Hard to believe when we walked through the front door of our house that the eight months were over and we were finally coming home. Thirteen countries. Countless flights, train rides, rental cars, hotel rooms and Airbnbs. Many museums, tours, adventures and stories. There were loads of laughs and frequent tears. It was scary, exciting, interesting, boring, lonely, invigorating and thrilling. We are endlessly grateful for the opportunity to have been able to hit the pause button on life and head out on this adventure. We will always treasure this time as a family where we learned so much about ourselves and each other and really learning to swear like pirates.

But now we’re home and time to get back into the business of real life. How do we do that again?

Everyone said “you’ll be happy to be in your own bed.” But after eight months of bed-hopping, my bed didn’t feel like my bed anymore. Nights are filled with vivid dreams processing all the things we did and saw. For the first few weeks, I dreamt of the bush every night.

Shifting gears to a different, not quite slower pace has been weird. We enjoyed the breakneck clip we were tearing through our travels. The busy, scheduled days cramming in as much as we could. The endless art, history and culture that we could only do our best to try and absorb like sponges with so much dripping out of our pores, unable to take in any more. Now we’re home in a lovely, but quiet city. History here is a building that was built in the last 100 years. We appreciate being back in our home and native land, but all of us once unpacked and settled started to feel the pangs of missing our adventure. The good and the bad.

So here we are, all unpacked and back in the swing. Kids are back in school and finding their way. Monsieur and I set with the task of “now what?” are working on determining what we want to be when we grow up. Its not an easy endeavour. We gained some insight into our needs and desires for our future career paths while away, but in the lens of a smoky Vancouver fall day its a lot more obscured than we had hoped. But that’s ok, there’s no rush and there is time for more exploration.

In the meantime, we reconnect with our lovely friends and visit with our dear family. We anticipate the arrival of our long-awaited puppy as we put future travel plans on the shelf temporarily while we let the dust settle and remember why Vancouver is our beloved home.

Would we do it again? In a heartbeat. For all the tough days were balanced by so much more. The day that our kids told us that “just because something is different, it doesn’t make it weird” we knew it was all worthwhile.

We started our journey in Hawaii, at the peak of the largest Covid wave yet. Three out of four of us caught it and we had to stay on for two extra weeks. Sounds more wonderful than it actually was.

We stopped back in Vancouver for a short two week break to get everyone boosted and re-packed before we left for Europe. Our arrival in France was at the tail end of their largest Covid wave, restrictions still in place across the country. Within weeks, health restrictions would be lifted across Europe paving the way for much easier travel for us gratefully, but yet another sizeable Covid wave – this time mask and restriction-less.

Shortly after the arrival in Paris, Russia began the war in the Ukraine. We were now faced with a decision. Should we abandon our plans and head home to the relative safety of Canada? The headlines were terrifying and it was all a bit surreal when the headline in Le Figaro was explaining how the pharmacies across France were selling out of iodine pills as residents worried about the fall-out from the nuclear threat (bomb or another disaster at Chernobyl). We looked for ways to help as Ukrainian refugees were fleeing across Europe.

As it started to grow clear that the situation in the Ukraine was not going to end quickly and was headed for a long, drawn out conflict, the headlines turned to Monkey Pox. Another potential pandemic and the possibility of travel restrictions returning. Talk of twenty-one day quarantines coming into play, we decided to wait a bit longer and see what would happen as we discussed the possibility of packing it all in and heading home again.

The state of the world, a constant worry – effects of Brexit, the election of the French President, Paris almost always seemingly on the brink of a riot or a strike etc etc all swirling all the time – we forged ahead with our plans. We managed to avoid the worst of the crazy airport/ luggage drama of the spring and summer. We kept pretty healthy, seemingly avoiding another run in with some new Covid variant. We managed to find a way to fight through home sickness and loneliness.

I look back on the eight months, with all its ups (mostly up) and downs (not as many as it may sound) and feel lucky and grateful. I will treasure this time when I had my family all to myself, our teen and pre-teen at such pivotal times in their lives. We had such great talks over long dinners and drives, sharing wisdoms along with our hopes and fears. Would I do it again? In a New York minute!

Just a casual walk in a field in the Cotswolds, England

Motswari Part 3

Well, I had intended to try and keep you all entertained with daily dispatches from our time here in the African bush.  However, the gruelling schedule of 7 hours in the Defender each day and 3 solid meals (plus snacks) to eat it’s hard to get back to sitting and recalling all we’ve seen and done.

Every 3.5 hour game drive is jammed with so much to see and learn, it’s hard to unpack it all and try to remember the details.  Plus, we have been joined by a gang of family and we now number 15 people so our days are joyously filled with game viewing and years of catch up combined. Not to mention celebrating Auntie T’s birthday!

I’ll try and recall the highlights.  Most who recount their African safari experience will always discuss their run-ins with the Big Five; Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhino and Buffalo.  We were very lucky to encounter all of them including the most elusive, the Leopard. Amazingly, it was on our drive in from the airport.  We have since, with great luck spotted leopard at least four more times.  In fact on one morning drive we were stopped in a dry riverbed to get a better look at a Wooly Neck Stork up in a tree (note: bird watching in the bush is phenomenal).  After a few minutes of chatting about the bird and its usual practices, the Little Kid and our Tracker both casually notified us that there was a leopard sitting next to the Defender watching us! I half expected him to whip out his phone and snap a photo.  We hadn’t even noticed Ntima sitting there looking at us as if to say “Hello, most elusive member of the Big Five over here!  Wake-up humans!”  (That would be a pretty funny TikTok.) If I didn’t know better I might have thought he was hunting us!  You may remember that Ntima is the local alpha male and he is a very large and beautiful cat.  Byron, our guide radioed in to his colleagues giving out coordinates so they could come see.  Before anyone else arrived Ntima decided he was bored and off he went.  We managed to track him across to the other bank of the river until he disappeared into the thick bush obviously on the hunt for his next meal.  This is life in the bush.  You never know what you might see.

A little later on the same drive, we caught wind that one of the local Lion prides was hanging out on the side of the road enjoying a snooze while the cubs were suckling.  We arrived to see some very irritated Lionesses with some greedy little cubs all jockeying for positions to suckle.  Clearly the cubs now have teeth because there was a lot of growling and biting from the moms when the cubs got too rambunctious at the teets.  We had seen this pride the day before, snoozing in the sun on some rocks in another area of the dry river bed.  They had clearly been feeding the night before because they were good and fat and still had some blood stains on their faces.  Today, after a little overnight digestion, it was interesting to see them all a little hungrier and grumpier and mobile rather than in their food comas.  We wondered where the big male was.  He didn’t seem to be around either day.  But while repositioning to get a better view of the grumpy moms and cubs our tracker spotted Limp Bizkit across the road hiding in the grass.

Limp Bizkit has a dislocated hip and walks with a limp, but he is the Alpha of two prides of lions.  He is a BIG lion with a beautiful and ample mane.  His head is huge and he is formidable.  I didn’t quite realize it until we encountered the Birmingham Breakaways.

Who are the Birmingham Breakaways?  Well I’m glad you asked. They are not a rock band and they are not a rival to the Sharks or the Jets. As we were heading out on one of our late afternoon drives, Byron explained that we were headed in search of a new group of lions in the area.  They had been spotted about an hour south of where we were in the Timbavati and we were setting out to track them down.  The six brothers hail from the same pride located in the Birmingham area of the Greater Kruger National Park. At around 3-4 years old, young males head out on their own and prepare for the upcoming battles they would face as they fight to win their own prides some day.  These 6 lions are strong and fierce.  Big and imposing and full of testosterone, they have united to hunt together.  The Birmingham pride territory is located in the South of the Greater Kruger near the Sabi Sands. They have migrated northwards into the Timbavati and were beginning to wreak havoc.  Byron was keen to track them down so we could have a look.  (Note: in this part of South Africa, the Greater Kruger National Park comprises the largest open reserve for game in the country.  It’s roughly the size of the UK and quite recently, Mozambique has opened a mirror reserve on their side of the border adjacent to the eastern edge of the Park.  On the western edge there are several private reserves from Phalaborwa down to Sabi Sabi.  There are no fences between any of these reserves so the animals flow freely from reserve to reserve and across country borders.  It’s only the people who have restricted movement).

We drove for about an hour and then spent a good 90 minutes searching the thick bush for any sign of the lions.  Finally we decided to pack in the search and enjoy sundowners over-looking a dry river crossing. After our drinks break, we turned tail and headed back to camp only slightly disappointed that the Birmingham Breakaways had eluded us.  We saw plenty of other great things in the meantime, so who could complain.

The next morning at 6:30am, we met a very excited Byron who told us that the Birmingham boys had been found!  Just 150 metres from our sundowners location, the boys had taken down a water buffalo at around one in the morning.  A local ranger down there heard the incredible noise that 6 male lions make while hunting and killing a buffalo and headed out in the middle of the night to find them.  He sent Byron the coordinates and we were off to check them out.

By the time we arrived the buffalo had been disemboweled; a lung, entrails and stomach contents put to the side.  Three quarters of the buffalo had been eaten with the hide and ribs licked clean on the hind end.  Four of the boys were fast asleep in the sunshine, digesting the first course of their meal.  Two of the boys were still dining, one of them with his whole head inside the poor buffalo.  We watched them for a while, taking their turns snacking on the beast.  We were very close, the smell of the buffalo and its internal organs spread about the kill site was horrendous.  After a while, the Defenders were arriving and lining up behind us for their chance to have a look.  So off we went back to camp for breakfast. Somehow we still had an appetite for yet another delicious Motswari meal. And no, buffalo was not on the menu.

