More relaxation at Montusi

Right after I wrote my previous post, the skies became really dark and thick with clouds.
We hoped it would just be an omen to the upcoming rains in the Spring, but during dinner it became serious: it started to rain.

Luckily, it was just a short shower and not the torrential rains of Spring, so all was well after dinner. However, it did mean that the skies were overcast and the awsome sight of the milky way and the lovely star speckled skies were gone.

This morning, we started off with a very dutch overcast skie, where several shades of grey were to be seen. As we had some things planned for the day, we were hoping the sun would burn the clouds away.
It took some time, but luckily the sun did burn the sky open and blue was clearly visible right around 11AM. At that time, we were nearly halfway our walk up Mount Montusi, and things heated up fast from there.

The hike up the hill is spectacular and pretty steep. We even visited a local cave where San bushmen left their paintings on the walls.

Right after returning to our cabin, we set out for a horseride through the same terrain as we were walking before. I can tell you now that being on the back of the horse it is far less straining to go up a hill as the horse is doing all the hard work!
The most memorable parts of the ride are two things: 1. I did not bring a camera, nor did I bring my phone with me. 2. We saw a huge flock of deer called Eland!
Being the biggest type of deer it is quite a sight to see. And to see an endangered rare animal living in a healthy group is just lovely!

Tomorrow we are going to travel to the next lodge. Again driving on the potholed roads and avoiding any breakage of the car. We will manage though!

Greetings from SA!

Yet some more posts in the category Holiday 2012. Where has the guy gone this time, you might ask.

The answer is easy. South Africa!
Equipped with two cameras, a bunch of lenses and too many memory cards we are in for a three week fest on the other end of the world.
Quite literally the other end, as winter still reigns over here. But with 25 degrees as highs, it feels quite different from the winters back home.

We started the journey on Monday and got in the plane around 9. We exited the plane roughly 12 hours later. As it was pitch black outside by then we didn’t get to see anything outside of the hotel transfer van and the hotel room itself. Welcome to Johannesburg!

After the cold night our car was delivered to us. The car we rented for three weeks which was to bring us everywhere we wanted.
Being a Daihatsu Terios, it has permanent four wheel drive and has been of great value already!

The roads from Johannesburg to the Drakensbergen are good if you only count the toll roads. The rest is, well, pretty rough. And that is quite the understatement.

Arriving at Montusi Mountain Lodge we are shaken but not stirred from the bumpy ride through the mountains. But we are welcomed by the most luxurious and comfortable place you’d imagine. With 20 houses, the place is pretty small but big enough to have all the amenities necessary.
And, everything is included or available.

On Wednesday we started off with a lovely breakfast while overlooking the mountains. After this, we met up with our Zulu guide and went for a hike out on the property of the lodge. At over 1000 acres, it is big. Cedric led us through the veldt and showed us some wild animals, including something he called an Eland. We are still quite unsure what it is exactly, but it has hooves and it quite tall.

Tomorrow some more hiking, and perhaps some more outdoor activity, but we’ll see what happens. This place is pure relaxation!

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Tying up loose ends

As this is our last full day in Las Vegas, we wanted to use it to tie up the loose ends. Or, so to say, we wanted to do the things we did not get to do in the past few days.

First off, there were a few hotels we didn’t visit yet, like the Monte Carlo Hotel. Even though this hotel has grandeur all around on the outside, the inside is a little less grand. It isn’t ugly, but it is less nice than the outside suggests. I don’t know why, but it is just the feeling we had strolling through the areas available to the general public.
As today is again a really hot day, being inside does count.

Even though it is quite early in the day, we just had to get on the roller coaster at the New York New York Hotel. However bumpy, it actually is a good ride! With really tight turns and a good amount of speed it makes for an interesting roller coaster, yet it is, like all things in Las Vegas, a little expensive. The coaster runs on the patio of New York New York, and the start/finish is inside an arcade hall. Good fun!

As Las Vegas has not always been this big, and all the fun has not always been centred on The Strip, we took a trip to Fremont Street. That is where the old city centre is located and where he olde Hotels and Casinos like the Gold Nugget are. As things have to get more interesting as they are situated further from the Strip nowadays, they have put a massive roof riddled with LEDs over the full length of 2 blocks. At night, these are lit and they even have shows!
As we arrived at Fremont somewhere in the afternoon we agreed to go back and see for ourselves how it looks in the dark.

That meant we had some time to kill. As we are in Las Vegas, there always is something to do. We chose to relax and go see the pool. Just chilling with everybody hip and happening at the Bellagio. I can only say it is lovely!

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More Vegas is more Vegas

After nearly completing our south trip of the Las Vegas Strip yesterday, we decided today was going to be the day of us touring the northern part of The Strip.

