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How to Avoid Winter Hibernation
27 May 2014
 
     

How to Avoid Winter Hibernation

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine

As a Capetonian you either make peace with very chilly winter temperatures or you remain disgruntled. The former option is obviously the better one and when you put your feelers out it’s not that hard. Just as winter set in, Alluvia, a specialist winery that offers boutique accommodation just outside of Stellenbosch,  invited me and a partner for a night out in the country.

Within 90 minutes, we transitioned from our Cape Town-based offices to a warm fireplace with a delicious glass of Ilka Cabernet Sauvignon in hand, endearingly named after the winemaker’s daughter.  For dinner we feasted on one of their trademark picnic baskets, filled to the brim with an assortment of cheeses, grapes, ciabatta and cold meats. After dinner we kicked back next to our own personal fireplace. In the morning we were welcomed by a breathtaking view of the Helshoogte valley. Century-old oak trees, vineyards and an amphitheater of mountains surrounded us, as we enjoyed a delicious breakfast delivered right at our doorstep.

What’s not to like about winter?

Besides fires and topnotch sleepovers, here are a few ideas to keep you out of hibernation mode this winter:

Head to Ceres to check out the snow, but also for ziplining adventure at Ceres Zip Slide Tours. Here you can fly over the Schurweberg Mountains on a 1.4km cable. Pure adrenaline is the name of the game. www.ceresadventures.co.za

Book a fun wine tour with Wine Flies and visit the top wineries in Stellenbosch and Paarl. Other treats include biltong, cheese and chocolate tastings. www.wineflies.co.za

Go to Cape Town’s Diamond Museum to get a glimpse of the oldest substance known to man and their latest addition, a 3.5 billion year old precious stone known as Peridotite.

Head to Hermanus for a bit of whale spotting. For the courageous, drive onto Gansbaai for a shark cage diving experience. www.sharklady.co.za

It is hard to believe, but people in the know claim that surfing in Cape Town is best when done in winter. Water temperatures are much warmer, so if you can overcome the initial chill head to the waves.

Making Fun of History
13 May 2014
 
     

Making Fun of History

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine

True travellers seek to understand the workings of places. They know that in order to know a place one needs to know its history.

My favourite way of learning about a destination's history is through replicated living spaces. Throughout the world, museums use this visual and tactile method to tell stories of bygone eras and the great thing is adults and kids love it!

The Titanic Artifact Exhibition is a transient museum that moves from city to city. It tells the story of the Titanic through actual artifacts and replicas of the ship. In 2008 I had a chance to see it and immediately I felt as if I was boarding the 1912 Titanic. I was issued with a pseudo passenger ticket and led through spaces that recreated upper and lower class areas as they were over a hundred years ago. I remember it vividly.

Recently during a trip to Granada, I explored the cobbled streets of Sacromonte, the city’s iconic gypsy neighbourhood. Granada’s gypsies are famous for spearheading flamenco and for living in caves! By chance I stumbled upon the Museum of Sacromonte where I spent a good three hours.  The museum boasted a series of replicated cave dwellings with period furniture and utensils. Completely mesmerised, I wandered from the bedroom cave to the kitchen cave as I envisioned gypsy-style living. In one of the caves I found a complete history on the origins of flamenco. As transient people, gypsies hailed from faraway lands, so flamenco, as a music and dance form, was a way of expressing homesickness. Across the valley from Sacromonte is the grand Alhambra, Granada’s principle tourist attraction. From afar I watched hundreds of people flooding Alhambra - I was surprised, and glad, to have the gypsy caves all to myself. 

Living History in South Africa

South Africa has a fair amount of museums that master the art of replication. The Stellenbosch Village Museum is an example of perfected period replication. Dedicate a morning to walk through the museum's four historic houses and their gardens, each representing a different period in Stellenbosch’s architectural development. 

Cape Town's Jewish Museum also has a walk-through section that demonstrates the interior of a shtetl, a typical East European dwelling where many Jewish immigrants lived before making their way to South Africa in the 1800s. 

There’s no reason why history shouldn’t be fun!

Braai a Marshmallow on a Volcano
29 Apr 2014
 
     

Braai a Marshmallow on a Volcano

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine

In 2011 a deaf man blessed me in San Pedro, Guatemala as I exited a scruffy little hotel. It was a bizarre experience. His kind eyes approached me and before I knew it I was officially holy. I came to realize that that’s Guatemala for you. It’s not unusual to stop every other day and think, “did that really just happen?”

One of the hotspots on most backpackers’ Guatemalan itineraries is Antigua, situated a mere 30 minutes from the Guatemala City airport.  It is known as the former jewel in the Spanish empire’s crown and it’s no wonder tourists from all over the world swarm to this colonial gem of a city. Nestled between volcanoes, Antigua offers everything from exquisite views to photogenic architecture. If you’d like to sharpen your Spanish speaking abilities or your salsa moves, there is no shortage of  language and dance schools seemingly around every corner. On arrival in Antigua I soon realised that cheap accommodation mostly comes in the form of a  family affair. Family homes frequently double up into bed & breakfasts. It makes for quite an intimate travel experience.