Two of the six Birmingham Breakaways snacking on a buffalo

That afternoon, after the family arrived from Cape Town we thought it was only fair that we return to the kill site so they could also catch a glimpse of the now notorious Birmingham Breakaways.  High-tailing it down on the sand roads, we were grateful to arrive at the kill site, only to see that the buffalo had been re-located several metres and had been flipped over several times.  A second lung had been located – obviously not palatable to the Boys – and the animal was now missing its cheeks and lower jaw.  The eyes and skull with its massive horns still in place.  However, judging by how contorted the body was it was clear that there wasn’t much left inside the hide with only the ribs left to maintain the original shape of the animal.  The lions were still taking turns snacking and napping and the hyenas were circling, observing from a safe distance waiting for their reservation at Chez Water Buffalo.

We snuck in quite close to the boys, safe in the open top Defender watching them go about the business of taking turns at the buffet.  One of the bigger boys came quite close to my side of the vehicle to lay for a nap.  His head was big, his mane a little fluffier than the others.  Perhaps he’s a little older?  For sure, he’s a little stronger.  Watching him, he looked straight into my eyes.  Without a word of a lie.  I know that the lion’s vision isn’t great in this situation.  He can see the vehicle, but he can’t differentiate me from the car BUT he was looking me right in the eye.  Completely intimidated, I couldn’t maintain the eye contact.  Everyone told me not to look away, the minute I did he jumped up and all I could think was the next jump was at me.  He didn’t but I was done.  Luckily he was too full to want a bite of this middle aged woman. Bye Birmingham Breakaways, you win.  I’m out!

With my heart still beating out of my chest, we very gratefully had to leave the kill site and make room for the vehicles circling behind us.  You see, a kill site is no different than Heathrow on a busy day.  I was glad that we had now all seen the Boys and we were good.  If you happen to see a Timbavati Water Buffalo, you might want to give them a heads up to avoid the Southern section for a little while.

Back to Limp Bizkit.  On our second visit with him following the intimidating visit with the largest of the Birmingham Breakaways, I realized just how much bigger he is than the adolescents.  And I was glad he had a limp.

Nharu aka Limp Bizkit having a chill post meal or shag, he doesn’t do much else

In addition to the lion and leopard sightings, we also spotted about 17 different rhinos, including one group of 6 animals.  Incredible to see especially since the white rhino are an endangered species.  The rhino were fascinating to observe and didn’t really seem to care too much about us and the Defender we were in.  Hearing many stories of rhinos charging vehicles, we were happy that our encounters were much more passive.

Rounding out the Big Five are the elephants and the water buffalo.  Elephants are plentiful in the Greater Kruger National Park and the current census has the population at around 13,000.  Only 18 years ago, the number was almost half.  They are flourishing here, but the concern is the balance to the ecosystem as elephants need to eat a lot and one of their favourite foods are tree roots and nutrient rich cambium layers under tree barks.  Their eating often ends in the destruction of the tree.  We watched a large bull push a 10+ metre tree down with its front foot just to get at the roots.  Water buffalo usually travel in very elusive large herds of 500+ animals.  It’s amazing that you can see evidence of the large herd passing through, grazed grasses down to stubs and lots of poop, and never see the herd.  We did encounter a handful of bulls travelling in pairs and of course the single carcass with the Birmingham Breakaways, but I have to say that I was glad not to run into the herd with that many ornery 400kg sized buffalo.  When they threaten to charge, they follow through.  Not something you want to tangle with.

A lot of emphasis is put on the Big Five, and for good reason.  These are formidable predators and/ or very large animals.  But inside the Greater Kruger there is just so much to see; giraffe, hippos, crocodile, hyena, jackal, baboons, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, honey badgers, buck of all sizes, insects big and small, birds of every shape and colouring, plant life and so much more.  A game drive can be filled with thrilling moments and totally peaceful zen-like quiet.  It’s easy to disconnect with the modern world and just fall into the routine of communing with nature.  The sunsets are as breathtaking here as they are from any shoreline, the air so clear, the colours so vibrant.  The southern constellations and the Milky Way are so easy to see with the naked eye as the skies are so dark.

I try to rationalize how the bush can bring me as much joy as the busy streets of Paris.  I’m just as happy in both places.

Loving it!

When I remember our time in the Timbavati at Motswari, I will fondly recall the wonderful people we met here.  The Shangaan-Tsonga people that keep all the wheels rolling in camp are incredible.  They were very kind to share their song, dance and drumming including the Little Kid in the performance on our last night.  We fell in love with the sweet and kind folks at Motswari.  There were some tears shed when it was time to say goodbye.

As I’m catching up on my blog posts, I’m writing this from the couch at home in Vancouver and I can say that it feels like it was a dream when we were in the African bushveldt, keeping company with the animals and our wonderful new friends.

Motswari Part 2

Giraffe breakfast break

Following our first morning drive, we feasted on a delicious breakfast. Why does food taste so much better in the bush? Even instant coffee tastes better than the finest barista prepared espresso in Italy. Delish!

Life in the game park is a routine and we were quickly getting into the groove:

5:30am – Wake-up to the knock on the door, quickly get dressed into the warmest clothing you brought.

6:00am – Coffee and a muffin or piece of fruit in the lounge. Quick check for texts and emails.

6:15am – One last pee and bundle up and head to the gate to meet our guide Byron.

6:30am – Climb into the Defender and head out into the bush.

9:15am – Stop for coffee/ hot chocolate and a biscuit/ dried fruit.

10:00am – Return to camp for breakfast.

10:45am – Catch-up on email, messages, writing

12:00pm – Nap/ Shower/ Read

2:30pm – Lunch

3:30pm – Depart on Evening Drive

5:45pm – Stop for Sundowners (aka cocktails) and biltong/ nuts/ pretzels

7:00pm – Return to camp for dinner/ Quick pee/ Freshen up

7:30pm – Pre-Dinner Cocktails

8:00pm – Dinner Feast

9:00pm – Bedtime

Our second evening drive was less eventful than our morning or last evening drives. We saw a couple of bull elephants and decided not to disturb their dinner. A giraffe and a lovely herd of zebra made an appearance. But we loved the drive nonetheless. The warm evening, cool breezes, clear skies made for a beautiful time in the bush even though the Big 5 were elusive. Towards the end of our ride there was much brouhaha over the radio. The guides all say animal names in the local Tsonga/ Shongaan language to try and keep an element of surprise for the guests and prevent any disappointment if the Ingwa (leopard) doesn’t turn up. We were listening and learned quickly that there was a hippo in camp and that we were to be warned. Hippos are probably the second most dangerous animal in Africa behind only the mosquito. They are herbivores, but they are grouchy and they have VERY big mouths and teeth and will attack when bothered or worse, surprised. In addition, it sounded like perhaps there were lions in the camp too. Did we really need to go back? Surely the defender would be a comfy place for 4 Canadians a guide and a tracker to sleep for the night? Well, the lions were a bit of a ruse, as we quickly learned that we were being treated to a lovely braai (South African BBQ) under the stars out in the bush. I wish I had photos but it was too dark. We were thrilled to see the amazing constellations of the Southern Hemisphere including the Southern Cross as well as the Milky Way.

Following dinner, we were driven back to camp. Apparently the hippo was still lurking (or perhaps they just hadn’t been able to confirm his departure) so we walked back to our rondaavels singing Mamma Mia nice and loud to try and scare any hiding predators away. Surely ABBA is better than a gun?

The following morning, the kids were up and out of bed without much yelling. It was amazing to see them embrace the rhythm of the bush so quickly. We grabbed our quick coffees and were at the gate to meet Byron and David well before 6:30am. It was great to get a very cold but nice and early start.

Again we found the game to be a little elusive. We saw plenty of impala herds and a few tiny steinboks, which have become my spirit animal as we’ve seen so many. Finally, we spotted a large herd of elephants leaving the watering hole. Another safari vehicle was parked close to the water, so we steered alongside the herd but from a safe distance as they seemed to be making quite a hasty departure from the watering hole. There was much trumpeting, ear flapping and crashing around. Two larger adolescent bulls were locking trunks and crashing their tusks together. It was incredible to see the force of there two giant animals locked in a fight. We wondered if they were fighting for the territory of the herd, but as we watched Byron confirmed that they were just sparring. If it was a real fight, it would be much more violent. With this we couldn’t figure out what was riling the elephants up so much, but we did know that it didn’t feel like a safe place to be with all this anxious energy. We watched a large female breaking limbs off passing trees with her trunk and violently throwing them over her shoulder and it was a little scary. We backed away and headed back towards the watering hole. We pulled alongside the other vehicle and they explained that a rhino had come down for a drink and was the cause of all the commotion. Apparently he charged an elephant, so they were on the move away.

A few minutes later, we found the aforementioned rhino. Byron recognized him from his notched ear and his re-regrowing horn (all part of anti-poaching/ conservation measures to protect these poor guys). This rhino has a reputation for being a total dick. He’ll charge anything just for the sake of it. Luckily for us he was a-glow in the glory of his previous elephant charge and wasn’t taking much interest in us. We left him to crow and hold his ground and circled back around to check on our herd.

