Sunshine Coast : My Arrival

December 6, 2006

While I’ve theoretically been on holiday in Sydney since mid-October, I’ve been very busy with organising a job/flat/social life etc etc. I also started feeling guilty that it’s not everyday that I’ll have a month work-free and should really take advantage of the the chunk of time and do some travelling.

So I booked a flight to the Sunshine Coast for a couple of days, where I would be spending some time with my Contiki mate Jeff and just chilling out in the sun.

Tam dropped me at the airport at 7:30am and within minutes I had my boarding pass. I had booked my flight through Quantas’s budget airline – Jetstar and let me tell you, I’m pretty impressed. They were extremely efficent with the booking in procedure – they had different queues for different destinations. I spied some poor woman in front of me who was unpacking her bag on the floor to lighten her load and reduce her excess baggage fee. Thank goodness at 17kg, I didn’t get any hassles.

After a sushi brekkie (this place is sushi-lover’s heaven – it’s everywhere)and some Watermelon juice from Boost (I was pretty peeved as it cost $6 and it tasted somewhat off…but my flight was about to board so I had to abandon it), I boarded the plane.

The plane left at 9:20 and landed in Sunshine Coast at 9:50am. What!! Was it only a 30 minute flight? Well, apparently Queensland decided to be a little different from the other states and opted out of daylight saving so only in summer, there’s an hour difference between Sydney and Queensland. So the flight was in actual fact 1 hour and 30 mins (just in case you didn’t work that out already 🙂

When we landed, I looked to the right and there was greenery, I looked to the left and the sea was literally metres away. I immediately felt like I was on holiday.

The Sunshine Coast airport reminded me a bit like East London or PE airports – it was tiny and you walk straight into the arrivals hall which is open to the public and you collect your luggage from here. It was a bit overcast – so much for my impressions of the SUNSHINE coast.

Jeff and Lisa on the Sunshine CoastJeff picked me up and we headed to Marcus Beach, where he lives. I dropped off my stuff and we drove to the famous Noosa. We did a walk around the beach and then for lunch at Harbour Room on the Noosa River. I spotted at least a dozen holiday homes that I would be quite happy to invest in – pity they’re over a million or so.

There is a lovely high street with some quaint shops that I wouldn’t mind exploring for a while. But we were both pretty tired so we went back to Marcus Beach and just relaxed for the rest of the day


Winelands Wander: Tokara

September 30, 2006

Note: Click on each image to see a larger version of the pic.

After a lovely sweaty session of bikrum (hot-room) yoga, I meandered (in my car…which  BTW I’m trying to sell so if you’re looking for a magnificent Green Clio, then pls contact me  – thanks 🙂 ), anyway, as I was saying, I headed off to the beautiful wine valley of Stellenbosch.

I headed up Helshoogte Pass and turned into the elegant caramel-bricked Tokara Wine Estate (which is next to Thelema, which happens to be brother Nolan’s favourite winery).I met up with Van and Karen (who both had aching heads and drenched livers from last night’s fun-filled imbibing…Van kept on begging Dr Karen for another myprodol – I who had a pretty alcohol – free night except for the sherry and shabbat wine found it all quite hilarious).

We first did some wine tasting. We tried the whole range of Tokara wines as well as the more affordable variety – Zondernaam (which I assume means “without a name” in Dutch…now, wasn’t that impressive translation).


My fave was the Zondernaam Sauvignon Blanc (I think it was a ’93). It also happened to be Van’s pick as well, and she showed it by buying a case. Guess who I will be visiting often in the next few weeks.The Tokara Red 2004 was rich and velvety – the smoothest of the reds according to my palate. Karen bought one of these as well as a selection of other wines. Hmm, I may have to visit her too very soon as well.

We knew that they also had a place called the olive shed on the premises and when we asked the wine pourer behind the counter, she pointed to somewhere in the vicinity of the window. Van asks: “How far is it?”, Lisa asks: “Can we walk?”. The wine pourer looks at us like we’re crazy and then we see why. She was actually pointing to the end of the counter where there was a display of olive oils and olives. Ohhhhhh, we were in the olive shed already. hehe

We had a taste of the olive oil – it would have been vastly improved if we had some bread to dip into the oil – and also chewed on 2 different varieties of olives. I bought a Mission bottle of olive oil (R20 for 250ml) for my mom.

We then desperately needed to have some lunch to soak up the wine, olive oil and paracetemol (in Van’s case).

The menu in the Tokara restaurant is a little small in my opinion. Starters were way overpriced, with many hovering around the 90 buck mark – ouch.

