Planes, Trains & Automobiles

We have been silent for a few months but we are back on the road again.  We are back in the Kruger Park.  It was quite a logistical challenge to get this trip organised as I had to be in London and Cologne before this.  I left Cologne, Germany yesterday afternoon.  My trip did involve plains, trains & automobiles just as the heading says but not in that order.  First, I had to take a train from Cologne to Frankfurt.  Unusually for Germany, the train was running late and of course (not unusually for Germany) all the announcements were made in German.  Hundreds of people milling around on the station trying to find out what was going on.  Fortunately I had booked an earlier train to allow for this possibility.  I still got in to Frankfurt airport 2.5 hours before my flight to Johannesburg was leaving.

It took about 15 minutes to walk from the train station (yes the one at the airport) to security, another 20 minutes to get through security and another 20 minutes to get through passport control.  Frankfurt airport has the strictest security I experience.  You basically have to walk through the scanner in your underwear and then the things still buzzes and you have be frisked (quite violently I might add).  The guy told me it was my passport (which was in my pocket) that set it off … seriously … didn’t know that paper set off the scanner!

The plane boarded slightly late and we left slightly late our of Frankfurt and we landed slightly late into Johannesburg.  All of this mattered to me because I was trying to get an earlier connection to Nelspruit airport (where I was picking up the van).  We ended up on a remote parking stand which meant a bus trip into the terminal.  Fortunately this didn’t take too much time and I managed to get through passport quickly and through to the domestic terminal.  At check in the lady said I must go to the ticketing counter to get my flight changed.  I did that and the lady at the ticketing counter told me I had to go back to check in to get offloaded from the later flight.  I did that and went back to ticketing again.  After about 10 minutes of punching keys and taking some money from me because I was changing flights, she said I was set.  Went back to check in again (now with about 40 minutes to departure) and they checked me in.  I was happily making my way to security when I thought to look at the boarding pass only to notice they had checked me in onto the original later flight! And that included my suitcase.

I rushed back to counter and pointed it out and they looked sheepish and tried to move me onto the earlier flight and said I was now waitlisted (even though I had been told there were seats available). I was also asking what was going to happen to my suitcase now it was checked onto the wrong flight. They eventually (after various phone calls) told me that I did have a seat and gave me a new boarding pass and they had changed the digital signature of my suitcase (I didn’t know my suitcase had a signature) and that it would definitely be on the correct flight with me.  I had my doubts and expressed them.

By this stage the flight was already boarding and I had to still clear security.  Usually that is quick but when I got to security there must have been 100 people in the line.  I realised it was cut to the front or miss the flight.  So I did that thing where everyone else looks at you with an irritated look and I cut to the front apologizing the whole way to every 5th person or so.  Through security (no beeping at all despite not taking everything out of my pockets) and straight to the gate for boarding.  The lady at the gate was the original person who told me how to get my ticket changed and she said she was pleased that I made the flight.  I told her what had happened and that I doubted my luggage was going to be on the correct plane.  I got onto the bus.

5 minutes of standing on the bus and same said airline person comes onto the bus to tell me that the baggage basement (didn’t know my baggage had a basement) had called to say my bag definitely would not make the flight. After speaking to the duty controller, she said I could move back to the later flight and arrive with my luggage if I wanted to do that (and they would try and arrange a refund) but she suggested I fly on the earlier one anyway (less work for her I guess). While we were talking the basement people phoned again to say that my bag definitely wasn’t making the flight as I checked in too late and the check in clerk should have told me that. NOT!

I resigned myself to having to waste an hour at the airport in Nelspruit and with much irritation got back on the bus.  We arrived at the plane and were told that we had to wait on the bus until the captain said it was ok to board.  We never got the signal and then it turns out that they had taken us to the wrong plane. Could this get any worse I was wondering. After eventually getting to the correct plane we boarded and someone remarked that they hoped the right luggage was on the plane.  I bit my tongue.