Byron found us a spot of safety pulling up to a felled tree and nestling between the limbs and the root system. The Defender had cover and we were afforded a front row seat to the herd now starting to calm down. In the middle we discovered a very new calf who was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with mum. She was doing her best to keep the little one safe and away from the rambunctious boys taking advantage of the commotion to let off more steam. Within several minutes of patient watching the herd dynamics they began to settle and return to their normal quiet munching selves. It was quite a sight to see and the social dynamics of herds, packs and prides never cease to fascinate me.

Elephants post brouhaha

Following our elephant encounter we set off back on the road. Pretty soon, David spotted fresh leopard tracks from his seat on the the hood of the vehicle. Off we went in pursuit following the tracks, stopping at every fork in the road to see which way she went. We were able to follow her for several kilometres but to no avail. Eventually we decided to take a coffee break on the bank of the dry riverbed beside one of the old broken dams. Apparently the dam is a favourite spot for the lions and leopards to hang out, but they remained elusive. We didn’t care, we were enjoying the beautiful morning in the bush as the sun was just starting to warm things up.

From there we landed at a larger watering hole, helped by a still running river inflowing and a still intact dam. Up on the dam wall, we could see 5 huge crocodiles and several birds (heron, Egyptian geese, storks and others) all vying for the best waterfront spot for lunch, we just hoped we wouldn’t see them become lunch! Five hippos surfaced ahead of us, 4 females and one baby. They even gave us some snorty croaky calls. Sadly no big hippo yawns so we could see their teeth from a safe distance.

Across the watering hole, a large impala herd and a few waterbuck were all heading to safe shallows to find a drink. There was also an elegant giraffe enjoying a leafy breakfast. We hoped we would soon catch him coming for a drink as well, but sadly something spooked him and instead we watched him take off on a bit of a run. Pretty thrilling just the same. We wondered if perhaps there were lions lurking over on the opposite shore as the impala and waterbuck also seemed to run past one particular bushy section. Upon closer inspection, we didn’t find any lazy lions hiding in the shrubs.

Pretty soon we were back at camp for yet another delicious breakfast. I don’t really need to eat any more but of course I do, with a hollow threat that I won’t eat lunch. But we all know that I will because who can resist a yummy meal in the wilderness?

Horns and tusks over breakfast

Motswari – The First 24 Hours

Editor’s Note: Life got in the way. These last few posts of our trip have been in draft for a while, waiting for me to find the time to whip them into shape. I apologize for their lateness, but you know… life…

As a grand finale on our trip, we booked a safari in the Timbavati in South Africa. Monsieur grew up in South Africa and the game park is his happy place so this was a must do. We were also lucky enough to tag along on to Auntie T’s Covid-delayed birthday party with her family and planned to join them for a stay at Motswari Private Game Lodge.

We wanted to maximize our time in the bush so we volunteered to be the advance team and arrived a few days ahead of the rest of the clan. We flew from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit airport, a former Air Force Base. There was a long taxi from the runway to the single room airport building. We were amused by the baggage claim which was basically a table in front of a garage door.

Sandrey picked us up to drive us to Motswari and warned us that we would start to see animals soon. He wasn’t wrong. No sooner had we turned out of the airport when we saw a pair of giraffes along the fence. A few minutes later we passed through the Timbavati gates and started to see lots of game – more giraffes, zebra, an elephant, three warthogs and a hyena crossed the road in front of us. We talked with Sandrey about the big five and asked about the always elusive leopards. “You have to be very lucky to see a leopard.” No sooner did he say this, we ran into not one but two leopards ON THE PAVED ROAD. Leopards are shy, elusive and often hang out in the brush or on tree limbs, to see them out in the open was incredibly lucky, let alone in the middle of the only paved road for miles. At first, we thought that they were just going to cross in front of us only to disappear back in the scrub. Nope, they gave us a show for about 15 minutes crossing back and forth with the male often laying down on the road to show the female how relaxed he is and ready to mate. She was a little more discerning and kept a close eye on our vehicle. We were doubly lucky that the road was quiet while we had our interlude with the leopards, for when a big rumbling truck came up behind us the pair headed into the long grass. Ahead a pick-up truck rounded the corner with workers piled in the back. They pulled over and we looked on in horror as one of the workers jumped out to take a pee. Sandrey waved and flashed his lights. Luckily they got the message and the worker jumped back in before the leopards realized he was there. Phew. Last thing we wanted to see on our first few minutes in the park with our kids was a kill… We arrived at Motswari about an hour late but our hosts didn’t mind. Of course you stop when you see leopard!

Motswari is a private game reserve within the larger Timbavati reserves, part of the Greater Kruger National Park. It runs along the midwestern flank of the Kruger itself and is about 500 square kilometres. Motswari is one of several private game reserves within the Timbavati. Camp consists of around 15 rondavels for accommodation as well as a large common area, dining area and swimming pool. There is also a large Staff Camp as everyone who works here also lives on the property.

After a quick bag drop and grabbing some warm clothing, our guide Byron had the Land Rover Defender warmed up and we were headed out on our first proper game drive. Within a few minutes he had us pulled into a shrub to view another very full bellied and sleepy leopard under a tree. Byron gave us the lowdown on the leopard family we had met. On the road on our arrival we met Ntima, the alpha male in this area. He was with a female he was attempting to court. This new leopard we were visiting was a young male, the son of Ntima. We thought we may have caught the alpha male Ntima and the female mating, but apparently she was showing signs of suckling. Shocker! She has cubs and they aren’t his! She was trying to distract him from her hidden cubs that she had with another guy! If Ntima found them, he would surely kill them to protect his bloodline. Who knew that we were in the animal version of Days of Our Lives?

A little while later, Byron was in pursuit of a pride of lion. David, our spotter was tracking them and they were hot on the trail. We didn’t manage to catch them but we did spot a very beautiful big giraffe who seemed a little skittish when we arrived and made his way behind a tree. We laughed when we realized he was attempting to hide. He stopped and stared at us through the tree limbs thinking we couldn’t see him even though his whole body was in full view, even if his eyes were hidden in the leaves.

After a stop atop an old dam for sundowners (South African for cocktails) and some snacks, we were headed back to camp. As the wind whipped up, the sun went down and the temperature dropped. Snuggled under blankets we turned a corner and spotted a breeding herd of elephants but let them continue their meal in peace. Our spotlights blind them, so we didn’t want to put them at any further disadvantage in the dark.

Back at camp, we piled on another sweater and waited for the Ranger to come fetch us for dinner. We enjoyed the meal next to the fire. We were all a little surprised when a small pack of hyenas strolled into camp and past the dining area as we were eating. Apparently we also just missed a small female leopard, new to the area who passed through camp before we were escorted to dinner. All of a sudden we were VERY grateful for the ranger who would take us back and forth to our little hut. Well fed, we made our way to bed for an early night. We were all pooped from the travel day and knew we had a 5:30am wake-up call the next day for our morning drive.

Our accommodations at Motswari were simple but lovely. All guests stay in their own individual thatched cottages called rondavels. With the kids, we had one with two rooms – we weren’t about to be in separate buildings with leopards and hyenas roaming around and no cell service. Good luck with your nightmares kids! Fortunately we were well situated in the double and we each had our own space with an inter-connecting door. The beds were cozy, wrapped with mosquito nets. We each had a nice big bathroom with a tub and a shower. Heat and AC if we needed it.

Back to the schedule. I know it doesn’t sound very relaxing, but there is something quite amazing about the early morning wake-up. A hot coffee and a muffin and a jump straight back in the Defender to head out in the bush is a fantastic way to start the day.

First David spotted a loan elephant. Byron turned off the road and through the bush until we came up beside her. She was an older elephant who likely can no longer keep up with the herd. We felt sad to see her on her own knowing she’s nearing the end of her life. Likely around 60, she is the perfect example of nature taking it’s course in this wild place.

Byron managed to find us that pride of lion. About 4 large females, one young male and the beautiful alpha male, Nharhu. His nickname is Limp Bizkit as he walks with a limp due to a dislocated hip after being kicked in the hindquarters by a giraffe. We started to feel badly for him until Byron reminded us that he rules over two prides with several females who hunt and breed only for him and his cubs. All he does is eat the food they’ve hunted and mate with them. Lucky mysogynist lion, milking that kick in the ass for all he can! We were lucky to get quite close, close enough to see how big his fangs are!

Here we were, less than 24 hours in the bush and we had already seen 3 of the Big Five. Well no sooner did we say that when we came upon three white rhino. One large female with her 6 month old baby and a companion juvenile male. They didn’t seem to mind us, but we did enjoy the chance to see the baby mock charge the male when he started getting on his nerves.

Rhino mom and baby with horns intact

We were concerned when we arrived. We had booked 8 nights here in the bush. How would our wifi obsessed kids manage here in the wilderness? How would we manage? Can you guess? We are loving every minute!

Where the Streets are Paved in Gold

Johannesburg. Founded in 1886 when gold was struck and the mines were dug. Its an ironic beginning for this major African city when you look at it now and how its developed over the past 130+ years. It is now a city of barbed wire and electric fences. Regardless, its Monsieur’s hometown and we couldn’t come all the way to South Africa and not stop by for a visit. Most importantly we needed to spend some time with Granny D, Monsieur’s grandmother and our kids’ great grandmother.