 

I find places that are high on the musicality scale most interesting and Antigua surprised me in this regard. I saw children carting trumpets to school, students playing drums in the parks, and before long we were lured to the live music rising from the numerous hole-in-the-wall cafes. We landed at a bar that could easily have fitted onto the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set. Only two other people were in the bar: the guitarist and the owner. It seemed a little surreal, but nevertheless we decided to support the cause. The guitarist was a local Guatemalan man, propped up on the highest red-and-white striped stage I have ever seen. We almost had to squint to see him. He impressively bolted out songs by the Cure , Santana ad Elvis. I was glad to be in Guatemala.

 

 

One of the tourist musts in Antigua is a trip up the Pacaya volcano. We booked a tour, squeezed onto a hiker-filled bus and headed for the hills. Halfway up the mountain the friendly bus driver gave us the opportunity to sit on top of the bus. Not one to miss such an opportunity, I found myself windblown and sailing up the mountain. A different set of rules apply in Guatemala.

It took us about an hour and a half to climb the volcano. On top it looked like a slightly blacker version of the moon. Smoke bellowed from cracks in the mountain and we joined into the ritual of melting marshmallows over the smoke. Tick on bucket list: “braaied” marshmallow over volcano.

The ABCs of Travel Writing
15 Apr 2014
 
     

The ABCs of Travel Writing

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine

I’ve spent the last month traveling through Spain, the country of Gaudi, siestas, tapas, flamenco and the Camino de Santiago, one of the world’s oldest pilgrimages. People from all over the world head to the north of Spain to trek this ancient route. During the middle ages it was predominantly a Christian route, but today thousands of people do it for thousands of different reasons, some to find love, some to find healing and others to lose weight! As I lugged my backpack over 400km’s of camino, the number one question asked by fellow pilgrims was, “How do you become a travel writer?” So, I figured I would share some of my insights and experiences on the blog.

In a nutshell, this is how I did it. After completing my studies that entailed a lot of writing, I headed to Florida where I worked on luxury yachts. The pay was great, but I found the work unstimulating. One day, while we were underway, we came across a big boat that was busy sinking, complete with floating furniture (Titanic style). Luckily no people were hurt, but there was talk of an insurance scam. I thought it would make for an interesting article, so I contacted the editor of a yachting magazine and pitched the story. She was thrilled and before I knew it I was published.

Eventually I contacted the editor of a yachting newspaper and she agreed to meet me. She liked my work and I told her that I’d come up with article ideas and be at her disposal for anything she needs covered. That meeting turned into a lasting relationship that was invaluable for my career. I would deliver on assignments and she would critically evaluate my work. Her experience, suggestions and edits proved to be the best kind of education. When I returned to Cape Town, everyone told me that the media industry is clique and inaccessible to outsiders. I didn’t see it like that. I made contact with editors and slowly started freelancing again. Finally, I landed a job as a travel writer and I absolutely love it.

If you’re an aspiring travel writer keep the following in mind:

• Read as often as possible – magazines, newspapers and books. 
• Stop dreaming and start writing. Practice makes for improvement. 
• Identify who you’d like to write for and track down the editor’s details. Miraculously, his or her details are usually explicitly in the front of the given publication. 
• Pick up the phone and call the editor or assistant editor. Pitch ideas that are aligned with the publication. 
• Repeat above step with a range of publications and build up a portfolio. 
• If you are successful as a freelancer you may want to continue freelancing, if not, it is easier to find a permanent job in travel writing if you have published work under your name.

With determination, writing ability and a passion for travel, the world is your oyster.

Discovering the Magic of Barcelona
4 Mar 2014
 
     

Discovering the Magic of Barcelona

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine

Summer in Barcelona is absolutely manic. Millions of tourists flock to its  coastline to follow in the footsteps of Gaudi, to sip cocktails and to eat gelato. Barcelona is Europe’s most popular port and it’s easy to see why. Here are a few must-sees in Europe’s coolest city.

1. Gaudi Trail – Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlo, Palau Guell andd Park Guell

Antoni Gaudi is Spain’s most famous architect. His work looks like something out of a fairytale, complete with dragon, whirlpool and lizard inspirations. It’s pure magic. His use of colour and light is phenomenal, leaving you entranced. The most visited landmark in Barcelona is Sagrada Familia, a Gothic cathedral designed by Gaudi. The church takes up an entire city block and its eight towers reach heights of 125 meters. A close second is Park Guell, a tranquil urban space famous for a statue of a ceramic dragon. All the hype is justified!

My favourite Gaudi masterpiece, however, was Casa Battlo. I stumbled upon it by accident and as a result I’ll never look at architecture in the same way again. Every nook and cranny was perfectly considered to make living as pleasurable as possible. His nature-inspired style had me thinking I was walking through the belly of a whale. Simply spectacular!

Gaudi’s royal construct, Palau Guell, is also well worth a visit. This 1890 residence boasts a rooftop scattered with 20 chimneys, some elaborately decorated in mosaic tiles. In the evenings you can enjoy live jazz performances from up here.