The Strip actually is really long but has no official boundaries. It is however said to run roughly between the Stratosphere Hotel on the northern edge and the Las Vegas Sign on the southern edge. Yesterday, we only went to the last hotel on the Strip, Mandalay Bay. The Sign actually is a little while further down south.
Today, we will not make it all the way up to the Stratosphere, as we planned to travel only to the Wynn and Encore Hotels. From there, the Stratosphere is still quite a distance away.

Without going into too much details it is safe to say that every single hotel we have been to is really beautiful and really big! Also, they all have excellent air conditioning which comes in handy when temperatures outside start reaching 40 degrees Celsius. Especially when the sun is out and the wind has picked up a bit.

Tonight was a little bit of a special night for me, as it was the night my birthday present was to happen. Yay!
This meant we had to go to the Rio Hotel to see a show by Penn & Teller!
As I was pretty sure I wanted to go to their show, I kind of dragged Kirsten along with me. But luckily, she found the magic show to be really good, just like me.
So here’s another tip: when in Las Vegas, go see a show by Penn & Teller!

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Viva Las Vegas!

After sleeping in to get over the previous day, we headed off for our first full day at Sin City. And what a day it was going to be.

We booked tickets for a show of Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand hotel, and we were supposed to pick them up at the box office there. As we intend to get a good look at every hotel on the strip this year, we figured today was a good day to view the Strip south of our hotel. With some really major hotels situated just south of us, it was going to be a packed day!

First off, directly adjacent to the Bellagio, there is the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Virtually brand new, it is a really stylish hotel. We did not like it though. It just lacks a lot, and we did not pay much attention to it. Next up: Aria. With really pretty shops just in front of it, Aria is also pretty new and marvellously built and decorated. This is how all shopping malls and hotels should look like!

After that, there is of course the Monte Carlo Hotel. Built based off of the original hotel at Monte Carlo, it is really nice, baroque and romantic. We did not take a look inside as we were in a hurry to get to our tickets. Next time!

Next to the Monte Carlo lies New York – New York, with the Brooklyn Bridge in front of it and both the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building towering over it, this hotel is mimicking the skyline of our previous destination. Inside, it is not as grand as outside. Just like many others, you go straight from the pavement into the casino and it lacks much of the ambiance other hotels have. It is not bad, but not the best. The ride is lovely though! It is definitely on my todo list!

Across the street, the MGM Grand is situated. Currently under a major overhaul it has temporarily lost a lost of its grandeur, but you can still see what it used to be. Let’s hope it will come out better than before! Oh, and the lion exhibit is unfortunately closed for now.
This is where we got our tickets, and will be returning to that night.

Going back across the street we continued our journey south. Encountering familiar grounds with Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay, we travelled through all of them as they are all linked together. With temperatures searing it feels good to be inside. Outside is no joke, I can tell you that!

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Crossing the country

There always is a time of coming and a time of going. I have no idea whether there is a saying in English anything like that, but in Dutch there is. What I’m trying to say here, is that all good things come to an end, and so is our stay at Niagara Falls.

This means we have to go back from Canada to the US, and return our rental car. It also means we have to drive through the US Customs, go back to Buffalo and deal with the situation of getting into a plane, and reaching a 45 minute transfer in time. Also, reaching the hotel from the airport is among the things we have to accomplish today.
It’ll probably work out just fine! But for now, a little stress is setting in.

First things first. Our flight leaves Buffalo at 6. Our car has to be returned at 3. This means we have a large chunk of the day for ourselves. What will you be doing when in Niagara Falls? Right. Go to the Falls.
Just the Canadian side this time, as we did not want to go through the hassle of crossing the border twice a day!

After getting into the car and driving to Buffalo, everything actually went pretty smooth!
We made it to our flight, we connected on to the next flight in Boston without any issues and the journey from McCarran airport to the hotel was a breeze thanks to a shuttle service. Unfortunately not a courtesy shuttle, but that was ok. We are not the big spenders anyway.

And there we have it. A little past 12am and we are here. In our room. At the Bellagio.

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Spending the day at the Falls

Being very close to the border of the USA, Niagara Falls and the Niagara River actually are the border between the two countries. this meant, we travelled on foot from Canada to the USA to go see the falls from the USA-side as we heard this was a nice view as well.

And it was!

It is safe to say though that the Canadians have the best view, but the Americans have the most thrills. You can walk in the mist of one of the smaller falls at water level, there are multiple other attractions and there is of course the boatride from the shore to the Horseshoe falls. Which gets your pretty wet.

Passing the border on foot actually is really easy. The border officials and TSA security personnel at the USA/Canada border are really friendly and upbeat. Going through the gates was not as bad an experience as the same people on an airport are. If you must cross into the USA: do it on foot! It is a much more pleasant experience. 🙂

We just went back to the USA as the sun was over on that side in the morning, making for better views of the falls as we were not facing the sun with our camera. Of course, we are dependent of the sun with our cameras and went back to Canada as the sun progressed through the sky.

