67 Days To Go

A very exciting thing has happened and it is this: Sean and I have booked a vacation. We've been talking about booking this vacation for about eight months now and the destination, in that timeframe, has changed twice. For the first six months we were all over India—which I have, truth be told, been all over for a really, really, really long time—and then we kind of lost steam on India for various reasons and started getting excited about Morocco instead, which is kind of what happens when you have a map over your kitchen table and lots of time to stare at it while eating dinner. (Quick jaunt to the Crozet Islands, darling? Ah, lovely! With maybe a stopover in Funafuti.)

So for the last few months it was down to India or Morocco, which I realize is basically like the best choice anyone has had to make ever (apart from maybe Paris vs. Rome). I mean seriously, there is actually no wrong answer there, right? You are not going to have a bad vacation in either India or Morocco, come on now.

But a few weeks ago when my dad was visiting, we got to talking about amazing dream destinations and he casually threw in a third option, and this third option was so totally right up our alley that Sean and I jumped all over it like a lion attacking the fresh carcass of a wildebeest.

My apologies to the vegetarians, but that was just a little bit of foreshadowing. Have you guessed where we're going yet? We're going to South Africa!


Here is a map of South Africa to illustrate my point. I borrowed it from here.

I am beyond excited about going to South Africa. I know you can't really sense it just from reading these words on a page but I think if we were sitting down together over coffee and I was telling you this, you would be casting nervous glances around the Starbucks, trying surreptitiously to shush me with your eyes. I would be making a scene, is what I'm saying. You would be 90% embarrassed at my enthusiasm and my hand-flapping and how it was making everybody stare at us, but also maybe 10% sort of excited for me too, because it would pretty much be contagious.

Here is what I know about South Africa: not a huge amount. I mean, I know the bits that everybody knows—the history of apartheid, the plight of Nelson Mandela, and so on—but the rest of my South Africa knowledge is gleaned partly from Invictus and partly from these three South African exchange students who stayed in my boarding school dormitory for a few months in 1994. (We were penpals for a little while afterwards too. Man, I wish I still knew where those girls were.)

But look, this is why you go to a place, right? You go to fill the gaps in your knowledge, to flesh out the immediate flash connotation you have with a destination, to add some context and lay down your own narrative. (At least, that's sometimes why you go to a place. Sometimes you just go to lie on a beach and drink umbrella drinks, let's not be foolin'.) I am so excited about South Africa because I cannot—despite the fact that I have since Trip Advisored the crap out of it—even begin to imagine what it's going to be like. The very best vacations are the ones where you walk out of the airport and think "my god, where am I?"

The plan is this: we are flying into Cape Town, where we will spend five or six days. In and around Cape Town, we will go wine-tasting, penguin-spotting, cage-diving with great white sharks—yes, hot on the heels of skydiving; apparently this is my year of no fear—and general sight-seeing, before taking the 27-hour train journey up to Johannesburg. (You can fly to Johannesburg, obviously, and it doesn't cost a huge amount or take very much time at all, but we are both enamored with the idea of making the journey by train, because I am pretty sure the scenery is going to be outstanding.) From Johannesburg, where we are only staying a scant 24 hours, we'll drive up to Kruger National Park and spend four days on safari. Internet, you cannot possibly have any idea how excited I am about going on safari. And not just because I have an excuse to buy some awesome new khaki-colored clothing.

Trust me, this is pretty much all I can think about right now—and I haven't even told you about the two days we're going to spend in Amsterdam on the way back, which is pretty much the best vacation two-in-one ever (SALTY LICORICE! FRENCH FRIES WITH MAYONNAISE!) or the twelve hours in Paris on the way there, which I am trying to see as a vacation three-in-one, but which is really just a fairly long-ass layover that we're going to leave the airport for, providing we're not so tired and jetlagged that we just want to lie on the floor at Charles de Gaulle and die.

Have you been to South Africa? Have you been to Amsterdam? Do you have any knowledge to impart about either? Hotel recommendations? Food recommendations? Any other kind of recommendations? You are so lucky we're not Skyping right now. My voice has reached a pitch that can only be heard by dogs.

1
nicolien
Sep 14, 2011

That sounds awesome! Also, I have been to South Africa and I live in Amsterdam, so I can give you all the information you want - just e-mail me.
I would also love to show you around (I live in a lesser-visited part of the city which is much nicer and more interesting than the city center), but if you just want to hang out with Sean instead of with some stranger, I will of course tell you about the greatest places and leave you alone :)

2
Samantha
Sep 14, 2011

I can not begin to recommend Hotel Keizershof in Amsterdam enough! I have just got back from 3 months traveling and have to say this was definitely one of the best places we stayed. The homemade breakfast is just amazing and the hosts are lovely, full of helpful information and recommendations. Amsterdam is beautiful I hope you enjoy it!