Mains were priced average to high with the top cost being the fillet at R120. I wasn’t blown away by the selection and since I didn’t feel like anything heavy, I went for the kingklip, with green fig balsamic, (rich, tasty sauce)  honey caramelised nuts (there were 4 whole nuts on the plate) and curry oil (it was a groovy lumo green/yellow hue). The dish was R95 and perhaps the portion was slightly too small for my liking. So you’re probably gathering that I wasn’t blown away by the food, even though it was tasty.

The bread was delish and very moreish. My two dining companions opted for the seafood pasta which they reported to be very very scrumptious.

We skipped desserts – they sounded good though. (they were priced around the R40 mark). And sadly, there were no peppermints in the bill (I had to go home and have fruit liquorice allsorts – without the liquorice – to get my after-meal sugar kick).

Oh, we also shared a bottle of Zondernaam Chenin Blanc, which was nice (“a bit too butterscotchy”, said Van) – well-priced at R80.

The views from the dining area are awesome and it would be really special to sit on the covered patio on a Cape Town summer’s day.

The only thing left was to tackle the drive back to the suburbs without meeting a passing policeman on the way. (I probably only had 2 glasses of wine altogether but remember, I’m short).

Till next time, cheers.

Bruges…venice of the North

September 5, 2006

Bruges is a brief hour train ride from Brussels and after our last bad experience with the thieving cab drivers in Brussels, we decided to slum it and take the bus and then walk the few minutes to our hotel. The Hotel (St Nicolas) was situated a few steps from the main square (Markt) and was really quaint and very bright and sunny. We had a lovely view of the one of the main church steeples from our large window.

The first thing we did was climb the 300 or so stairs to the top of the main bell tower in the square. The tower is pretty similar to Notre Damme in Paris with the same winding stair case (not good for claustrophobes) and the gothis style architecture. The view from the top was well worth the upward slog. It gave us a great overall orientation of the city.

After a gourmet meal of traditional Belgium waffle from a pavement cafe and frites (hot chips) and mayo from a little stall, we took a traditional horse and carriage ride through the cobble-stoned town. It was really a charming way to view the town and if you ignored trhe souvenier shops and the thousands of tourists, I could almost imagine what it was like clip-clopping through the streets 300 years ago.

We then did a major walk through the different streets, exploring some of the trendy shops and then ended the night with movies at the local cinema behind our hotel. We saw United 93…we were both pretty shattered after the experience. The movie was in one of those old cinemas (similar to His Majesties or the Odeon in Grahamstown) but there was no popcorn…so I was forced to resort to munching on ice-cream (I don’t think you can bring ice-cream into SA movies).

The next morning, we took a boat trip through the canals….which was one of my highlights. It really was similar to the journey through Venice waters minus the arrogant gondala punters. We passed through some scaringly low bridges – I swear I (as in 5 foot ME) had to duck….I would hate to know what happens to the poor heads of other less vertically challenged people.

We then took a walk along the river and visited the beautiful windmills situated near the banks of the river…what a wonderfully relaxing way to spend an afternoon. I weas even tempted to rent a bicycle and ride along the river path…I think I may forgotten my hellish Netherlands cycle experience already.

We spent the remiander of the day buying chocolates. We stumbled upon the ultimate choc shop in Belgium ….Van Oost, where we actually met the chocolatier, Mr Van Oost. The lovely man took us down into his treasured choc laboratory and showed us the delicious science behind making the most mouthwatering treat in the world. Of course, we also got to taste along the way.

Choc-full (hehe) of chocolate, chips, fruit beer (cherry flavour called kriek…if all beer was like this, I think I could actually become a beer drinker) and waffles, we took a train back to Brussels and then the Eurostar back to London.

Belgium: Brussels Choc, choc and more choc

August 31, 2006

I now wake up and have to think where I am in the world…I have now been travelling for about 5 weeks now and it has been truelly amazing. I am loving all these adventures. Each trip has been very unique and so special. The countries are becoming a little bit enmeshed within eachother but I’m trying to savour each moment!

After Cinque Terre (if you haven’t read all about Mich and my trip to CT, you need to do that NOW!!!), I stayed with Mich on Sunday and Mon nite ( we had the most delish homecooked dinner – fig and rocket salad is the best) and then Tues morn, Mich and I took a tube into town. Can you believe, that that was the day that the train people decided to strike so George had to drop us at the tube station rather than us taking a train.

