Monthly Archives: May 2012

From Cape Town to Vic Falls in the African heat (part 3 of 3)

delta

We are now getting closer to the end of our journey. The final destination of this three-week trip was Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and I’ll soon describe what I think about this world heritage site. This journey started in South Africa, we went through Namibia and I’ll soon describe rest of the trip. Have you missed the beginning, just go back two posts.

After Etosha National Park it was time to see one more city. We visited Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. It was just a city and we wanted to see nature, so we didn’t spend so much time there. Why should we. We visited a restaurant though and had some pretty good meat. Maybe it was a typical touristic place and nothing to brag about, but it was still tasty and felt good.

Flat tire

Flat tire in the middle of nowhere.

From Namibia we went on to Botswana. We got flat tire twice, so it was good that we were to meet another of Nomad’s trucks in a camping site in Maun in Botswana. But first we slept in a camp were we met some local bushmen that talked with click-sounds.That night we got to sleep in traditional huts. These looked like giant hair balls.

bushmen

Local bushmen

Hut

Traditional bushmen hut

We visited another town, Maun in Botswana. The heat here was intense and we hid in the shade to avoid the worst part of it. The next day we were going to go to Okavango delta and as a quick preview we got to fly a small plane from Maun and see the delta from above. We saw the delta and its animals. That was soooo cool! We were happy like children in a candy store. We saw elephants and hippos and giraffes.

Okavango delta from above

elephant from above

An elephant in Okavango from above

The next stop was Okavango delta, where we were transported by mokoros, traditional wooden canoes. We saw some animals and met locals in the delta. During the night you could hear elephants pretty close by our camp.

mokoras on okanango

Going by mokoros in Okavango delta

We also wandered in the bush, saw zebras and wildersbeast and hippo-tracks. Our guides told us that the different animals act differently in the wild and there are different ways to protect yourself, depending on which one you meet. If you meet an elephant: run for youe life. The best is to run in zig-zag more than 40 km an hour. About the same with buffalo. If you meet an lion, just stand still. Don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t blink. Just stand still. In lions world the first who runs loses, so as long as you stand still, the lion does that as well. And now we come to the question I just had to ask: What happens if I meet an elephant and a lion at the same time? Our guide just shook his head and gave me an answer: say a prayer.

zebras

Zebras in the wild

bufallo skull

Bufallo skull

Water lilly

Water lilly

After the delta we stayed in Planet Baobab camp, surrounded by huge baobab trees. Once again, the feeling on being on another planet was there. That evening was the most scary on the whole trip. Not one, but three thunder storms were around us, coming from three different direction and meeting above our heads. The sky was black, the rain poured down and every few seconds the world light up with terrible sound of thunder. I slept like a baby when the thunder and the rain stopped.

baobab

A small baobab tree

As the last place in Botswana we visited Chobe National Park, where we saw a lot of hippos, birds and impala and saw a lioness staring at some scared antilopes. The antilopes stared right back and barked in warning. I remember what the guide from Okavango told us: the one who starts running loses. It would be nice to see a catch.

Elephant

An elephant in Chobe

lioness and impala

Lioness staring at its victim

In the evening we went on a cruise on the Chobe river seeing even more birds, hippos, bufallos, crocodiles and bathing elephants. With the boat it was possible to get quite close to the animals.

elephants

Elephants in Chobe river

Hippos

Playing hippos in Chobe river

African eagle

African Eagle

And finally it was time for going to Zimbabwe. We came to the town of Victoria Falls and eve if the waterfalls was far away and not in sight, you could still hear it. It was such an amazing place. The Zambezi river drops down, creating the almost 2 km long waterfall. It is 100 meters deep in the deepest point. The amount of water is enormous. Small water drops are flying everywhere and it’s impossible to know if the water comes from the sky or if it’s bouncing from the waterfall or both.

Victoria Falls

Magnificent Victoria Falls

We wandered around the parks surrounding the waterfalls, amazed at the site. This was the top of the trip. How will it be possible to find a better trip, a better place?

After the waterfalls we went to a nearby animal rescue center, where abandoned lions are taken care of and their cubs are reintroduced back to the wild. That work seems important. We walked with the lions. That felt very special.

lions

Young brother and sister lions

On the second day  In the morning we visited an elephant center and rode on elephants. Even that was very special.