3
Super Sarah
Sep 14, 2011

I am SOUTH AFRICAN! Yahooo and super excited you are going, honestly, its such an awesome holiday destination, you won't regret it. My parents still live in Joburg but thats just a starting point for us when we go home for holidays and my Mum arranged the itineraries for so many of our friends who came to our garden wedding in South Africa! You are more than welcome to email me if you have any questions!

4
Kate Schaafsma
Sep 14, 2011

If you are in the Jordaan area you must visit this great old restaurant http://www.belhamel.nl/ at Brouwersgracht 60 with stunning canal views - then head along to http://www.cafetabac.eu/ at Brouwersgracht 101 - I always get a little lost finding this bar, but always have a great time when I do! It has a great atmosphere and I love the pendant lighting in there too. This is a fun, good value hotel: http://www.chicandbasic.com/eng/the_pictures_amsterdam/ also in the same area. Have a fantasic time & watch out for the bikes! Oh, enjoy SA too, I hear it is amazing!

5
Isabel
Sep 14, 2011

I am South African too! I am however a little hesitant abouth the fact that you are travelling by train up to JoBurg. Not too safe in my opinion.

South Africa is gorgeous and you will have a wonderful time. You will be there in late Spring and encounter the most gorgeous weather. Late afternoon thunderstorms, wonderful sunshine in the day, excellent temperatures at night. You will love Cape Town and absolutely adore the Kruger National Park.

Email me if you want a little more info on why I think the train travelling is not a good idea. I love the country of my birth, but I have no illusions about its problems and issues. I just want you and Sean to come back safely!

XOXO

6
Anna
Sep 14, 2011

are you taking the Blue Train?! http://www.bluetrain.co.za/default.htm

We took the, err, cheaper train up to Jo'burg a few years ago - was a really fun trip. Where are you staying in Cape Town? There are some fabulous places. Try & squeeze in the apartheid museum in Jhb if you are interested in learning more about the recent history/context.

7
Ami
Sep 14, 2011

I spent 3 weeks in South Africa in January 1998; so it's been a long while. Stayed with a friend, can't recc any hotels. Plettenberg Bay was a nice surprise. Addo Elephant Reserve was way cool (I was within [really long] arms' distance of a baby elephant and I almost died from the cuteness). I started in Capetown lots of wine and the Kierstenbosch Gardens and the Victorial and Alfred waterfront and table mountain, we drove to Cape Point (cool), Simon's Town (penguins!), Grahamstown where the university was, the beach at Muizenberg (where Rhodes died -- you ever heard of Rhodes Scholarships? Yeah, him), Port Elizabeth (meh), then Durban, finally to KNP. My suggestion is to go on the dawn and night safaris. We were trumpeted at by a bull elephant in musth, and saw a lioness licking her chops as she wandered casually in front of us; armed guards on a mountain top while lightening flashed. On the drive I had to stop and use the restroom at a gas station somewhere in the middle of the transvaal, and everybody spoke xhosa (a click language) and trying to ask for the key was hilarious. They were totally making fun of me. I wish you the best experiences!

8
L
Sep 14, 2011

I lived in South Africa - Kruger Park is SO AWESOME! We vacationed there many times - we saw lions attack a zebra, we got charged by an elephant, we saw impalas and hippos and giraffes and all kinds of crazy things, it is so super incredible. I am so happy for you!

9
Ris
Sep 14, 2011

That noise you just heard was me exploding with jealousy. This sounds like an amazing trip!

10
Staci Magnolia
Sep 14, 2011

My gosh! I am happy for you and envious all at once! I aspire to live your kind of life! Any pointers? :)

11
Pretzel Thief
Sep 14, 2011

Niiiiiiiiiiiiice.

What a fantabulous holiday you guys will have! And, wow, safari?! Awesomeness.

As for Amsterdam, we've got family friends there we'll most likely visit next year...SQUEE!

12
Amanda
Sep 14, 2011

I cannot WAIT to read your blog posts and drool over your pictures after this amazing vacation!

13
Therese
Sep 14, 2011

I am so excited for you! I have been to South Africa twice and I just love it. It really is just beautiful and the culture is so rich and there is just a lot to see/do/experience. Most of my time was spent in Cape Town and the surrounding areas but I have also been to Durbin, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park. It was all just wonderful (well, I ate a few things that were questionable, but the experience was wonderful!). I have way more to say than is appropriate to type in your comments section but probably not as much at the other commenters who have actually lived there. Anyway, if you want/need more info, feel free to e-mail me. South Africa is just wonderful!