2. The Castle

It was a sweltering day when I decided to walk up a 45-degree hill. Luckily my efforts paid off  with panoramic views of the ocean and Barcelona in all its sunny glory. To top it off, Barcelona’s castle was perched on top of the hill and access was free. The castle is a simple building that used to serve as the city’s watchtower – today it’s a spot that makes you feel on top of the world. If walking down the steep hill seems like too much of a hack, do not fret, the Montjic Cable Car will sweep you over Montjic park back down to earth.

3. The Seafront

Barcelona is a seaside city with a long maritime history. The seafront is lined with a promenade, new-age architecture, an aquarium and marinas. This is the place you want to be. It’ a people-watching paradise and if you’re a lover of sunbathing, look no further.

4. The Cathedral

In any good European city, the cathedral is always central and it’s no different in Barca. Take a break in the shadow of the cathedral and watch the world go by. If you want to head on in, be sure to cover up well and wear long pants. Many cultural hotspots are within walking-distance from the cathedral including: the Picasso Museum, the Chocolate Museum and Mercat de la Boqueria, Spain’s biggest fresh-food market.

For more photos, check out www.travelideas.co.za/discovering-the-magic-of-barcelona

The Coconut Kingdom
26 Feb 2014
 
     

The Coconut Kingdom

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine

The coconut is king in Mozambique. Every coconut tree in this narrow, Portuguese-speaking country is owned by a local and each owner gets his money’s worth. Every part of the coconut tree is put to use. Leaves are used to build shelters and to stuff mattresses, while the coconuts are used for food, water and oil. A local showed us how it’s done…

During a recent media trip to Mozambique, I discovered why our neighbouring country is such a popular holiday destination. We landed at the Inhambane airport and headed straight to the local market where you can buy everything from fish to baskets to hand-crafted bowls.

From there, we jumped on a catamaran and made our way to the luxurious Massinga Beach hotel (89kms north of Inhambane). Massinga Beach is the ideal place for romantics, honeymooners and wedding ceremonies. Local influences are tangible and very much alive at Massinga Beach. You can go shopping right outside reception. Massinga Beach Hotel has a fabulous beach bar and as a group of jolly South Africans, we weren’t shy to make ourselves at home. Next on the ‘to sample’  list was the coconut. You can even drink a cocktail from a coconut…

Our next stop was Castelo do Mar, an ocean-fronting hotel situated on the northern peninsula of the Inhambane Bay. Our journey to Castelo was a visual feast! Castelo do Mar is ideal for families and groups of friends. Boat trips, diving and fishing opportunities are on your doorstep. On the last evening we played poker and roulette’s for a grand prize of another weekend stay at Castelo do Mar. Stakes were high. It was a great evening filled with laughter, poker faces and lots of betting. Gina, one of my travel pals, walked away with the prize. I didn't win the grand prize, but I got four of a kind!

After three glorious days, it was time to board the Embraer 110 aircraft for the journey home (private charters can be arranged for guests).

Masinga Beach: www.massingabeach.co.za; [email protected], +27 11796 5029

Castelo do Mar: [email protected], +27117965029 or +27 828544521

Sean Furlong Photography: www.seanfphotography.blogspot.com

For more photos, check out www.travelideas.co.za/the-coconut-kingdom

Girl Power in an Arab Souk
5 Jan 2014
 
     

Girl Power in an Arab Souk

Franki for Travel Ideas Magazine
www.travelideas.co.za

Like sardines we squashed into one of Dubai’s ultra-slick metro trains. Men from all walks of life stared at our blonde hair and fair skin. We jumped off just before the Dubai creek and made our way to the gold and spice souks (the local name for markets). Jean, our tour leader, gave us the rundown on what to expect. “If an Indian seller invites you to his private shop on the second story of an obscure building, don’t be scared to go… it is part of the experience.”

The souks differ drastically from the rest of modern Dubai. A walk through these mazy streets will have you thinking that you’re somewhere in deep India. Pop-up stalls are manned by white-robed men and the general feeling of joyous chaos is amplified by the scent of saffron, cinnamon and Arabic coffee.

We barely had a chance to enter the souk when two Indian men escorted our group of eight women to an elevator. We knew the drill. “Gucci”, “Prada” and “Louis Vuitton” handbags awaited us and needless to say we left with a few extra kilograms of fake leather.

The name of the game is negotiation. Our well-connected Indian friends took us to stop number two, a pashmina shop. From a colourful collection, we chose twenty pashminas and stated our price. The ever-expanding group of Indian salesmen was unimpressed by our offer, so we bid them farewell and walked out en-mass. Within two minutes the men were upon us, surrendering to our suggested price.

As an all-women force, we enjoyed the challenge of bargaining. The gold souk merged into an aromatic spice souk. We walked into a small shop where every nook and cranny were filled with curry spices, dates, nougat and unidentifiable muti. Once again we got to work, piling our selections on the floor. The salesman stood no chance against us, as we presented him with our preferred prices.

Feeling exhilarated and content with our purchases, we boarded a wooden water taxi and crossed the creek in time for the next train home.

Want to visit Dubai? Check out the Holiday Factory. For more information click here.

All aboard water taxi photo by Maretha Botes

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