I got out at6 WAterloo and boarded the Eurostar to Brussels. What a pleasure…no popping ears, use of cellphones throughout, quiet, effecient and speedy – what a way to travel!! Within 2 hours, I had arrived in Bruxelles Midi. I met Eric at the station and we got conned by an evil taxi driver who charged us 26 Euros for taking us a block or two (he definitely went a round about route). Our hotel – St Nicolas – was very central – not exactly the Hilton but at 65 Euro a night, you can’t really go wrong. The only problem was that the one window was halfway up the wall so there was only a tiny slither of light and fresh air coming into the room.

The most amazing thing was that Lara Nicolson lived in Belgium for 3 years and then her and her hubbie, Roger, moved to the US. I was most upset that I never got to experience their professional tour guiding in Belgium. BUT…as it happened, Lara, Roger and there gorgeous little girl Erin, happened to be holidaying in Belgium at the same time we were there!! So Lara met us at the hotel and she took us around the city (started off with frites (chips) at a traditional Belgium pub), Grande Place, Royal Gallery shops, Mannekin Pis (the little weeing boy statue which is pretty tiny) and the SAublon area with the most yummiest choc shop – Pierre Marconi.

Talking about choc shops, I am amazed how many chocolate boutiques there are here….I am in heaven. Can you believe, that I may actually be chocolated out after 3 days of Belgium choc (Shock, horror, can it be possible!!!). There are some of the well known choc houses like Godiva and the ones I haven’t heard of – Neuhas, Leonides and tons of others. We’ve tried many pralines in shapes of mice, Egyptian mummies, shells and flowers.  The drak choc here is very yum.

Other gourmet specialities include really yummy waffles ( we got our best one from a waffle caravan), hot chips with mayo and fruit beer (I tried cherry flavour called Kriek). Belgium beer is plentiful and you get a glass branded with the beer that you ordered. We past a pub which boasted serving over 100 Belgium  beer varieties…there glass collection must be amazing.

In the night we tried a Moroccan restaurant recommended by Lara..called Casbah – very sultry decor and good food (tagines and couscous).

The next morning, we took an hop on- hop off bus and got off at the atomian…which is this giant structure made up of 9 silver atom things joined together. It was built for the 1958 world fair and they only have just reconstructed it. You can visit 5 out of the 9 atoms…with the one being reserved for private functions and another for school kid sleepovers (I was keen).We then took a high speed lift to the top atom where we had a snack with a great view over Brussels.

We then took the bus back to town and we treated ourselves to a rich hot choc and a luscious choc cake. We also walked around the shopping areas and went into one or twi stores to take a closer look.

The Belgium people are generally pretty friendly and all seem to speak English (a relief after Italy)…..

Next episode….Bruges

Cinque Terre – what we actually got up to (Part II)

August 31, 2006

Thank goodness, there are some good opportunities to exercise after all those Italian carbs. Just to put things in perspective, the names of the towns are (in order from West to East): Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riogomarre.

The first thing we did was put a Cinque Terre pass for 3 days (which gives you permits to do all the walks and ride the trains) for 13 Euro. We then took a train to Corniglia, only to discover we had to climb something like 300 (yip, that’s THREE HUNDRED STEPS) to the top of the town (hectic!!!). We were rewarded with a drink at the top and had a quick walk around. All the houses are pastel-coloured in pinks, greens and blues and clustered together..a little shabby from the outside but very quaint and villagey.

We then took a stroll for 50 minutes and arrived at Manarola…our least favourite town (probably because we felt kinda ripped off by our 40 Euro lunch). We then continued along the Passage of Love (a tunnel with graffiti all over it…not very romantic really) to Riogomarre. A very lovely town with the same coloured houses, cute shops, tasty foccacia outlets and a beautiful harbour area. Along the way, we found some incredible places to swim…unfortunately we didn’t bring our costume that day and when we went back the next day, the sea was very rough.

The next day, we did the hour and a half hike from Monterosso to Vernaza. Now, we’re talking…this was more like those pasta-busting walks I was after. There must have been a billion steps. Everytime we thought it had ended, a new flight rose above us…Michelle moaned ALOT!!! But we got throught it and what a sense of achievement.

The final hike from Vernanza, I did by myself as Mich wasn’t feeling too well. It turned out to be the toughest with at least a TRILLION stairs. Everyone else must have known something I didn’t as they all seemed to be coming towards me from the opposite direction…hmmm. There were some tricky and narrow passages with hectic cliffs just a bad footing away…scary. But I was brave and I made it to Corniglia pretty unscathed.

Besides the walking, we also chilled by the beach (the guide book says Monterosso has the only sand beach in the area but it was more ground up pebbles than Camps Bay powder), went shopping (T-shirts, jewelry, sun hats etc) and ate (see previous entry).