14
Krysta
Sep 14, 2011

INSANELY JEALOUS!

15
Carrisa
Sep 14, 2011

You know how there's all those movies out where two people wish for the same thing at the same time and then they switch bodies? (Vice Versa, Freaky Friday, etc)

I'm thinking that right before your vacation we should like hang out. And maybe rub some ancient relic together. And then hook back up a couple of weeks later. Just for fun.

16
Pam
Sep 14, 2011

Ahh, that sounds SO different and awe-inspiring and fun! Plus, I'm selfishly excited that it means I'll get to read your travel writing again! I've been re-reading your Asia stuff and trying to glean information as I"m planning a little Asia trip for myself. Which reminds me, not to hijack your comments or anything, but if you were only to have two weeks in Asia, where would you go? There's so many options, I can't decide!! Help!

17
ThePoeLog
Sep 14, 2011

I have a couple of similar trips coming up, including going the "long way" to Australia (layovers for day(s) in Munich and Bangkok,) and a spontaneous decision to spend MLK weekend in Istanbul. Because, like MLK, we have a dream. (A dream in which we actually KNOW something about Istanbul.) To point: Immediately after we impulsively booked that trip, we had a moment of panic over whether Turkey was a Muslim country and whether we'd have wine available. That's how deep our ignorance went.

Can't wait to hear all about your trip! No, seriously, I want to hear about it!

18
Sheila
Sep 14, 2011

I have been to Amsterdam, but my memory is a little hazy (no, not THAT kind of hazy: it was just on the end of a very long trip to too many European countries at once and I was exhausted. I swear I never went into a "coffee shop").

If memory serves, there was a Bloggers Do Amsterdam thing a few years back. I bet you could glean a lot of good tips from looking at the Dooce and Suburban Bliss archives.

Your itinerary sounds awesome! I am squealing a bit in solidarity!

19
SAWK
Sep 14, 2011

i think you are the luckiest woman alive!

20
Alison Presley
Sep 14, 2011

I think the entire time you're on safari, you should be like, Oh, this is JUST like The Lion King! And when you see wild animals, you should greet them with a hearty, HAKUNA MATATA!

Seriously, though, I'm so excited for you guys and I can't wait to hear the full report. Perhaps I will make this a 2012 goal!

21
Nothing But Bonfires
Sep 14, 2011

Thanks so much for the recommendations so far, everyone! Looks like I will be emailing a lot of you!

Isabel -- Appreciate your concern, but rest assured we are not just hopping on a random train! I've done a lot of research and Premier Classe trains (the poor man's Blue Train, apparently) seems to be absolutely safe (they even serve champagne when you board!) I am a little worried about what to do when we arrive at the station in Johannesburg, but think I'm just going to have to arrange transfers to the hotel in advance. I've read that the area around the station is NOT the safest. If you have any recommendations for a transfer/shuttle company, would love to hear them!

Pam -- with two weeks in Asia, I would be tempted to just spend them both in Vietnam (going top to bottom, or bottom to top -- so much varied scenery in between Hanoi and Saigon!) but you could also squeeze in a quick trip to Cambodia or Thailand too. Or just spend both weeks in Thailand and do beaches, city, and mountains. OR spend a few days in Hong Kong and then the rest of your time in Beijing and Shanghai. Okay, I'm not helping here, am I? I think I'm just making it worse.

22
heidikins
Sep 14, 2011

Exciting!! Please read Cry, the Beloved Country before you go. Besides a fantastic story, it describes the scenery of South Africa in absolutely beautiful ways, especially about the train ride from the Drakensburg mountains to Joburg.

xox

23
Monica
Sep 14, 2011

Ohh Jealous (in a good way) we are planning SA vacation for 2012 and just hearing you talk about it got me all exited as well. I'm so going to look forward to your recaps and take notes for my vacation.. so yeah, umm, you are sort of like my guinee pig ::smile::

24
Bopril
Sep 14, 2011

Oh, this is beyond exciting, especially because South Africa is next on our vacation list as well. We haven't begun planning yet, and selfishly, I am THRILLED to follow along on your adventure and see how it might just impact mine. :) Bon Voyage, travelers!

25
Sharon
Sep 14, 2011

Awesome! I went to South Africa in 2008 and had an AMAZING time. I was there for 3 weeks on a missions trip, so obviously my experience was a little more primitive than what yours will be, but I LOVED the country. At the end of our time there we got to go on safari and also go to a lion park, which was awesome. It's a beautiful country, and I hope to go back again someday. I'm sure you'll have a fabulous time!