Four Generations in Jo’Burg

We routed ourselves from Cape Town to Jo’Burg. It was a social visit and not a tourist stop, so our stay was just 3 quick nights on our way to the Timbavati and our safari. Our plan was to visit Granny D as well as some of the remaining friends and family still living in town. Monsieur also wanted to take the kids on a tour of the city so that they could see his hometown.

Johannesburg is the scariest city I’ve ever visited. The crime rate here is extremely high. Not just robberies, but violent crime is rampant. People live behind walls and fences with electrified barbed wire across the tops. Red lights are approached with the most caution as you never know when one of the many poor folks begging on the corners will be a carjacker. Cellphones stay out of sight and handbags tucked under the seats. You are always on guard here and as a Canadian we are truly fish out of water in a place where you’re constantly on edge. So our visit here was jam packed and compact so we could get in and out with our (ok MY) nerves still intact.

On the move in Jo’Burg, security measures for a neighbourhood. Not an uncommon sight.

Day one, we headed out with a driver (feeling this was the safest way to approach our transport around the city) to tour around the neighbourhoods and schools Monsieur frequented as a kid. We managed to wind our way into his old neighbourhood in Orange Grove and found his childhood home. He was surprised at how little had changed, although the fence was higher. He rang the bell at the gate and the sweet woman inside answered. He explained why we were there and if you can believe it in this crime ridden city, she let us in to have a look! It was lovely and Monsieur was very touched.

We eventually found our way to the home of Monsieur’s old classmate W and his lovely wife S. They hosted us for lunch in the sunny garden and our kids all had a ball getting to know each other. It was a fun afternoon while the boys reminisced about their childhood and adolescent adventures. They also filled us in on how life in South Africa was changing.

Day two was devoted to visiting Granny D who is now living in a Senior’s Home in Jo’Burg. We met up with her in the snack bar at the home where she had invited a few of her neighbours to join us. It was clear that Covid has been hard on this community between lockdowns and visitor restrictions. They all seemed very happy for the chance to meet some new faces and chat about all the things happening in the world.

After the tea break, we took everyone out for lunch. In Jo’Burg, people spend their spare time out and about in gated shopping malls with plenty of security. So we followed suit and took them all to a strip mall with a collection of restaurants called “The Neighbourhood”. They all agreed that they were glad for a break from the meals served in the cafeteria at the home and were happy for a good South African grilled meat meal!

After lunch, Granny D was worn out so we brought her back to the home for a rest and bid her farewell, promising we would visit after our Safari before we flew home. Monsieur’s Mom (aka Granny B) was with us so we headed back to her hotel and a nose around the gated community she was staying in. Melrose Arch is a secure CBD area with plenty of security so its safe to walk around and visit the shops and restaurants.

Drake spotting in Jo’Burg

Following our stay in the Timbavati, we had to return to Johannesburg for one night before we flew home and ended our trip. During that stay, we spent more time visiting Granny D. We also took the kids to Sandton – essentially the new downtown area of Johannesburg. We stopped for lunch in Sandton Square to see the massive statue of Nelson Mandela which interestingly enough is out of proportion, unless Mandela had such short legs.

Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton City

We were grateful that the most heart-pumping moments we faced in Jo’Burg were on the way out. As we were headed to the airport we watched a car beside us, driving in the fast lane with a driver busily texting away not watching the road. In true South African fashion, the road works were set up in the lane with little to no warning. She luckily looked up at the last second, avoided swerving into us, slammed on the breaks and only took out the traffic cones and fortunately none of the workers.

A few minutes later, with elevated heart rates we arrived at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. The driver was busy unloading our luggage when all of a sudden tires screeched and people were yelling. A small white pick-up truck had backed out of the drop-off area at high speed and was now being chased by security on foot. Doors of the truck were open and luggage flying out and falling under the tires. I guess some person saw the car running, took the opportunity and stole it. It all happened so fast it was hard to piece together what had taken place.

Hearts really pumping, we hightailed it into the airport to get ourselves checked in and to the safety of airside. At the check in counter, we were checking all the bags and one box. An airline employee came to me and said that the box needed to be brought to a special baggage check in area and offered to take it once it was tagged. I’m Canadian so I unquestioningly follow instructions of people that seem to be in authority. I handed him the box and off he went. He came back minutes later and offered to escort us through the security line up so we didn’t have to wait in the long line. He would do this for a tip. Ok sure, I guess. We were out of rands but cobbled together a few US dollars and British pounds. He agreed and told us to wait while he went to find a wheelchair. “Wait, what?” Hang on a second. This fast track operation would require a fat tip AND a need for us to lie about our mobility ability. Ummm, no. I don’t think so. So we told him “it was fine, we don’t mind the lines.” As we approached the lengthy line up at security, I started to piece things together. Had I just handed my box of South African souvenirs to some random guy? Was he even an airline employee? What have I done? This is Africa, filthy lucre rules and many people are open to earning in all sorts of ways. Luckily, it seems that he was just a guy looking to make a buck in a society that’s so riddled with corruption that lying that you need a wheelchair to skip a line is no big deal. Much to my pleasant surprise, when we landed in Vancouver the box was with us and nothing was amiss.

The view from the Northern suburbs towards downtown with Hillbrow Tower in the distance

New Country/ New Continent

It was hard to believe that after 8 months on the road, we were now starting the last leg of our trip. We were headed to South Africa, the former homeland of Monsieur and one of our favourite places to visit. This was my third visit to South Africa and we were both quite excited to share this incredible place with our kids.

The first stop on our 2.5 week stay was Cape Town. Known as The Mother City, Cape Town is one of the three capital cities in South Africa, acting as the legislative capital. Its also a city near and dear to Monsieur’s heart having spent most of his childhood summers on the beaches here learning to Body Surf and taking in the waves.

We booked ourselves an Airbnb in the seaside neighbourhood of Bantry Bay overlooking the Atlantic side of the Cape. Bantry Bay is just a 15-20 minute drive south of the CBD of Cape Town and the famous V&A Waterfront. Its a great jumping off point to explore the Cape as there is so much to see.

We booked a direct flight from Frankfurt to Cape Town flying 12 hours through the night arriving mid-morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Monsieur was all primed to drive on the left side of the road after our stay in the UK. Navigating from the airport to Bantry Bay was relatively easily between Google Maps and Monsieur’s memory, though much has changed since our last visit here 13 years ago.

The view towards Clifton from Bantry Bay

After dropping our bags at the rental house and cleaning up a bit, we took a drive to visit our cousins L & H down in Kommetjie (pronounced coma-key). We took the kids through the enclave of Clifton Beach, through the stunning Camps Bay with a view of the incredible Twelve Apostle mountain peaks and over the famous Chapman’s Peak. The latter a vertiginous cliff-top, seaside drive towards Cape Point on the Cape of Good Hope.

L gave us some directions to stop at their local beach in Kommetjie before we were expected at their house. This wild beach with a fabulous break was full of after work surfers. It was amazing to see this wild beach so close to a big city like Cape Town. Perhaps this is part of the Cape Town charm. You have such wild and tumultuous natural spaces like this juxtaposed so closely with a world class, global city. Littered with bull kelp and plenty of salty sea spray, Kommetjie is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but marvel that if this were in North America, there would be skyscraper hotels lining this beach, not rows of quaint beach cottages and surf shacks.

Our second day in Cape Town was devoted to a walk down memory lane for Monsieur and Granny. We took a drive over the north end of Table Mountain, past the Rhodes Memorial and on to Muizenberg (pronounced Mu-zen-berg). A small surf town overlooking False Bay and depending on who you ask, the Indian Ocean side of Cape Point. Technically, the southern most point of Africa is actually Cape Agulhas located southeast from Cape Town. However, the romantic division between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans continues to be the Cape of Good Hope.

Driving through Muizenberg, Monsieur and Granny noted many changes but were amazed and at how little had changed at all. South Africa is not a country where infrastructure improvements happen with any speed at all. Instead we found a beach with several of its famous, colourful beach boxes falling down in disrepair.

While it was the middle of winter it was a sunny day and the surf was breaking in False Bay, so there were plenty of folks beachside to catch a wave including a large gang of would-be surfers from the Muizenberg Surf Emporium gathered for a class. Much too cold and great white shark-y for our tastes, we popped into the shop instead to collect some surf-enirs (see what I did there) for friends back home.

For lunch, we headed south along False Bay towards Kalk Bay. We stopped at a fish and chips shop right on the wharf called Kalkys. Nothing fancy, it was order at the counter and sit at picnic tables. Kalkys clientele was definitely the fishermen coming off the boat, so there was no excuse for frozen fish here. There was plenty of selection of locally caught seafood; snoek, hake, calamari, prawns and even octopus.

Photo evidence of our stop at Kalkys

Filled to the gullet with fried food, we continued driving south towards Simon’s Town – home of the South African Navy and on to Boulders Beach. Boulders is home to a colony of endangered African Penguins and offers a fantastic visitor experience with boardwalks through the massive granite boulders, along the beach to best view the birds. We were all happy to see the funny little penguins up close and waddling around and get our first taste of South African wildlife.

That evening we were treated to another yummy home cooked dinner, this time with Monsieur’s Auntie T. The main reason we added South Africa to our trip was so we could visit Auntie T and help her celebrate her 80th birthday which had been postponed a year due to Covid. Auntie T lives in the V&A Waterfront and took us on a walk to visit her resident seal colony. V&A Waterfront is a genius bit of development with several cool hotels, a vast shopping complex, an aquarium, a food market, a fabulous local craft and products market just to name a few of the attractions. Auntie T is our Queen of Cape Town having lived here her whole life, serving as a Counsellor and Mayor of the city in the 90s. She has a fantastic knowledge of the city and we made a plan to visit some art studios with her the following day.

