large clumps of grass.

Sabi Sands - We stopped for a coffee/tea break
Sabi Sands - We stopped for a coffee/tea break

Sabi Sands - Group photo
Sabi Sands - Group photo

Sabi Sands - Spotted another hyena
Sabi Sands - Spotted another hyena

Sabi Sands - A pile of napping warthogs!
Sabi Sands - A pile of napping warthogs!

Some residences on our way to Hoedspruit Airport
Some residences on our way to Hoedspruit Airport

Some residents on our way to Hoedspruit Airport

London - Layover in London means I get a proper English breakfast
London - Layover in London means I get a proper English breakfast

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing! I stumbled upon your post while contemplating lodging in Amsterdam (?Frommers, not sure where.) I've been thoroughly captivated for the past two hours. Though fortunate to see much of the world my last big adventure was a month on the Med seven years ago, and the wanderlust has kicked back in. Technolog has certainly changed how we approach life and is especially evident in my research of travel. My first backpacking trip to Europe was as a UC student in the 70's. Wishing you two many, many years of happy adventures together.

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    1. Thank you! I really appreciate you taking the time to read my post and adding a comment. Did you end up finding a place to stay in Amsterdam? Traveling is such a treat and I can't wait to plan our next trip. Totally agree - technology has totally changed how I do my travel research. Remember when you had to call to make a reservation for a hotel you found through the AAA guidebook? My first big trip to Europe was the summer after I graduated from UCLA! It was a great "sampler" course and I'm so happy to have returned a few times. Thanks for the warm wishes! I hope you have many fun travels ahead as well.

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  2. This trip report is even better than the Iceland one! Excellent pictures - you have really made a lot of effort to prepare this.

    We visited South Africa last year so it was nostalgic to read your report. We stayed inside Kruger at the rest camps for 8 days. We had our own car, so driving on our own and spotting animals was an incredible experience.

    Once again, great info and pictures Conny. Dig those chocolate pics in Belgium!!

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    1. Thank you again, Rainman! It's great getting feedback on these looonnnngggg posts that I write. Appreciate you taking the time to read and to comment!

      Wow, can't believe you drove on your own around Kruger. It must've been an unforgettable experience. That's on a whole other level.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read! Glad it brought back great memories.

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