26
Cait
Sep 14, 2011

South Africa is so amazing! I visited Cape Town when I was on Semester at Sea. I grew up in Southern California, and honestly when we pulled into port it reminded me of San Francisco meets Southern California beaches, besides the stunning Table Mountain peering over the city and of course the penguins... haha! I had a great week there. I turned 20, went skydiving, went to the top of Table Mountain, worked a day with Operation Hunger to see an entirely different side of Cape Town, and went White Shark diving (they don't add the "great" in Great White Sharks!). It was wonderful, and I'm sure you'll have a great time.

27
Kelly
Sep 14, 2011

We stayed at the Eden Amsterdam American Hotel and it's a lovely Art Deco hotel in a good location between the inner city part of Amsterdam and the Vondelpark. Things I would do again - boat tour, bike rental, Van Gogh museum, visit Our Lord in the Attic, and go during gay pride weekend - gay pride parade on boats in a canal? Sign me up! Things I wouldn't do again - go to the quirky Cat House (museum about cat stuff - and B&B with cats), and go to the Anne Frank house without an advance reservation.

Have a great time, S. Africa is definitely on my must see list!

28
Kelly
Sep 14, 2011

Hi Holly! I am very jealous of your trip - South Africa is at the top of my list!

I couldn't read this and not leave you a note about a restaurant in Amsterdam called Mazzo - seems exactly like your type of place! I haven't actually been, but Bri from designlovefest posted about it a few weeks ago and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since (http://www.designlovefest.com/2011/07/i-would-love-to-eat-here/).

When I was there, I ate at an italian place called Mappa and I have great memories of it [food, decor, vibe] - would definitely recommend. My biggest regret was not renting bikes and riding to the clog factory.... maybe you'll find time :)

29
Heather
Sep 14, 2011

I have been obsessed with Stroopwafels ever since we went to Amsterdam three years ago. You can buy them in any Dutch grocery store in the cookie section. A stroopwafel is basically two waffle cookies sandwiched together with a caramel or honey syrup filling.. When drinking tea, you put the stroopwafel over your steeping tea, it warms the cookie, melts the syrup and you have the most delicious tea experience ever. Ok, I'll stop gushing now. Bring back some stroopwafels and give them to your friends a souvenirs. They're hard to find in the States.

30
Martina
Sep 14, 2011

1. Very, Very jealous. Your trip is on my life list.

2. Just got back from Amsterdam. I am half Dutch, but every time I go to the Netherlands I glean some new part of the Dutch culture. You already have the droopies and the patate (licorice and fries) on your list. This trip I learned about Speculasspasta, A.K.A windmill cookies in peanut-butter form. BEST. THING. EVER. There's an Albert Heijn (Grocery store) within spitting distance of Centraal Station. Go there first and stock up! (Assuming that you, in fact, LIKE Speculaas [windmill] cookies)

And, OMG, This spread even had it's own FB page!
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speculaaspasta/18229206178

I stayed at a hotel called the Multituli, very close to the train station. It was quaint.

3. Did I mention that I was jealous?

31
Rachel H.
Sep 14, 2011

Your trip sounds great!

Unrelated to this post...I sent you an email a few days ago about the air mail envelopes that you used for the "60 Years of Memories" for your dad. I love the idea and would really like to do this for my dad, too. The airmail envelopes are perfect because he's a pilot. Can you please tell me where you got the envelopes and what size they are? I would really appreciate it! Thank you so much.

32
Rachel H.
Sep 14, 2011

P.S. Were the memories about your dad written to him or in some other format? Thanks!

33
Nothing But Bonfires
Sep 14, 2011

Apologies, Rachel, I'm a little behind on my email right now, as I've been slammed at work and have had family visiting. I found the airmail envelopes on ebay -- just search for "vintage airmail envelopes." The memories people wrote down for my dad were in all sorts of formats -- to him and about him. We didn't specify a particular format, although you, of course, could.

34
Rachel H.
Sep 14, 2011

Thank you so much! I'm not sure whether or not I should leave the format open... Were your envelopes standard envelope size (4 1/8 X 9 1/2)?

35
Nicole
Sep 14, 2011

Just got back from South Africa and had the most amazing trip. Cape Town is a dream. I did a safari in a private game reserve called the Timbavati. It's right near Kruger. The lodge is called Kambaku, and it's an absolute DREAM. We saw tons of animals, ate delicious food and enjoyed all the thoughtful details the staff conjures up. I couldn't recommend this place more highly. Good stuff!