The Little Kid with Auntie T’s friendly neighbourhood seals

Leaving the kids at the Airbnb with wifi and devices, Monsieur, Granny and I headed out on an adventure with Auntie T. She first took us to visit the ceramics studio of her friend Clementina van der Walt. Unfortunately Clementina was away on holiday in of all places, Canada. We were sad to miss her, but we did enjoy visiting with her apprentice Adonis N’sele Mumpango. He is from the Congo and was working on some of his own ceramic pieces drawing on Congolese artistic traditions. It was a lovely visit, I just wished that some of his pieces were finished so we could take one home!

Our second stop on the Auntie T adventure brought us to one of my most favourite places in Cape Town, MonkeyBiz. Founded in 2000 by Barbara Jackson, Shirley Fintz and Mathapelo Ngaka the goal of MonkeyBiz is “economic upliftment”. They hire people, many women who can’t find other employment, to work as artists creating traditional beadwork. They can work from home and are empowered by the MonkeyBiz community to seek financial independence. Initially they started with the mandate to hire HIV positive women who struggled to find work. Its now expanded to employ all genders who need a helping hand. The beadwork is incredible and much more elaborate than any other tourist trap beadwork I’ve seen. Each piece from MonkeyBiz is a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

We first visited MonkeyBiz in 2004 in their studio in the BoKaap. When we returned in 2008, they had opened a stand alone shop just down the street. Covid was not kind to MonkeyBiz and they were now relocated into a studio space shared with famous South African table wear designer Carroll Boyes in an industrial park. Carroll was partners with Barbara Jackson, both have since passed away but the incredible synergy between the two brands remains and you can find MonkeyBiz pieces in Carroll’s stores around the world.

To me, MonkeyBiz is an inspiring story. Three women came together to address an issue in society, with poverty alleviation as a mandate but also encouraging and promoting the locally acquired cultural artistry. Its fascinating to see how they have evolved and we were very happy to be in a position where we could help support them in a small way by buying some more pieces – this time some very sweet Christmas decorations.

Treasure at MonkeyBiz (ps check out the Nutella jar!)

On our fourth day in the Mother City, we picked up our young cousin L who happens to be around the same age as The Little Kid. We took all the kids over to the V&A Waterfront. Our plan was a stop to pick up some safari supplies and some cozy pj pants for the Little Kid. We did all that and Monsieur insisted that for lunch we have Steers Burgers. With apartheid, many brands left or boycotted South Africa, leaving the country to develop its own homegrown cache of products and brands. This is why any city with a sizeable South African community can easily sustain a shop selling all the favourites; Mrs. Ball’s Chutney, Flings Snacks, Jelly Tots and always biltong (South African dried meat) to name a few. Steers is the South African McDonald’s but with a slightly better reputation. It was a dirty fast food lunch, but it was one we could only get there so Monsieur was very happy!

South African snacks were a must do… perhaps there’s a new business in the future?

After lunch, we walked with the kids over to see The Watershed Market. A fantastic collection of over 150 artisans selling arts, crafts and other local products. We loved getting a look at some of the fantastic African carvings, bead work, baskets and canvases. We loved this indoor spot to shop for great souvenirs and African artwork. The other great place in Cape Town for this sort of shopping is downtown at Green Market Square. Also an amazing destination for African handicrafts, but somehow the Watershed was a little less chaotic and feels safer.

The kids at Nobel Square V&A with the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Albert Lutuli, Desmond Tutu, FW DeKlerk and Nelson Mandela

That evening we had planned to meet L & H for dinner at a steak house in Camps Bay. It was a well timed plan as there was a scheduled power outage between 8-10pm. Load shedding is a fact of life across South Africa at the moment. The crumbling power infrastructure has left the country with not enough power to go around to the 60 million plus residents so scheduled power outages are necessary to stretch the limited supply. The restaurant was packed as flashlight carrying residents made the decision to eat out since there would be no power to cook with at home. Most restaurants have generators to kick in when the load shedding occurs. Around 8pm the power went off in the restaurant and seconds later the generator kicked in and powered everything back up. We would hardly have noticed besides the fact that it was so dark outside. We preferred to languish over dinner rather than brave the roads with all the traffic lights out.

The real highlight over dinner was meeting Tonda. Tonda was the manager of the restaurant and a member of Xhosa tribe. She is a firecracker of energy and joy. We immediately fell in love and were absolutely smitten when she took one look at the Little Kid and sized them up perfectly.

“Can you tell me where the washroom is?” The Little asked.

”Well,” said Tonda “You go outside and turn left. There you’ll see a big tree. You squat there!”

The Little turned as pale as can be. “This IS Africa.” Tonda boomed.

The Little burst into laughter, as did all of us. Then Tonda taught us a little Xhosa, an amazing language with 3 separate click sounds. A fabulous cultural experience right there in that steak house in the dark. We were super grateful that Tonda was so willing to share with us.

The Little with the lovely Tonda

Our final day in Cape Town was a busy one. Our cousin R invited us to have lunch with her and her daughter M in Kalk Bay. We met at the eclectic, yet delicious Olympia Cafe. It was good that we ate a solid meal, because we needed it for the next stop. Conveniently located just upstairs from the cafe is Kalk Bay Modern. Another haven for impeccable locally made art, jewelry and other handicrafts it was a feast for the soul. From fabulous embroidered tapestries to contemporary Bushman art to captivating canvases, Kalk Bay Modern was teeming with amazing original pieces. We were most taken with Patrick Makumbe, a Zimbabwean artist who’s work captures such humanity through colour and subject. What a treat to visit such a great incubator of Southern African art and artists.

Finally, to close out our amazing stay in Cape Town we hosted dinner for all our local family in the Airbnb. Our fabulous host connected us with Nicole who cooked one of the best meals of our trip. Believe me I’ll be first in line when Nicole finally publishes her cookbook. It was out of this world. We were very happy that we could have all 10 cousins, Auntie T and all of us for a feast. It was fun to host again, especially with Nicole cheffing it up in the kitchen so I didn’t have to lift a finger!

We were sad to say farewell to Cape Town. We had so much fun getting to know our Capetonian family better and were thrilled to see a different side of the city. In the chilly, rainy and wintry weather we were able to explore the more artistic nooks and crannies rather than our usual beaches and wineries. Although we did wish we had more time so we could show the kids some of the very old wineries of Constantia and the stunning landscapes of Paarl and Franschhoek. We decided that next time we needed to allow more time and return for the summer/ fall months when we could take better advantage of the amazing landscape.

Catching up with the family in CT

London Calling: The Summer Edition

We had such a great time in London at the beginning of our trip that we thought it would be good to get back there for a bit of an extended stay.  We have lots of old friends and family there and besides its f**king London and its awesome. Luckily we could spare the time, because our schedule was packed.  We could’ve easily spent another week. 

At the Albert Memorial

The drive from The Cotswolds was super easy.  Monsieur had mastered the art of driving on the left side of the road and I had mastered the art of not constantly wanting to adjust the rear view mirror.  We had honed these skills in the peaceful countryside and truth be told, we were a little anxious about exercising them in the city. Especially a city well known for formidable traffic.

We arrived late-morning on a Friday and we only screamed at the kids around 6 or 7 times. Why is absolute silence needed in these hairy driving moments?  We pulled up in front of our hotel (we splurged on a posh one that we like to call Clams) in our Volkswagen hatchback rental.  Four Canadians fell out of the car along with several Starbucks cups and chip bags (English snacks are pretty great) to find the front of the hotel cordoned off behind red velvet ropes and the street blocked by hordes of teenagers and paparazzi.  I wasn’t daunted and wove my way around the throngs to find the sweet doormen that helm the entrance of our beloved Clams.  I tapped him on the shoulder and in my best stage whisper said “We’re checking in?” 

”Well, then!” He bellowed, “Let’s get you sorted!”

The Little became BFFs with all the Boys on Brook Street at Clams

And that was that.  In we were swept through the masses of people waiting for someone far more famous than we could imagine and found our way to the front desk, leaving our VW hatchback parked out front next to the Bentley. We would be leaving to return it to the rental agency soon enough.  The Front Desk Clerk welcomed us with a big smile.  “Who is it?” I said.  “Is it J Lo and Ben?”  He looked down and shook his head.  “I can’t say.”  I started wracking my brain.  I do love a challenge.  Who on earth would warrant such a showing of rabid fans and paparazzi in the middle of the day?  “Beyoncé?”  Another head shake “I can’t say.”  I know! “Kim Kardashian?”  He wavered “I can’t say.”  Its not Kim.  “Its one of her sisters?”  He glowed red.  EUREKA!  Now which one…. Turns out it was Kylie, Stormy and Travis Scott.  We only needed to wait a minute to hear the crowds roaring outside for them.  Personally a Jenner/ Kardashian sighting doesn’t thrill me in the least, but the Little Kid was suitably impressed.  Score another point Clams!

We never did see the Scott/ Jenners in the flesh.  To be fair, I’m sure that they were sneaking out by the dumpsters.  THE most glamorous lifestyle if you don’t mind the stench of garbage.