We landed at Kruger-Nelspruit airport just before 10am.  When I got off I told the airline lady my plight and she said I would need to go with her to do the paperwork for the bag. I said I would just wait and make 100% sure that it didn’t make the flight before I did that. And lo and behold, second bag off was my suitcase.  The very same one which twice had been confirmed by the basement people would DEFINITELY not be on the flight.  What airline you may ask – SA Airlink,  Organisation is clearly not their strong point.

I had made it to Mpumulanga before Helen and co had taken off from Cape Town yet.  They were on a 10:35am flight directly into Skukuza.  Yes – such a flight does now exist and is the best way to get to the Kruger Park because you don’t have to navigate any of the Mpumulanga roads. They left on time and in relative calmness.  I picked up the rental car – VW Kombi – and headed to Hazyview where I stopped to do some grocery shopping for the next 5 days.  The Spar Superstore was an experience. Most things sold in bulk.  Bulk chicken legs, bulk Ox tripe (in blocks), 48 packets of Niknaks in one bulk pack.  Obviously everyone buys once a year here and clearly things I would never consider buying. Fresh meat, fresh chicken not to be seen. As I drove out I found the Pick ‘n Pay which was more like my type of store but very small and with hardly any choice as well but I did at least get fresh chicken.

Then it was off to the Kruger Gate. I was now racing the clock and Helen and co’s plane.  I lost. Mainly because the road from Hazyview to the Kruger Gate is terrible. Cows, taxi’s, traffic police all driving with flashing blue lights on, buses, pedestrians … all of them thinking the road is just for them. Add to that potholes and a 60 km/h speed limit for 40 kms and it was an annoying journey.  I got to the Kruger gate and as I was entering I got a message to say they had landed at Skukuza.  I had about 20 minutes still to cover to get to the airport.  We were all re-united at about 1:15pm.  Stress over as we were all safely in the park.

Who would have thought I could write over 1000 words and not say anything about the Kruger Park itself! We went and checked in at Skukuza where we are staying tonight, had some lunch and chilled for a few hours before heading out this afternoon on our first game drive. We had already seen Elephant and Buffalo (2 of the big 5) and Bushbuck from the camp (they were in the river below the camp).  I had almost hit a Kudu on the way to fetching them from the airport and of course we had seen Impala.  In addtion, on the late afternoon game drive we saw Hippo, Nyala, Zebra, Girraffe, Warthog, Banded Mongoose and 2 Hyena. Add to that 18 birds so far (without really looking including some nice birds of prey like Martial Eagle, Fish Eagle, Bateleur) and it was quite a good drive.  Almost hit an elephant as we were driving looking into the setting sun and didn’t see the thing until we were amidst the herd. And had to fight off another lot as we crossed the river back into the camp as they were blocking the end of the bridge. Already seen around 100 elephant.

Skukuza bridgeBack to the camp for a braai.  It is National Braai Day (offically Heritage Day) and what a better way to spend the day than in the Kruger Park. It was a loverly evening (around 28 degrees when we got back to the camp). When we last stayed in the same accommodation, Helen went to the fence and shone her torch right into the eyes of a Hyena.  Michael and Helen were repeating it tonight and managed to do a full repeat and saw (possibly the same) Hyena.  There were also two hippo chomping near the fence.

It is now 9:30pm and everyone is in bed and most are asleep.  I am about to join them. One noteable exception to this trip is that Stephen is missing.  He has Varsity and so couldn’t come. I am missing him for his birding prowess. Everyone else is missing him because this is our first time to the Kruger as a family without him. Sorry you’re not with us Stephen 🙁

P, H, M, C (and the in-laws)

Vilamoura to London

car to airportYou’re getting two days in one today. The reason for that will become obvious as you read.  Yesterday was our last day in Vilamoura. Stephen and I went in the morning to buy a cupboard so that we could pack away some of things we bought for the house that didn’t want to leave for everyone else to use. We went to the Algarve Shopping centre and there is a large DIY store there. It has everything and we found a flat pack (actually came in 3 boxes) that could be assembled with just a hammer and screwdriver into a cupboard. So we bought it and a hammer and headed back to make it up.