36
jenny
Sep 14, 2011

Pancake House in Amsterdam. nom nom nom nom nom Also, if you plan go to the Anne Frank House and Heineken museum, do so in that order. JEALOUS! have an awesome time

37
adr
Sep 14, 2011

I was just in Amsterdam. Van Gogh museum is one of the best museums I've been to. Right next to the Rijksmuseum, which is under reconstruction so only part of the collection is on view.

Rembrandt house is super interesting (well, for me it was!). Canal boat rides are a great way to see the city--or rent bikes.

Be sure to have Indonesian food (try a rijs tafel) while you're there!

Albert Cuyp straat has huge outdoor market. Great fun!

38
amanda
Sep 14, 2011

I have not been to South Africa in particular, but I have to comment just to share my excitement! I traveled to Egypt in June and had similar feelings leading up to my trip - pure wonder over what it would be like. I simply could not comprehend standing at the foot of the Great Pyramids. Of course, the whole experience was incredible and surreal, and I'm so excited to hear how your trip goes, too!

39
p
Sep 14, 2011

Check out http://www.wearetogether.org
Its a great HBO doc about a group of children who form a choir at a South African orphanage. I would also check out Robbin Island and read Nelson Mandela's biography. South Africa is a country of shocking extremes...you will love it more than you can imagine.

40
Dianna
Sep 14, 2011

I'm super excited to hear about and see photos from your trip. My grandmother and aunt have been to Africa several times, a couple to S.A, and loved it. I'm hoping to get there myself in a couple years. Sound be amazing!

41
Jessica
Sep 14, 2011

At least you are basing all of your knowledge from the movie a few years ago, about the aliens. District 9? That's a reason to not go to South Africa, so good thing it's fiction! (sort of)

Safari sounds amazing! I can't wait to see what you and Sean get to see!

42
Misty
Sep 14, 2011

Your trip sounds sooo exciting. I'll bet the pictures will be awesome!!

43
Peach
Sep 14, 2011

AMAZING!!
however, as someone dreaming of india, i'm curious as to why you nixed it.

44
Tracye
Sep 14, 2011

I was just speaking with Kathy Davis http://www.kathydavis.com/ yesterday, she just got back from an amazing African adventure. You can find her slides here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXC3WT8gkIc

Also, she said the most amazing part - that she didn't even know was going to be amazing - was the trip to Victoria Falls. Life List stuff, this. Have fun!

45
sarah
Sep 14, 2011

I stayed at the Table Bay Hotel which is insanely expensive and I didn't pay for it, thankfully, but it is superb and backs up against the mountain, which you MUST go to the top of in the cable car thingy that rotates.

As for safari, I went to Makweti which is 2 hours outside Jo'burg and only takes ten guests at a time (also pricey) but -again-superb.

Cheap and a MUST: take a tour of Soweto and stop in at Nelson Mandela's home, which is now a museum. The township is nothing like and everything you would expect. In Jo'burg you can see where Mandela was inaugurated.

46
elz
Sep 14, 2011

Oh, so jealous. Africa (all of it) is on my dream list. Have a wonderful time. I can't wait to read all about it!

47
Angie
Sep 14, 2011

I'll be there cage diving for my birthday in November... what are your dates? Maybe we could do our very own Shark Week adventure!

48
Sara
Sep 14, 2011

My husband's South African so we travel back there to visit his family, it is a wonderful country! I went to the apartheid museum in Joburg a couple years ago and it was very moving. I have also heard that the Soweto township tours are good. Seeing the penguins, wine tasting and Table Mountain are all musts in Cape Town. Kruger is absolutely amazing, definitely go out at dawn...that's when you'll see the most wildlife. The game parks in South Africa are amazing and I will never forget the first time I saw an African elephant in the wild.

We have traveled throughout the country (an Swaziland and Mozambique) and I have to say that while personal safety was constantly on my mind, we took normal precautions that you would take in any third world country and never had any bad experiences or close calls (I've spent about 8 months there total). We drove from Cape Town to Joburg up the coast and it was beautiful.

49
Amber
Sep 14, 2011

Delurking to say, "SQUEEEEEEE!"

My husband and I visited SA in early '07 and it was amazing- I suppose I should qualify that by stating I've lived in the midwest my whole life and have only travelled in the states or in Quebec and one trip to Mexico. The view at Cape Point made my brain explode.

Still, I'm sure a world traveler like yourself will be beyond thrilled with the trip.

It's a special place for us as 9 months after we returned our first child was born. My husband suggested naming him "Ekkase abodago" to honor his heritage but we went with "Levi" in the end.