Monsieur and I deposited the starstruck Little Kid and the non-plussed Big Kid up in the room and headed back out on the streets.  By then the paps had all but disappeared and only a few diehard fans were camped out waiting for the famous(er) folks to return.  We had the pleasure of continuing our journey back to the car rental place across London.  I navigated well enough that we barely fought and successfully dropped the car.  We were glad to be back on foot and car-less in the big city.  Between London’s amazing Tube network, prolific black cabs and Uber we wouldn’t miss it at all.

As I mentioned, we had a packed schedule while in London.  In addition to all the fun, we were preparing for the last stop on our trip (more on that later) so we had lots of little missions to accomplish.  Luckily we were able to tick them all off the to do list within just a few blocks of the hotel.

We planned an afternoon hang out with our friends D & J on the Saturday afternoon.  We met them in Camden Town right in the middle of the Saturday mayhem.  They led us on a walk that looped us up to the top of Primrose Hill to take in the view of the whole city.  We carried on down the hill and met up with the canal walking through the zoo section of Regent’s Park. We stuck to the cooler canal side and eventually looped back to the Camden Lock.  It was a fun side of London that you can only really see on foot. 

We had booked dinner at an Indian restaurant near Covent Garden called Cinnamon Bazaar. We missed ALL the Asian food while travelling around Europe and we were gonna make up for it goddamnit!  So D & J as true Londoners, took us on another adventure.  We took the tube to Tottenham Court Road station and continued the journey on foot through the Seven Dials traffic circle and on to Neal’s Yard.  How charming is that place?  Not JUST because it’s home to Monty Python’s first crash pad/ studio/ workplace or whatever, but because there’s some very cool little wine bars and pubs nestled into the courtyard.  We picked the first one that had enough seats for our 6 bums and tucked into some super yummy natural wine.  I think it was called Casanova & Daughters.  It was great and we were YET AGAIN grateful to D & J for showing us a side of London we had never seen.  Before we knew it our reservation was coming up fast and we needed to hightail it to dinner.  On foot again, D would shout out things like “That place has a great beer selection.”  Or “The Indian food there is the best.”  I wished I had filmed the whole speed walk to dinner because I can’t remember any other delicious and important-for-future-trips-to-London sort of details.  And in case you were wondering, the Indian food at Cinnamon Bazaar was pretty damn good too.

Following dinner, we spilled onto the streets of Covent Garden and found our Uber who drove us through a very busy Saturday night in Soho.  We saw some stuff that was new for the Little.  “I think that guy was dancing in the window butt naked?” They said.  Indeed he was Little, indeed he was.  Clearly Covid was in the rear view mirror here in London and I wasn’t about to adjust it to get a better look.

On Sunday morning, we had to divide and conquer our little team.  Monsieur and the Little headed out on the Tube towards Heathrow to meet our soon-to-be-arriving Granny.  The Big Kid and I headed to Selfridges on the errand train – we needed to pick up some cosmetics, a birthday gift and a new piece of luggage.  We were successful, including a scratch and dent suitcase marked down to £100, which is a bargain anywhere let alone at Selfridges.  We marvelled at all the people whiling away their Sunday, juggling multiple bags from Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and others.  Fancy pantsy in a way that we just didn’t encounter in Paris.  The level of wealth in Mayfair is unreal.  Makes Beverly Hills look like a trailer park.  I lost count of the Rolls, Maybachs and Bentleys parked on the street.

Granny arrived without a hitch and like a champ powered through her jetlag.  We had a lovely dinner with Monsieur’s cousins.  It was so pleasant to sit at someone’s home for a casual, chatty dinner.  I couldn’t remember the last time we had experienced that luxury.

Lovely family dinner with Y-S’s

Monday was a special day.  It was our wedding anniversary and I decided to celebrate by getting my highlights touched up.  Romantic right?  See, I told you London was fully of errands.  It had been 10 weeks since my last visit to the salon back in Paris and it was clearly time.  So Monsieur obliged.

The afternoon was spent touring Buckingham Palace.  We felt lucky as the Palace is only open to tourists for a couple of months in the summer.  It was especially poignant to visit during Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee year.  Now that she’s passed away, it was a big memory for our kids who felt especially connected to this historical moment after having been there so recently.  The Big Kid is also a very big fan of all things Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, so she enjoyed the chance to view the portraits and revisit their history with the Palace.

Hamming it up with The Royals

Feeling suitably cultured, coiffed and having fed the kids and Granny Gran with take-away Nando’s, Monsieur and I headed to Knightsbridge for another Indian dinner.  This time at Amaya, a Michelin starred Indian tapas restaurant that was very good.  I’m not much for a Michelin star restaurant – too foamy and truffle-y.  But Amaya was lovely.

Someone missed the memo… Happy ANNIVERSARY Monsieur

Tuesday we took the morning off to chill out a bit because we had a big afternoon planned.  We were going to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour.  Located about an hour northwest of London in Leavesden, we struggled a bit with how to get there and opted to take a black cab.  This worked pretty well as we were able to get all 5 of us in and it was about the same price as the train tickets.  For the return, the only really viable option was to take the shuttle bus to Watford Junction Station and then hop on the train to London Euston Station.  It was a super quick trip back and if we were to do it again, wouldn’t hesitate to do the train/ shuttle bus route.  You can’t miss the double decker shuttle buses – they have Harry plastered all over the sides of them.

The Studio Tour was amazing.  We are big Potter fans (books and films) so were very impressed with just how in depth this tour is.  It includes many of the major movie sets, props and costumes.  It was impressive and was definitely worth the price of admission for the three hour tour.  We finally got back to Clams and had hamburgers in the bar before we fell into bed for the night.  It was a big outing and one everyone loved it.

Wednesday was spent exploring Oxford Circus and Regent Street searching for back to school clothes and replacing all the things that the Little had grown out of over the past three months.  Later, we took a taxi up to Notting Hill to have a poke around Portobello Road. It was fun to peak into the little goofy shops mixed in with cute brocantes/ antiques. We also popped into visit Yottam Ottolenghi’s tiny Notting Hill outpost where we picked up some fun spices including his own Za’atar.

Craving a pie we decided we needed to find a good pub for lunch. This sounds like it would be very easy in London. But, its sort of tricky. While pubs are everywhere, they don’t always serve food all the time and if they don’t, the kids are persona non grata. Feeling like we weren’t up for the challenge of “Let’s Find an Open Pub, Serving Food More Than Just a Burger and Will Also Serve the Kids”, we hopped a cab and headed straight to the Duke of Argyll Pub again in Soho for lunch. We knew they served a great pie from when we last visited back in March. We also tried to get the Little to down some coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes to try and stunt their growth in an effort to reduce all the new shoes expenses we were incurring on this trip.  Alas, no luck.  We will have to keep re-investing in shoes for this Little goober for many more years to come it seems.

The big highlight on this day was that the Kids decided that they were tired of errand running and weren’t interested in boring shopping at Whole Foods and Nespresso and asked if they could head back to the hotel on their own.  We were about a 15 minute walk away.  The Big Kid was cool with the challenge and felt confident that with the help of Google Maps, she knew the way.  So off they went, into the heart of Soho.  I didn’t know whether to dance a jig or bawl my eyes out.  I was so proud that they were ready to stretch their newly earned travel muscles on their own, but a little heartbroken that they were growing up so quickly before our very eyes.  You two sure you don’t want some coffee and smokes?

Thursday was another big day with some locals.  B & A, more London-based cousins of Monsieur met us with their lovely daughters at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Our kids were happy to meet some more new-to-them relatives and were doubly glad to have some kids to hang out with.  

Following St. Paul’s B guided us on another walking tour, this time South of the Thames.  Crossing over the Millennium Bridge we swung past the Tate Modern (we did sneak in for a quick peek until the kids rebelled – NO MORE MUSEUMS), past Skakespeare’s Globe Theatre and onto the Borough Market passing The Clink and through some even-creepy-in-the-daytime Jack the Ripper territory.  We ended up in The Old Thameside Inn for another yummy pub lunch.  I would remind myself that I would return to a wheat and pie free diet when we were back on Canadian soil.

After lunch, we hopped on the Uber Boat and headed towards Canary Wharf.  Unfortunately that day the boat wasn’t going as far as Greenwich our planned destination. Instead we braved the very boring and office-y Canary Wharf.  With everyone a little seasick from the boat, we decided we should take the train back to Mayfair and hopped the brand new Elizabeth Line which brought us right back to Oxford Circus and steps from Clams.  It was a fun Ferris Bueller-y kind of day where we saw tons and squashed a lot into a few hours.

We left all the 4 kids in the hotel room where they were very amused by the swanky Japanese toilets.  The 5 adults headed to Knightsbridge for sushi at Zuma.  It was pretty good but overpriced by Vancouver sushi standards.  We had a nice time but were not Kardashian enough for the place to NOT be rushed out the door as soon as the meal was done.  After dinner we were waiting for a cab and realized we were at the world famous Harrods.  So OF COURSE we popped our noses in to have a look.  I hadn’t been inside Harrods in years and we made a beeline to, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the store – The Food Hall.  We picked up some chocolate because DUH, its chocolate.

Only because we’re maniacs and we were trying to pack it ALL in, we had another busy day Friday.  Just in time for another serious heatwave in the UK.  Temps would soar into the mid-30s just as we were heading out on another walking tour.  This time the emphasis was on Victoria & Albert.  Mostly for the Big Kid since she’s such a fan thanks to the PBS series about young Victoria, but we managed to enjoy it too.  We walked from Clams, through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to Kensington Palace.  We tried to keep to the shade and made a pit stop at the Palace gift shop of course.  We wound our way back to the Albert Memorial and around Prince Albert Hall.  The whole time, the guide shared with us much information about their legendary romance as well as the incredible strides that they supported into the industrial revolution.  Fascinating.

Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace

Friday night was the highlight of our trip.  We had booked tickets to see Coldplay at the first of their six shows at the legendary (although brand new incarnation of) Wembley Stadium.  After 25+ years in the music business, I have to say that this was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  It was impeccable.  An incredible performance from the band with state of the art production, it was like a religious experience.  From the jump, the audience sang along to every word of every song.  Every audience member was part of the light show with LED wristbands that created a stadium wide effect.  Three different stages transported the band around to play to every seat in the house.  The fireworks blasted from the roof of Wembley as the first song began and continued at various points throughout the show.  Its easy to forget that this band has a repertoire of hits that rivals few others except maybe U2 and The Beatles.  Every song they played in their two hour set was a hit.  

It was emotional.  We danced to every song and at one point during Fix You I looked at the Little whose eyes were welling with tears.  “Are you ok?” I said.  “I’m fine,” she said blinking.  And then, “Actually, no I’m not.”  And then the tears started to fall and we both cried, overcome with so much emotion charging the atmosphere.  We cried with happiness being back in a place where we could share this connection with other people, with complete strangers.  This band understands the power that they can wield with their audience and they used it quite expertly.  It was impressive and I’ll say it again, impeccable.  Every element of the show was built with thoughtfulness and intention.  Bravo Coldplay.

Saturday was our last day in London.  We were still a-glow post Coldplay and had planned to see Mamma Mia in the West End.  I’m not sure if anything could have competed with our Friday night, but we couldn’t help but feel Mamma Mia was a little tired.  We went for the kids, who loved the movie.  We wished we had opted to see Hamilton instead.  Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Big Kid at Mamma Mia

We were very glad to have planned such a long stay in London.  As you can see, we had plenty to do.  London’s easy to return to and we definitely will. Now we are headed to the last country on our itinerary: South Africa!

Cape Town or Bust

Heat Wave!

As we were approaching our departure date from Portugal we were looking ahead to our next stop on the schedule; Marrakech, Morocco.  We thought the temperatures in Southern Europe were high, the forecast for Marrakech made the hollows of hell look down right chilly.  After our brush with heat stroke in Seville at just over 40 Celsius, the temperatures in Marrakech were expected to be at least 47 Celsius.  Clearly that would be extraordinarily unpleasant for more than just me in my personal menopausal heatwave, but for the rest of the family too.  The thought of trying to do anything in those high temperatures seemed impossible so we made the decision to re-route ourselves.

This is when it got a little tricky.  Our Schengen Tourist Visas were set to expire on August 1, so we need to get out of the EU.  We were scheduled to be in London after Morocco so that was easy.  But what to do in the meantime?  Croatia was just too far to consider for only 5 days.  Maybe Edinburgh, but that required more flights and the weather there was practically autumnal.  We didn’t have the clothes for that.  What about The Cotswolds?  Under a two hour drive from London, we could fly from Lisbon to Heathrow, rent a car and drive to the countryside.  After a few days we could then drive ourselves right back into Central London and resume our pre-planned itinerary.  This would eliminate a flight from our schedule overall which was also a nice bonus seeing as airline and luggage delays were still a going concern.  Luckily we found a centrally located Airbnb that was available in the market town of Burford so we locked it in.  We were very sad to miss Marrakech, but this seemed like the most sensible solution.

The Cotswolds are so charming.  You can see how Beatrix Potter and Lewis Carroll were inspired by the pastoral, rolling hills.  It’s also a fantastic central location from which to explore this part of England.  We decided to take full advantage of that.

Our sweet little cottage was right on the Main Street of Burford with a pile of charming pubs right outside our door.  All plans to take advantage of finally having a kitchen to cook in after a month went out the window after our first pub dinner at the Cotswold Arms.  The steak and ale pie accompanied by fresh peas, mash and loads of other veggies was the most comfortable of comfort food we could imagine and we welcomed it with open mouths!  We also had one of those fun, stars-aligning travel moments at the Cotswold Arms.  We started chatting with our server S.  He was re-counting to us his Covid experience and coming home after working and travelling abroad for many years.  He is currently building a new career as a professional photographer.  Lighting strike!  We had the idea at one stage of our trip, to get some family photos taken to commemorate our adventure.  We asked S if he might be interested and available to take them for us and he was!  Lucky thing! We made a plan to meet up in a few days.

In the meantime we managed sample many more meat pies at several of the other cute pubs in Burford.  The Highway Inn, The Angel and The Royal Oak were all highlights.  The Highway Inn was particularly good – perhaps it was the sautéed kale served with the pie or the fact that it was about 4 doors down from our cottage?  I’m not sure but we ate there twice.  Pub food in The Cotswolds is excellent and we had meals that rivalled any of our best in Italy.  So there.

Our first day in The Cotswolds was deemed a day off to mess around, do laundry and wander the village of Burford.  We were happy to stay close to home.  Peanut butter and jelly on toast for breakfast.  Hummus on crackers for dinner.  We were very happy for a chill out day.  But not wanting to miss the action, day two was far more jam packed.

Day off “at home” in the Cotswolds with ice cold Appletisers

We were up early to drive the hour plus to Highclere Castle better known as the location of Downton Abbey.  As long time Downton fans, we nerded out on the long walk up to the castle and as we toured through the house.  This is the room where Lady Mary slept with Kamal Pamuk and then he died and she was nearly ruined!  And here, this is the spot where Lady Edith threw her veil after being jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony.  And over there, that’s the door where Mr. Bates surprised Anna after he was released from prison.  Ahhh, memories.

Following our scheduled visit at Highclere and the obligatory swing through the very flowery gift shop, we mapped our next destination – Stonehenge.  Just over 30 minutes away and growing by the minute as the throngs of tourists were beginning to descend.  Our plan was to hop on the motorway and drive past Stonehenge, waving and snapping a photo.  From there we’d swing back northwards and stop in the town of Swindon to visit the nearest Nandos to Burford for lunch.  Easy.  Except we underestimated the encroaching tourists.  The Google Oracle was mapping us, constantly diverting us as we got closer to Salisbury to avoid the ensuing traffic jams.  Turn left here, take the second exit at the roundabout, turn right here and so on and so on.  Before we knew it, we were turning into the parking lot for the Henge.  F**k.  Google sent us off the motorway so we had taken the long way round and were taken straight to the visitors centre.  Well, now that we’re here at this ancient monolith we can’t very well turnaround and go without seeing it.

So we followed the line-up into the parking lot.  We trudged across the lot and found the line-up for ticket sales.  With luck, tickets were still available for today.  Then we wandered around until we found our way to the bus stop.  We waited for the bus that would take us the 2 miles up the road to see Stonehenge – 2 miles return seemed a little too far to walk when it was way past lunch and people were hankering for their Nando’s fix.  We rode the bus, arrived at The Henge, got out, walked over to the site, took 4 photos (one was crap), turned heel and got back on the bus to head back to the visitor’s centre.  Probably 45 minutes of rigamarole for a 5 minute visit to see the Henge.

Back at the Visitor’s Centre we dropped 20 quid in the gift shop – check out the Little’s Stonehenge shaped pillow – we were back in the car and racing to Swindon before anyone got VERY hangry.  Swindon is a town that tourists definitely skip, but the Nando’s was nice and everyone was happy for some good South African/ Portuguese fast food.

Exit through the gift shop…

The following day, we pre-booked tickets to visit Blenheim Palace.  The ancestral seat of the Duke of Marlborough but also perhaps more famously known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  The Palace is modelled a bit after Versailles and is extraordinarily grand.  We spent some time googling the current Duke of Marlborough who still resides on the Estate, he seems to have recovered well from his addiction issues and brushes with the law.  Ahhh the British Aristocracy, how the other half live!

Blenheim is located in the town of Woodstock just a short drive from Oxford.  We figured we should take the chance to see the town and famous University.  Oxford is a very cool place and would definitely warrant a future visit for a longer period of time.  A city filled with students from all over the world lends an international flair.  Not to mention all the incredibly famous university buildings through the centre of town.

On our last day in The Cotswolds, we decided to try and see some of the other famous little towns in the area.  We visited Bourton-on-the-Water with its shallow river and real Wind in the Willows vibes.  We also drove through the town of Stow-on-the-Wold.  Such charming little communities where you expect the squirrels to have names and for the ducks to start speaking out loud. 

At the end of the day it was time for our photo shoot. S gave us coordinates to a place called Minster Lovell.  A tiny village with an abandoned manor house that would serve as the backdrop for our shoot.  S took some great shots of us that afternoon that will serve as a great memory of our trip.

Pretending to get along at Minster Lovell in the Cotswolds

While it was MUCH less exotic than Marrakech, The Cotswolds were a lovely place to spend a few days.  The slightly cooler temperatures made the days bearable and the nights comfortable for sleep.  The people were so kind and gracious, happy to have tourists coming back through their doors.  We loved our cozy cottage and imagined that it would be a lovely place to visit in winter as much as it was now in summer.  We have now added another great place that we’d love to visit again.

The Algarve

Editor’s Note: Due to a severe case of jet lag I managed to post out of order. In fact, we travelled from Seville to The Algarve and from The Algarve to Lisbon. I’m posting this a little late. Mi dispiace.