It took Stephen, Michael and I 2 hours to put it together. #Dadshouldbeimpressed. Though he might be less impressed when he saw the crack between the doors, the nails hammered in skew and the pieces we had left at the end. Anyway, we were chuffed that we managed to follow the pictures and put it together so who really cares about the gap between the doors.

Lunch was made up of leftovers from the last 2 weeks which included a bag of faro airportboiled potatoes.  Helen did (fortunately) go and buy some rolls and cold meat to go with the boiled potatoes. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing up and then we all late afternoon piled into the car with our luggage and made our way to Faro airport for our flight back to London. It was a tight fit again with the golf clubs under the kids feet.

We made it safely to the aiport, handed back our car (which took much longer than it has ever taken me to return a car in my life) and checked in. We had been warned that there wasn’t much of a lounge at Faro airport for British Airways so our expectations were quite low but it was actually better than we expected. We still had to go through passport control before we boarded the plane. The guy was very friendly and asked us whether we could speak Portuguese and how long we were going to London for.  When we said only a few days he assumed we were coming back to Portugal again. He never stamped our passports because we have resident permits (unless we wanted him to and I certainly don’t because my passport fills up so quickly).

from the airWe boarded and left 10 minutes early and arrived back at Gatwick airport at 11:30pm. The flight was uneventful but it took us a reasonable amount of time to get through passport control because our flight arrived at the same time as a flight from Moscow.  It seemed we were the only non-EU people on our flight because when we did eventually get through passport control the luggage belt was already turned off and out luggage was next to it. First time that has happened to me as well. It was then an hour drive back to London flat and so we got to the flat at 1:10am. We were all tired and so we went to bed but at about 2:30am we were woken up by Michael who was feeling ill and then shortly after that was ill. About 30 minutes later Stephen followed in Michael’s footsteps and the rest of the night was a few hours sleep punctuated by the boys being sick. We can only think it was food poisoning from the meal on BA but Chloe and I had the same meal and we were fine.

luggageThe boys spent today recovering, I went to work (in what felt like a jet lagged state) and eventually at midday Helen and Chloe went out shopping. They did buy a few things but the most I heard about was the milkshake at Selfridges that contains cupcakes. You’ll have to ask Chloe for the details.

Now to watch the first semi-final of Brazil v Germany. Helen and I were meant to be out for dinner with clients tonight but we cancelled due to the sickness issue. At least we can now watch the World Cup semi final.

S, M (because I am still feeling sorry for them), P, H & C

Vilamoura Day 10

michael goflWe woke this morning to a totally overcast Vilamoura. First time we have woken up to any clouds in the sky for a number of days. It was also appreciably cooler. Last night we also didn’t spend the night been attacked by the squadron of mosquitoes as we closed the door and ran the aircon the whole night. Resulted in a much better sleep.

Michael and I had our final scheduled round of golf today. We wanted a repeat round at the Millennium course which we had played before with such success. We could only get an early afternoon tee time which actually worked out quite well as it was fairly cool in the morning and by early afternoon the temperature was just above 20C. It was relatively windy and it picked up during the course of the round. That didn’t stop our deft skill around the course and we both improved our previous round there by 1 shot which made it Michael’s best round ever (again) and one of the best rounds I have had in about 2 years. It has become our favourite course here no without a doubt.  Helen went cycling again and she cycled past the course and apparently saw us and screamed at us. We were so “in the zone” we never heard anything but the crisp sound of our club hitting the ball.