50
Carlien
Sep 14, 2011

Oh wow.. India to Morocco to South Africa! They are each such different 'worlds'! How ever could you choose between them?!
I am thrilled with your final choice because I'm from South Africa too and grew up in Cape Town. So unfortunately I can't really recommend hotels because I've only ever stayed at home :) but I can definitely give you feedback on areas, itineries (I love showing people around Cape Town) and such like.
Sorry I won't be around when you visit, we are working overseas.. but feel free to email me too.

51
Camels & Chocolate
Sep 15, 2011

Well, you know my thoughts on this. (Hint: My voice has also reached a level of excitement only heard by dogs.)

I love that you're doing the train journey. That's on my ultimate travel list, as well. Six days is not a whole amount of time in Cape Town--it's exactly what I'm doing yet again next week--but you're already doing a day in Cape Point, a day in Hermanus (for the cage diving, when you will alert me via warning in advance before you post such a recap, right...RIGHT?), you should definitely do the Old Biscuit Mill market on whichever Saturday you're in CT and all the other markets on Sunday. I would also recommend a day trip up to Stellenbosch. I was all, "psst, we have a Wine Country right by San Francisco, why would I want to waste precious travel time by going there?" but then my sister got drunk and Jeanie and I had to drive the 45 minutes up there to retrieve her and it was SO WORTH IT. Also, save yourself some time, take the cable car up Table Mountain versus walking it. If you really want to do a hike, opt for Lion's Head instead.

As for eating, I have heaps of recos...but, well, you know where to find me for those =)

Also, why oh why was STROOPWAFELS not in your short list of Amsterdam to-dos? Not stocking up on those sweet delights would be a travesty.

52
Tessa-Jean Tuttle
Sep 15, 2011

What fun! I live in Cape Town!

For some reason I would never have guessed that's where you would land after all your dinner time map-musing - but GREAT choice :)

I am bias because I live here, but it really is one of the most beautiful places in the world - & our weather is only getting better at the moment so it'll be great timing once you arrive.

Let me know if there's anything you'd like to know that a guidebook could advise but you'd rather have a local's insight on :) I look forward to your SA posts & seeing my city through your eyes...

Its wonderful here.

53
Pam
Sep 15, 2011

Ha!! Your thought processes echo mine exactly. I think multiple trips are in order :)

54
Emily
Sep 15, 2011

Oh, wow...what an awesome trip! I can't wait to hear about it...mostly because I'm planning a trip to South Africa, too! Mine won't be for months (supposed to happen in January, but has been pushed back to May), which actually works out well because now I benefit from your awesome experience!

55
yours truly, melissa
Sep 15, 2011

Oh wow! This sounds like a trip of a lifetime, I'm certain the two of you will have a blast. Would you mind sharing how you plan such a big trip? Did you use a travel agent or did you just do your own online research picking out activities that you'd like to do?

Basically, can you teach me how to go about planning a fantastic international trip for my husband and myself!

56
juliek
Sep 15, 2011

Fabulous trip! I will live vicariously through your reports - so be your usual uber descriptive self, please. I so enjoy reading your posts - am happy that I stumbled onto your writing sometime in the past - don't even remember how I found you.

57
Kristen
Sep 15, 2011

I'm ridiculously excited for you to go so I can hear all about it! My voice is all high and squeaky too!

58
Marcheline
Sep 15, 2011

Holy cow, you have a LOT of readers from South Africa! Who knew?

My best friend Margie lives in South Africa. Say hi to her from me.

59
edj
Sep 15, 2011

Ok I'm very excited about South Africa too, but if you did go to Morocco I could help you. I lived there for 2 years, you know. Did you see my pics of Chefchaouen? Here are some shamefully-self-promoting links for you.

http://planetnomad.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/vacances-de-toussaint/
http://planetnomad.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/vacances-de-toussaint-contin...
http://planetnomad.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/still-harping-on-my-mini-vac...
http://planetnomad.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/now-with-more-fun-doors/
http://planetnomad.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/fish-and-non-portraiture/

Ok I'm kind of embarrassed that I just linked to 5 posts from a 2 day trip... but I'm going to pretend I'm not.

60
sam
Sep 15, 2011

Oooh so wonderful. Say hello to Cape Town for me! I'm another South African (Capetonian) - living in the Bay area at present - who, like most South Africans, is super keen to share info and give advice on all the amazing things and fav restaurants and crafty things to explore. feel free to email.

By the way, the train journey is amazing - of course I used to just take the regular old train from JHB to Cape Town to go to boarding school but source of one of my best ever travelling memories: showering in the early morning as the train sped through the arid Karoo with the sun rising red and pink and orange outside the little window in the tiny little shower room - almost as good as an outdoor shower.