Following our hasty departure from Seville, with a slightly heat-stroked and nauseous little we made the trip to Albufeira in about 2.5 hours. We arrived at the beach resort and were grateful that the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler here on the Southern Coast of Portugal.

Why yes you are…

It was a bit of culture shock to walk into a massive resort. It is a huge gated community with golf course, several houses and condos and finally our hotel on the cliff overlooking the sea and the beach below. After staying in places with under 50 rooms, we were not in Kansas anymore. This place was a monstrosity with several restaurants and swimming pools. Here people jockey for lounge chairs. We worried a little that perhaps we had made a mistake.

Big resort beach club vibes

But as Monsieur repeated the mantra we carried for all of our travel decisions “It’s All Good”. Everything was an opportunity to experience something new and we would just go with the flow. The kids were happy to have a little break from all the museum visiting. The hardest choice of the day was beach or pool. Catering to British holiday-makers, everything was in English including the TV options. It was a nice change of pace for a minute not to have to work as hard to order or choose some entertainment. But I will admit, we missed the opportunity to try and learn more Portuguese language and culture.

In the meantime, while brushing his teeth Monsieur threw out his back. He managed to spend a day in bed in the room. By the third day at the beach Monsieur was finally healed enough to hobble around a little. We decided to hop in the car and explore a bit. The historic centre of Albufeira was only a short 20 minute drive away and about as far as he could manage sitting in the car. Surprisingly, it was a serious disappointment. Overrun with crappy trinket shops and sunburned and drunk tourists (at 11am!!) we didn’t last a half an hour. Truth be told, we probably should have ventured a little further to the east to see Faro or perhaps further west towards the open Atlantic, but we were lazy and if you saw Monsieur trying to get in and out of the car Albufeira was far enough.

This shot kind of sums up Albufeira perfectly

The Algarve is indeed a very beautiful place. The beaches are epic with their high cliffs and white sand. But its catering to the holidaymaker more than the traveller, so this time around the Algarve wasn’t for us. Maybe we’ll try it again in the future. Who knows???

Lisbon and The Mandalorian

Grateful for our few days off in The Algarve, we were really looking forward to some time in a big city again. We put in the coordinates for our hotel in Lisbon into Google Maps and off we went. Wait a minute, this says that the drive is 3.5 hours. I thought it was more like 2.5 hours. And why do we have to head so far east when we want to go north? The main north/ south toll highway, the A2 was closed from the starting point in The Algarve until about Ourique due to a raging forest fire. The drought in this part of the world is very evident with many dry river beds and scorched fields, especially with the epic heatwave we had been experiencing. So off we went with the Google Oracle as our guide, twisting and turning on single lane roads through Southern Portugal. No peepee stops here, there’s nowhere to stop. Finally we reached the apex, on top of a mountain we seemed to be in the highest point in Southern Portugal and found ourselves in the middle of a wind turbine forest. Another notch in the cap of the European Environmental initiatives. Wind turbines are a very common sight.

We were glad to finally reach the A2 again and found a service centre with ice cream bars and a clean washroom for a stop. It wasn’t long before we were crossing the Ponte 25 de Abril (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge it was built by the same contractor) and into lovely Lisbon. Happy to be back in the land of walking tours and Uber, we gratefully returned our rental car and continued our journey on foot.

This calçada in Chiado is a nod to the important seafaring history of Portugal

Lisbon is a beautiful city. The calçada sidewalks are stunning mosaics and an art form unto themselves and the beautiful tile works on many of the buildings create a distinctive Portuguese design element.

We booked a walking tour that started at the top of Avenida Liberdade at Parque Eduardo VII, walking along the very broad and tree lined Avenida through the Praça Dom Pedro IV and towards the elevator that would help reduce the climb up to the historic Alfama neighbourhood. It was a fun tour, full of historical information that I won’t bore you with, but we were glad to get a real taste of Lisbon. Alfama is extremely quaint and charming, mostly because it is still a residential neighbourhood. Locals hang their laundry and put their bird cages in the windows while tourists bustle by trying to capture it all on our iPhones.


At the top of Alfama we decided to hop in one of the many tuktuks (an import from Asia, the streets of Lisbon are overrun with tuktuk tour operators all vying for your tourism euros). Our guide chose one that looked the safest with a female driver. Never judge a book by its cover, because this woman was a maniac on the road and we were all holding on for dear life. Not to mention that she was hell bent on proving that she knew more than our guide. After a hair raising 30 minutes, we finally arrived in the upscale Chiado shopping area and bid farewell to both our guides with the intention of getting lunch.

We ended up at the historic A Brasileira cafe for Prego Rolls (Portuguese steak sandwiches) and Cokes. Don’t judge, Coca-Cola is the fuel that kept us on the move on this trip with just the right combination of sugar and caffeine. When we get home there will be a strict Coke moratorium. The cafe was ok. It was more about the historic wood-panelled decor than the food. We decided that we would take our Pastéis de Nata order elsewhere for dessert.

Just up the street, we found the Manteigeira – Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata. A bakery that only sells the ubiquitous Portuguese egg custard tarts. Everyone claims to have the best in town, and Manteigeira was no different. I’m not enough of an expert to definitively say which one is the best, but we gave it a real effort and tried quite a few at all of our Portuguese destinations. Truth be told, I don’t mind taking one for the team and continuing this quest for the perfect Pastéis de Nata. I’ll make that sacrifice for you!

Once everyone’s grumpies were sated by the delicious tarts we hoped in an Uber and headed back to the hotel so we could put our kids in the pool to cool off and recharge before dinner. As you know, the aforementioned Coca-Cola does have a very short energy burst that wears off quickly. The trick is to get the kids into a swimming pool before the effects of the sugar wanes.

Luckily, the hotel pool was very nice and had plenty of shade. I myself was off for a much needed mani/ pedi and missed the action. The Little Kid was swimming away and with her celebrity hawk eyes, spotted the one and only Pedro Pascal suntanning on the other side. Pick your franchise – Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Narcos – Pedro starred in all of them. Of course, the Little knows him from The Mandalorian. Our Friday night routine during Covid was to watch (and re-watch) the show being fans of the Child and Mando himself. I’m partial to that calm husky voice, thank you very much… IYKYK…. Anyways, with a boost of bravery from Monsieur, the Little ventured over and said hello. They had a lovely visit with Pedro (I call him Pedro now because clearly my family are so tight with him) who was extremely kind, gracious and even a little chatty. I was only a little jealous because I now had a much needed refresh on my fingers and toes.

This is the Way… to the pool

Our favourite dinner was at Time Out Market. Seeing it on every list of things to see and do in Lisbon, I was expecting it to be like Granville Island Market in Vancouver so I wasn’t racing to get there. But we decided it might be a good option with the kids since its essentially a food court with plenty of dining options. It’s a food court alright, but with some of the best chefs in Portugal serving up signature dishes. You can get pizza, burgers and hot dogs too but they are gourmet all the way. The hall is several long communal tables surrounded by loads of food outlets. In the centre amongst the tables are beer, wine and cocktail purveyors so it feels more like a beer garden with much better food. Make sure to leave room for dessert as there’s plenty of sweet options like gelato and of course the best Pastéis de Nata in the city (or so they say… this jury is still deliberating).

Time Out Market is located down closer to the River. We decided to walk back to the hotel only realizing when it was too late that it was uphill the whole way. We hiked up into Bairro Alto up a flight of stairs that rivaled those on the side of Montmartre. With a full tummy and one or two pints of Sagres down, it felt a lot more like the Grouse Grind to me. Once at the top, weaving through the bar filled streets of Bairro Alto the kids finally convinced us to stop and call an Uber.

Back at the hotel, the kids headed off to bed and Monsieur and I found the bar to enjoy a nightcap. Ever since watching the Love Boat as a kid, I’ve always LOVED the word “nightcap”. It’s so seventies and sleazy.

“Care to join me in my cabin for a nightcap?” she said suggestively as the strap of her sequinned evening gown slipped from her shoulder, her feather boa dipping to the ground.

See? So why not? Here we were in Portugal where they MAKE THE MOST delicious nightcap ever: Port! It would be rude NOT to head to the bar for a nightcap, a glass of yummy chilled white port. So we did and it was delicious. The kids only texted us asking for the wifi password twice and to complain that the other kid was bothering them three or four times before we packed it in and called it a night.

The next day, still facing the continuing heatwave the kids decided to have a chill day in the hotel. Not wanting to miss a minute of Lisbon, Monsieur and I took off to explore The LX Factory. Located in an industrial area underneath the 25 de Abril Bridge, its a collection of old warehouse and industrial buildings that has been converted into artists studios, creative workspaces, unique shops and lively restaurants. We loved exploring the area and had fun checking out all the cool Portuguese art and design. In my opinion, LX Factory is a must-do when in Lisbon. Try to hit it on a weekday, sadly we were there on a Saturday and many of the smaller ateliers weren’t open on the weekend.

I figured out that this was in fact my fourth visit to Lisbon as I used to travel here on business for a couple of years. I was very glad that Monsieur loved it as much as I did. It’s a city we definitely want to go back to and spend more time. It’s full of history – like anywhere some good and some bad. But its a vibrant place with lots of young people building a life and solid communities of people that have made it their home for decades. Don’t underestimate Lisbon, it’s definitely worth a visit.