Just below our hotel, was an entertainment square and each nite, they had a different form of show – a show band one night, a really badddd rock band the next nite, tango dancing and a children’s show on our last night. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing and music blaring down below.

It was sun for 5 days solid and it’s a place where real Italians go for holidays – as authentic as you get. I had time to bond with my very special friend and all in all it was a fabulous, relaxing holiday. The trip back was a but frustrating as we couldn’t get onto the later train and landed waiting at Milan airport for 5 days. By the time George (Mich’s darling man) picked us up from Stansted at midnight, we were shattered!! But would I do it all over again????? Oh yes, tomorrow!!!!!!!!

Cinque Terre…..sunny beach holiday

August 31, 2006

After 16 days of pure partying on Contiki, a fair share of drinking and latttte nights, I really needed to just relax. Thank Goodness 5 days in the Italian sun was just around the corner. Michelle and I flew to Milan (after a rather nightmarish check-in procedure at Stansted…no liquids, no lip balm, no nothing!!), took a shuttle to the station and then a 3 hour train ride to Monterosso in Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 quaint villages connected by hiking routes of various lengths as well as rail and car links. Cinque Terre (shortened to CT to make it easier for me to type) is situated on the North West Coast of Italy (embaressingly Mich and I only found that out where CT is situated after she arrived back at work and looked at a map).

We stayed at the  most hip ‘n happening of the towns.. in the most perfect hotel. It was called Hotel Paschal – a family-owned joint – which was right on the beach. We stayed on the top floor – which happened to be on the 6th floor. My only gripe was that the lift was apparently not very stable and we were discouraged quite strongly not to use it. That brekkie climb up 6 gynormous sets of stairs was particularly harsh.
Mich’s big gripe was Italian service. There were many a time where I had to physically hold her back from punching the lights out from some Italian service provider (well service in a very loose sense). The problem seemed to be that as soon as the restaurant owner discovered we were tourists (it didn’t take long), any kind of service levels dissolved into nothingness.

Food was all Italian. We discovered soon enough that the Italians are in love with Italian food. Just imagine having only South African restaurants in South Africa? It would get a bit monotonous eating boerie and bobtie everytime we went out for dinner. Well, here it was pizza, pasta and more pizza and pasta. Oh, and let me not forget the gellato. OK, I sound ungrateful here. I am not complaining. The ice-cream was yum (my fave flavour was melon and banana; Mich went for the more traditional pistachio and choc).

If you like seafood, you will love it here…it’s not cheap but every second restaurant was selling a variety of shellfish hotpots (Van, apparently you would have gone crazy for this!!). I stuck to the pasta with excellent pesto, we had a delish spag napolitana one night (what is it about Italian tomatoes that make them soo incredibly delish). We also discovered that Italians all have good figures because all their pizzas have thin crusts and very little cheese and toppings. One night, we had a pizza hut style pizza (a bit sacriligous to have here, we knew) and I could only eat 3 quarters. A few nights later, I polished off a traditional thin base no problemo.

Alcohol wise, we had many glasses of Italian champagne (brusecca, I think it’s called), Italian dessert wine accompanied by biscotti and the locale Cinque Terre wine. This often came with bowls of olives and these divine fresh caper- things.

Still to come…what we actually did

Contiki Day 3,4,5,6,7: Party

August 15, 2006

I guess it’s a good sign that I haven’t been writing in my blog – wayyyy too much of a party. In fact, it’s up there as one of the most fab holidays. Since I’ve written, we’ve done the Amersterdam sex show (that needs an entry in itself), St Goar, Switzerland and snow tobogganing, Austria and four days in Italy. It’s been action packed with lots of sight seeing during the day and some partying at night.

The 30 ozzies are clearly the bad drinking influence (eeek, is this what I am moving too 🙂 ) but they are such a fun group of people and I’ve met some great mates that I will hopefully catch up with in Sydney.

We’ve had a couple of interesting injuries – a blister which was treated with a plaster cast, a dislocated shoulder, and 3 people that left early for numerous reasons…
We’ve also had about 60% spluttering and coughing on the bus but thank goodness have stayed pretty healthy.

We’re in Florence tonight and are doing a Tuscan Hills dinner followed by a boogie at the Space Disco – apparently 5 other contiki tours will be with us…should be an interesting evening.

To Nice tomorrow for 2 nights – apparently that’s the relaxing part…definitely need it after 4 days of Venice and Rome (very hot!!!)

Munched on lots of delish pizza and pasta and yummy gelato – my lemon gelato almost bit through my tongue but was yum.

Anyway, had a glass of wine in the heat so my head is a little fuzzy so better end off now…will try and give more details next time..