61
sam
Sep 15, 2011

Oooh so wonderful. Say hello to Cape Town for me! I'm another South African (Capetonian) - living in the Bay area at present - who, like most South Africans, is super keen to share info and give advice on all the amazing things and fav restaurants and crafty things to explore. feel free to email.

By the way, the train journey is amazing - of course I used to just take the regular old train from JHB to Cape Town to go to boarding school but source of one of my best ever traveling memories: showering in the early morning as the train sped through the arid Karoo with the sun rising red and pink and orange outside the little window in the tiny little shower room - almost as good as an outdoor shower.

62
deej
Sep 15, 2011

Had to delurk after years of reading as was so excited to read your plans - I've also got a holiday to South Africa booked, travelling in 61 days! We're staying in Cape Town for 5 nights, then Stellenbosch for a couple, then over to Kruger for rest of the stay - so sounds similar itinerary! Also similarly - I am beyond excited!! Particularly can't wait to see animals and country around Kruger and Mpumalanga.

More usefully - just wanted to give a recommendation for Amsterdam. We had a lovely winter weekend last year and stayed at Mauro Mansion. This was a fantastic small hotel, near to station so really central for airport transfers and walking around the city centre. Owners are so friendly and helpful, and gave lots of recommendations for restaurants and bars etc.

Enjoy your trip - squeal if you see lions so I'll know where to get to!

63
Kristin
Sep 16, 2011

So incredibly envious of your trip - safari has been my number one wish trip for years. I also think the long return layover in Amsterdam is particularly genius, but I wanted to ask how you made that happen? Online searches only seem to offer multihour layovers, not multiday ones. Is there a special site where you can request a longer layover? Or did you actually need to work with an agent or book your tickets by phone?

Can't WAIT to see your photos. You're going to have lots of new stuff for the staircase!

64
sarah
Sep 16, 2011

Btw, factoid: Cape Town has perfect feng shui for a city. A mountain at its back and an ocean in front--sub par set up for potential attacking hordes.

65
Carolyn
Sep 16, 2011

Sounds fabulous! I've been to Amsterdam twice for extended stays, love it dearly and can pass along some favorites. Highly recommend the Eel House B&B in the Jordan (within walking distance from the train station). Stayed seven days and LOVED every minute. Seriously. I am NOT a typical B-n-B sort of person (trust me, it took a ton of convincing to get my husband to agree), but since we were footing the bill this time, we needed to watch our pennies. We were very pleased. Our room, the view and the neighborhood were far, far nicer than the pricey hotel we stayed at previously (The Pulitzer). Please, check out the website and read the reviews on TripAdvisor. You won't be sorry. Yes, the photos are accurate. No, I don't have any affiliation. Yes, they book up fast. Vera and Jasper are wonderful; how they manage to carry the breakfast trays up the narrow staircase is beyond me.

The Jordan is a beautiful neighborhood – lovely for walking along the canals, admiring the architecture and stopping into all sorts of unique little shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. The following are our favorites (and all just steps from the Eel House): Restaurant La Oliva for well priced, well chosen wine and de-lish tapas called "pintxos" (the venison with caramelized onions and chanterelle mushrooms was my favorite), La Perla on Tweede Tuindwarsstraat makes some of the best thin crust pizza I've had anywhere (get the specialty pizza with porchetta and rocket and a glass of house red), Meer dan Vis on Egelantiersdwarsstraat is the tiniest, cleanest, most wonderful fish shop I've ever been to in my life - and yeah, I know you hate seafood, but this place will make you think differently. Order some of their house-made tuna salad to-go, or better yet, order some kibbling (or is it "kibberling" ?) – you’ll think you've died and gone to heaven! Lightly battered, freshly fried cod (made right in front of you, each order prepared on-the-spot) served with homemade tartar sauce. So good! So incredibly good - and so quintessentially Dutch! They have seats so you can enjoy it right there while it's piping hot and yummy. The owner is super nice - I can't recommend this place enough. Don’t miss the beautiful fish shaped doorknob! We also loved the gelato at Monte Pelmo at 17 Angeliers and sandwiches / picnic supplies from Jwo Lekkernijen on Goudsbloemdwarsstraat. This deli has an amazing selection of cold cuts, cheese, soup etc. Absolutely try the raw ox sausage (Gerookte osseworst). A little further away but still within walking distance is Puccini Bonboni (Singel 184)– get a box of their dark chocolate covered orange peel. Deliciousfood at 24 Westerstraat is a tiny gem selling organic and fair trade food. I loved their goat milk yogurt as well as their oat milk (I’m slightly lactose intolerant and would kill to have this shop within walking distance of my house). Oh – and you won’t want to miss the tiny candy shop devoted entirely to licorice – Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje – located near the fish shop and the Eel House.