Our sport TV watching continued – this time we watched the Wimbledon tennis final. What a great match – such a pity that Federer didn’t win it though. We were (like everyone else it seems) wanting him to win but unfortunately not to be.

marina dinner1Tonight is our last night in Portugal and we decided to have dinner again at the Marina. Helen decided to have Sangria but you can only buy it in 1 liter jugs. That didn’t hold her back though and besides 1 glass that Stephen had, Helen and Michael finished off the jug between them. Apparently it is 1 liter because they use a bottle of wine (750ml) and then the rest is what they add to make the 1 liter. We were hoping that the one they drank contained less than 1 bottle of wine though. At the end of the meal Helen asked “Why did it take me the whole trip to order Sangria, I have missed out the other 10 days”. We were concerned about how much assistance they might need to get back to the car!

sangriaNow I know the family are reading this blog and most especially Helen’s parents so I better be fair and put Brian’s (Helen’s father) mind at rest. Helen definitely has Brian’s genes when it comes to drinking alcohol. Seriously though, it was a good relaxed evening sitting looking over the Marina and just enjoying the sunset and environment. Helen even went for the local dish of Piri Piri Chicken. The Portuguese know how to do chicken – Nando’s is testament to that. While the food was good the service was pretty poor but then again we weren’t in a hurry to go anyway and so we didn’t really care. Some of you are reading this and wondering whether it really is me typing the blog given how poor service usually drives me crazy. But that just gives you an idea of how relaxing this holiday has been.

We did try and find the Old Town again on our way back to the house but sorry Dad, still no success on that. We will have to find it the next time we are here. But the good news is that we did find the Spar.  We have been looking for it for 2 weeks. We see people walking with Spar shopping bags but could never find the Spar. The Marooners who were with us earlier gave us some vague idea of where it was but we didn’t find it from their description. But we found it tonight so at least we know where it is when we come back again.

Until tomorrow and our last day in Portgual …. P, H, M (for his best round of golf ever), S (because he takes the rubbish to the bins without being asked) & C

millenium coursemarina sunset1

Vilamoura Day 9

vilamoura houseIt was a slow start today as it was a bad night. It was hot and there was a squadron of mosquitoes, or at least what sounded like one, in our bedroom. Turned out that the aircon was making a noise that made it sound like mosquitoes and then we also had a real squadron of mosquitoes in room that were feasting on me most of the night. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much and so when I did get to sleep I didn’t wake up early.  When I did wake up I found that Helen had gone for a morning run again down to the beach. It was pretty warm already and she didn’t want to run back again so I went down and fetched her. It was a very hot day today – probably the hottest we have had since we got here – around 32C – with very little or no breeze most of the day as well. The picture is the view from our bedroom of some of the other houses nearby (and the clear sky).

We pretty much loafed the rest of day around the pool and thequarteira nite house (including a midday nap). Stephen and I went out to do some food shopping so that we had some food for dinner tonight.  The supermarkets in Vilamoura aren’t great, or at least we haven’t found a good one.  The best one is the one we went to today and it is in fact the one we found when we came here for the first time in December just after we bought the house.  Portugal could definitely learn from the rest of the world about supermarkets.

After dinner this evening we (H, C & me) went down to the beach and boardwalk at Quarteira.  Quarteira is slightly to the east of Vilamoura but there really is no distinction between the two places. Quarteira is like the second counsin of Vilamoura though. The beach area has apartments lining the road and reminded me chloe on beachof Strand in Cape Town. Lots of people were out walking along the boardwalk and many of them seemed to be locals. The beach was empty though. Helen pointed out that in Cape Town there would have been people having sundowners or picnic suppers on the beach but not in Portugal.

We came back to watch the end of the football game which saw Netherlands finally going through on penalties. I am hoping for a better night sleep tonight so long as the mosquitoes behave themselves.  Note to self … bring mosquito repellant next time.

Until tomorrow …. P, H, S (because he came to the shop with me), C (because she came to beach for an evening walk) and M (because he really did do nothing today)

Vilamoura Day 8

old courseAnother day, another game of golf. I got up at 8am so that I could have chat to my two direct reports whose last day it was in the office for a few weeks.  One is going on holiday for 2 weeks and the other is going on the Advanced Management Programme at INSEAD (in Fountainebleau in France). That brings back memories because that was the first time I started blogging while away.  Helen went for another morning run which was pretty impressive because it was already warm at 9am.