Horseshoe Falls are the biggest of the two falls which make up the Niagara Falls. The other is also known as American Falls. The border is in Horseshoe Falls.
Due to some reason unknown to us, today (Sunday) there are fireworks planned over the falls! That is just our luck! How awesome is that! While the Falls themselves are illuminated from the Canadian side, an amazing display of fireworks is about to be displayed. And we are there to witness it.

Niagara Falls is a really touristic place. The canadian side is littered with highrise hotels and even a few really tall (revolving!) restaurants and hotels.If you are able to see through it all, there’s even a really gorgeous set of falls on display. They must really be one of the great scenic natural features of the northern part of the American continent.
If you are in the vicinity, go there!

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Heading to Canada

Today was a particularly long day, which mostly consisted of waiting. And then some.
First of all, we had to get from our hotel to 42nd street, where our bus to Newark Airport was destined to leave. This meant we had to travel with a subway train (6) to Grand Central Station.
We got off the subway and waited a little bit for the bus to leave to Newark.

Our tickets said that the flight was being carried out by United Airlines Express, which meant we had to Get off the bus and check our bags at terminal A. Unfortunately, this was not the case. As we found out a little while later after we checked our bags.
So, we were off to go to terminal C.
The only problem was that the Airtrain which rides between the three terminals at Newark was not running at all. And you cannot walk from A to C. Bummer.
Eventually, we persuaded a bus driver from a hotel to take us from A to C. We owe this guy a big thank you!

During every step above, we waited. And did some more waiting. It was quite the process.
Arriving at terminal C, we went through security (taking off our belts, shoes and getting virtually every device out of their bags and pockets) and went for breakfast. We were quite hungry by then!

After settling in at gate 95X we waited for about 75 minutes only to find out the plane did not leave it’s previous destination yet! So we waited for more than over an hour extra. Finally, around 1:45PM we left Newark. We left our hotel at 8:30AM.

There were some bright sides to this story. We travelled through the air for about 1 hour in a Dash-300 TurboProp plane! That is quite something else compared to all the jet planes!
The pickup of our rental car also was easy fast and a nice experience as we did not get the car we ordered but were silently upgraded to a Volkswagen Jetta. Yes. A German car. With a 2.5 litre US engine. 😉

Tomorrow, we’ll travel from our hotel to the falls. Let’s see what this place has in store for us!

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Last full day in the Big Apple

I never quite understood why New York city was called the Big Apple, and did not find out this trip either. Not in the last place because of the fact that I didn’t bother to go looking for the answer anyway.
Oh well. The last full day. Only one more night of sleep and we’ll be heading to the airport to go to the next destination.

But first today. As we have visited most if not all of the items on our todo list, today has been a day of relaxation and trying to do stuff wedding not think of beforehand. This meant we started off at a restaurant which was recommended to us by a couple of friends.

Little Italy. Or SoHo. Or NoLita. We actually don’t know. All we know the place we had breakfast is called Balthazar and is located on 80 Spring Street. That’s on Spring Street and Lafayette Street. And it’s not Italian. But French. And really good. Actually, really good. It’s where the locals also go. And where we had our breakfast. 🙂

With our stomachs filled we headed off to nowhere actually. We ended up touring SoHo (Wooster Street, aka Woostah!) only to find quite a lot of hipsters and really stylish stores with furniture, kitchens, interiors and designer clothes. After this, we went back to NoLita and also Little Italy (Grand Street) to get a good taste of what this was like. As we were there around lunchtime, the restaurants were literally begging us to get a taste of cannoli and pasta. We politely refused.
We can definitely recommend touring these three districts as they are both historically important for the city itself and really fun!

Trying to find our way back towards a subway station we ended up walking through Chinatown (Mott Street) which was a true blast. This was not the tourist’s Chinatown, this was Chinese Chinatown. Brimful of little shops with fruit and vegetables, weird spices, and fish markets, this is the place where the NY Chinese live and go grocery shopping. No common letters around. Only Chinese script. What a sight! We have been wandering around getting amazed at every corner on the streets.

With a small loot of cherries we headed to 34th in the neighbourhood of our beloved Empire State Building to eat those and enjoy being there. Eventually, we ended up doing some more shopping and buying as spending money on clothes is something all travellers to NY seem to do, we were definitely not an exception. 🙂

Heading back to the hotel, we figured we didn’t want to go far to grab a bite which meant we were going to eat at the restaurant directly adjacent to the hotel. Also serving Italian food, it was good but not too much. And at 23 degrees it was really nice to have dinner at a table outside.
Our last trip of the day included riding the 6 and the 5 all the way down to Fulton Street tosee the Brooklyn Bridge at night. Just lovely!

Unfortunately, we are destined to leave New York tomorrow. We have come to really like this city and the bustling atmosphere. We however disliked the smell. If only this could be dealt with. It’ll probably not be why we’re not going again! 🙂

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