We loved the Saturday markets (organic near the Noorderkerk and traditional on the Lindengracht). I can’t recommend the Brouwersgracht canal (between the Singel and the Prinsengracht canals) enough – absolutely one of the most beautiful spots in all of Amsterdam. If you continue walking along the Brouwersgracht, past the Prinsengracht and away from the Dam, it gets more and more tranquil – hardly a tourist in sight. If my memory is correct, there’s an outdoor café / pub where Lindengracht intersects with the Brouwersgracht – it’s just perfect on a sunny afternoon. For interesting (but pricey) shops, visit the stretch of Herenstraat between the Prinsenstraat and Singel. I love Niels Interieur & Accessoires at 15 Herenstraat for felt coasters, Wesco breadboxes (swoon!) and Cracky nutcrackers. Property of . . . at 2 Herenstraat has a lovely selection of waxed canvas messenger bags, duffels and coin purses (and their espresso machine is a thing of beauty!). Finally, I know time is tight, but try to fit in a visit to the Anne Frank House. We went just before closing and the line was much shorter. It really is quite moving. Stop at a pub afterwards for a good stiff drink. If I had to pick only one museum, I’d choose the intimate Rembrandthuis. I know I named a lot of places, but other than Rembrant’s house, they’re all incredibly close to one another. Based on how much ground you and your sister managed to cover during your daytrip to Paris, this is easily done in two days. Amsterdam, and especially the Jordan, is one of my very favorite places in the world – so relaxing and beautiful– you’re sure to have a lovely time. Please forgive the longwindedness.

66
kimberly
Sep 17, 2011

Ohhh you will LOVE South Africa! Cape Town is beautiful and the entire south western part of the country has so much to see and do. We have unfortunately not been back since 2004 but I can not recommend the hotel O on Kloof enough. It is a fabulous little boutique hotel that is very cenrally located and has some of the sweetest staff I have ever encountered. We stayed in their largest room upstairs and it was so comfortable and spacious after our 10 day camping safari in Botswana. We look forward to coming back again soon, as soon as the kids are ready for such an adventure!

67
Catherine
Sep 19, 2011

Oh so exciting! November in Amsterdam will be cool and crisp and perfect walking weather. Gollem and De Zotte are both excellent places to curl up with a beer (the former has scrabble, the latter has excellent steak with union [sic] sauce). They're mostly Belgian-style places, while 't Arendsnest and the IJ windmill brewery have the good Dutch stuff.

I'd highly recommend taking a pedal boat out on the canals with some Puccini Bomboni chocolates for company. And if you're hiring bikes, Bike City have lovely plain black granny bikes that will make you feel like a local.

Dinner wise, Liege is delicious, and close to 't Arendsnest. Vooges on Utrechtsestraat do the best kaasstengels (cheese straws - a must try!) and Villa Nieuwmarkt has excellent fondue. Utrechtsestraat is also home to the Kaashuis Tromp, who will sell you huge lumps of cheese as well as the makings of a park bench picnic.

Avoid the Leidseplein/Rembrandtplein area for food - overpriced and overrated. Oh, and Paradiso is a lovely place for a gig, should you be so inclined.

Phew!

68
sarah
Sep 19, 2011

I adore amsterdam. Sadly, have never been to South Africa though my in-laws had south african inspired dinner parties for months {months!} after they came back. They even went so far as buying ostrich each time at a market they had to drive an hour to ... so get ready to be obsessed.

also, i was in paris a week ago and my friend had an early flight so we decided to stay in CDG. at the sheraton. We got it for under $100 on hotwire. So if you really need some good sleeps it may be a good way to go. ohhhhh but paris (:

69
Carolyn
Sep 19, 2011

If you have time for only one pub / brown cafe, absolutely try 't Smalle located in the Jordan, where the Egelantiersgracht intersects with the Prinsengracht (two lovely canals). Getting a canal side seat around sunset is pure magic, but next to impossible. Indoor seating is also cozy and quaint, so it can't hurt to try. Go for the cold beer and ambiance. Make sure to stroll down Egelantiersgracht - so beautiful. There are benches where you can sit and relax with your honey. Stunning homes, cool boats, amazing birds, perfect in autumn! If I could live anywhere in the world (and if $$ wasn't an issue), I'd choose this neighborhood in a heartbeat.

70
Lauren
Oct 01, 2011

You must try Birds Cafe in Capetown. When I lived in South Africa for a public health internship, I spent a week in Capetown and-- I kid you not-- after having breakfast here on my first day, ate at this cafe all seven mornings. 127 Bree Street. Other people seem to agree: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g312659-d1890936-Reviews-Bi...

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