Our tee off time was only 11:50am today and it was pretty warm by that stage.  Again impressively as we were leaving for golf Helen was heading out on her bike for Quarteira which is the town just next to Vilamoura (they are pretty much right next to each). Michael and I played another new course today – this time the Old Course ( It is the course nearest us. We could almost walk to it. Not more than about 2 minutes drive. It is meant to be a better course than the Millennium one we played last week but neither Michael nor I thought it was. That might have been related to the fact we didn’t play nearly as well as last week but it also might have related to the fact that there are thousands of trees on the course and they kept getting in the way of the ball.

It also might also have been related to the fact that we were stuck behind a 3-ball who played as if they were 90 years old but were in fact in their late forties. It is seldom that I have played behind 3 people who thought they could play golf but clearly couldn’t and took long about it as well. They parked their golf cart in the wrong place, they walked slowly to and from their cart, they took forever to play helen and chloe beachand shot and they played multiple more shots than we did. It was seriously frustrating at times and was a test of patience. But as someone once said to me, how do you learn to be patient if no one ever tests your patience. It was very amusing hear the 3 guys talk after the round while we were having a drink. They spoke as if they were pro golfers and hitting the ball a mile. They would hit two shots for every one Michael and I would hit. Their imagination was clearly running wild or the heat had gone to their heads or something.

We got back late afternoon but in time to watch Germany beat France. It was a lovely evening and we had dinner outside again and then Chloe, Helen and I went for a late evening walk on Praia da Falesia. It was pretty windless and a lovely evening and walk on the beach with my two favourite ladies. A nice way to end the day.

Until tomorrow …. P, H, M (because he plays golf with me), C & S (because he never left the house today except to take the rubbish to the bins)

Vilamoura Day 7

silvesAnother leisurely day in Vilamoura. The weather was back to the predictable – high 20s, light breeze, no cloud in the sky for most of the day. I reckon the weather stays like this for most of the summer. The breeze tends to pick up from about mid-morning and sometimes becomes quite strong but besides that you would have to say it is ideal weather.

Helen and I were up at a reasonable time and Helen even managed to go for a fairly lengthy run (just under 7km).  By the time she got back the rest of the household were still snoring.  After eventually rousing the sleeping dead (aka S, M & C) we headed out for a nearby town called Silves.  Silves was formerly the capital ocastle wallsf the Algarve and has it’s origins as far back as the Roman Empire. On the top of the hill is the Silves castle which has origins from as far back as the 8th century.  Most of the construction you can see today dates back to the 12th century. Pretty impressive construction that is still standing about 900 years later. Pretty sure that most constructions done today won’t be standing in 900 years, in fact a lot of them probably won’t be around in 100 years time.

The castle was interesting but not sure it was worth the €11 entrance fee (M & C free and again S was a drain on resources). The best part of the castle was that you get quite a good view of the surrounding area from the castle walls as you can see in the photos.  The construction of the houses is very typical of the Algarve with the white walls and orange tile roofs. The area is also surrounded by orange groves and vineyards.

castleProbably the best part of the trip was I noticed a small shop as we exited the castle and popped my head in and found that it was actually a wine shop. The owner was very friendly and quickly offered for me to taste two of the local ports. I have so far been underwhelmed by the Portuguese wine (only bought and drunk Portuguese wine so far) but their Port is in another league though. I guess you wouldn’t name the country after Port if you weren’t good at making it. He persuaded me to taste the white Port (which you drink chilled) and I immediately knew I was going to have to buy a bottle. And then I tasted the tawny Port and that was even better. So now I have 3 bottles of Port at the house and will have to decide which one I take back to SA with me and what I will leave here for future consumption. Will be a hard choice.

We had parked right up at the entrance to the castle which seemed liked a sensible thing to do when we went up (as it saved the walk up the hill) but then we had to drive down again and through the town. The GPS wasn’t overly helpful in leading us through the smallest streets I have ever driven in. The high pitched grunts from Helen in the passenger seat also didn’t help.  I said she should only scream out if I was actually going to hit something and not if I was just close (because otherwise it was going to be one constant scream). Eventually we managed to squeeze our way out and back onto a normal size road with no damage to the car.

narrow streetOn the way back we stopped at our favourite Hypermarket to re-stock on food and upgrade some of the household goods. The meat section is my favourite part of the store.  Today they had whole skinned rabbit. Chloe & Helen were not impressed especially since we have rabbits as pets. Horse meat is also pretty common. The fruit is the other thing that amazes me because I thought I knew every fruit that was known to man but clearly not. Today I took the plunge and bought Platerina’s.  They looked like squashed Nectarine’s. I haven’t had one yet but expect them to taste similar to a Nectarine (will let you know tomorrow when I actually try one).

Leisurely, late dinner followed by 2 more episodes of Suits, writing this blog and then off to bed.  Hopefully we won’t be attacked by the same mosquito that attacked me last night. The fact that the overhead ceiling fan is on (and won’t turn off now) will probably help to keep it away.

Until then … P, H, M, C & S (because he was once again a financial burden this trip)

Seville back to Portugal

huelvaAfter another late night last night watching football go into extra time, we slept in again. A late breakfast (at 10am) on the roof top was this morning accompanied by live guitar music. It seemed fitting to be sitting on the roof of the hotel looking over Seville eating breakfast with classical guitar music in the background. And the guy was even quite good.

We drove back today from Seville to Vilamoura. We decided to drive back via Huelva (pronounced Welba) which is a port town in Spain. It was where Chris went to seek out the support of the Franciscan monks for his second exploratory voyage. From the look of Huelva, that was the last good thing that happened there. If you are ever tempted to good to Huelva, don’t make the mistake we made. It was a waste of fuel and the 30 minute detour.

It was much cooler today with the temperature only in the mid 20s. We also saw the most clouds in the sky (and even a few drops of rain) than we have seen since the first day we were here.  Besides the few drops of rain the trip back was uneventful and easy. The landscape on the trip is a lot like the lowveld in South Africa.  It would be easy to believe that a lion or elephant could just walk across the road at any moment. I am pretty sure though that it would freak out the people of Portugal if that did happen.

trip back to PortugalWith the hour time change we got back to Vilamoura at about 12:30pm and just in time to re-stock the kitchen and have some lunch and then have a Portuguese siesta. It feels good to be back at our house again – almost like coming home.  We are very comfortable here already navigating around the neighborhood. A late afternoon walk around the neighbour (just Helen and I because the kids were too clearly too tired from the active day), dinner and 2 episodes of our other favourite TV series (Suits).

As you know, I always give some thoughts on the countries we visit and I generally restrict my comments to a maximum of the number of days we spend in the country.  As we only spent 2 days in Spain I think it is fair to only restrict myself to two comments:

1. Something strange happens in Spain. The men (according to H & C) and women (according to P, S & M) are generally quite attractive when they are young but at some point all the women & men morph into the same shape, size and demeanor. The men become short, squat, white haired and grumpy. The women become stooped, grey haired and grumpy. How they get from the young, pleasant form into the old, grumpy form is the mystery we are yet to solve.

2. Seville is a beautiful city and really worth a visit. Over the next few years of visiting Portugal I am pretty sure we will go back again. It is one of the loveliest cities we have visited in Europe. If you are ever anywhere near Seville – do yourself a favour and spend a night or two in the city – you won’t regret it.  Make sure though that your hotel is in a good position near the Old Town so that you can simply walk around – a car is not necessary then and will save you the hassle of driving around.

Until tomorrow … P, H, S (there was some reason why he got promoted but I can’t remember what it was just that I promised to promote him), M & C

PS: I was castigated for wrongly saying that Chloe had translated Real into Palace when she had in fact said it was Royal. Her Spanish honor is at stake and so I humbly apologize for defamation brought to her Spanish character …