Monika and elephant

Ranger, Monika and elephant

In the afternoon we took a helicopter ride to see the falls from the sky. It was even more amazing and cool. The best thing I’ve ever done. So far.

Victoria Falls

The great Victoria Falls from e helicopter

And now the trip was over. We were overwhelmed, happy and sad to leave this wonderful place, stinky and dirty and not wanting to go home. We had a dinner the last evening, said goodbye to our guides and to each other. It was special. The whole trip, every day was special. A person I met said: If you haven’t seen Victoria Falls, You haven’t seen Africa. I think he was right.

I want to return to this amazing site! It’s been a world heritage site since 1989. Haven’t you been here, it’s a must. That trip is not possible to describe accurately. There were so many feeling, tears of joy and feeling of our smallness and the perfectness of nature. It’s just too bad that not all people realize it.

My grade: five out of five, no doubt.

GlobeGlobeGlobeGlobeGlobe

The link to the site: Victoria Falls.

Returning home to ice and snow and chilly winds in January was not fun at all.

//Monika

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From Cape Town to Vic Falls in the African heat (part 2 of 3)

Zebra

After a week on the road with sleeping in tents and eating by a camp fire we were dirty and tired and then came the luxury: a hostel with normal beds in a town by the Atlantic Ocean, called Swapkomund.That’s not enough, we also went out and ate in a real restaurant, that served all kinds of wonderfull food from pizza to wild meat, like springbook or oryx.

On the way to Swapkomund we  passed the tropic of Capricorn and saw a desrt-part that looked like a moon landscape. It was very different from the other parts of the desert. A whole new planet.

Tropic of capricorne

Our guides at Tropic of Capricorne

Moonlandscape

Moon landscape

jump of joy

Monika jumping of joy in moon landscape

We continued throgh the desert and suddenly the desert became a beach and we reached the ocean and the town of Swapkomund. The border between desert and beach was a road.

Desert or beach

Desert becomes town called Swapkomund

In Swapkomund or Walvis bay nearby we  were supposed to see flamingos, but they didn’t want to show up, so we just saw the town and continued into the desert.  We saw women in traditional cow-hats. Interesting and beautiful. We also had luch by the ocean in the most perfect seafood restaurat. We also visited a local museum that told history of the town and a local market with nice crafts.

kid on the beach

On the beach in Swapkomund

Fishing

Fishing in Swapkomund

In one of the places, near mountain called Spitzkoppe,  we saw ancient cave paitings wih lions, giraffes, bufallo, men and women and a whale (?). There are other, even more magnificent areas with cave painting, that are on the world heritage list in Namibia, but not the ones we saw. That’s a perfect reason to return to Namibia. In that place, near Spitzkoppe, we got surprised by heavy rain and thunder, that poured down and was gone in few minutes, but left us soaking wet. African rain.

train

Train in the desert

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Dark clouds

Dark clouds at Spitzkoppe

Nice hills

Beautiful hills

The sunset by Spitzkoppe was enchanting. After the sunset, in the dark we had a visit from some locals who showed us their dances and invited us to join. It was fin, even if some of us came a bit outside our comfort zones. We joined in womens dance and mens dance and danced till the night got really dark and we were really tired. This was the first night of two when we slept by the camp fire with no tents, just the dark heaven and the stars above us. It was beautiful, exciting and just a little scary. We saw scorpions during the day, they are most likely creeping around during the night as well.

evening

Evening by Spitzkoppe

Sunset

Sunset by Spitzkoppe

In the desert we saw more amazing things and met amazing people. We travelled by nice villages and stopped by a local market. There were some people dressed just like westerners, some traditionally, like women in cow-hats, some dressed as their navite ancient forefathers did. It was the Himba, who we would meet later that day. Everything seemed perfectly normal and nobody was surprised. Just imagine showing up in your city on the main streey dressed traditionally. Unless it’s national Day people would probably stare.

warning for elephants

Warning for elephants

woman in cow-hat

Woman in traditional cow-hat

We continued through the deserts and we met the local Himba people and learned about their customs. It was strange feeling visiting them, a little bit uneasy, like going to a zoo. Or maybe we were the zoo that invaded their world?

Himba people

Himba People

Himba boy

Himba boy

Himba boy

Another himba boy


Himba woman with a kid

Himba woman with a kid

Himba woman

Himba woman

That night we saw anothe wonderfull sunset and slept under the naked sky watching milions of stars and thinking about how small we are and how large bugs with more than two legs are waiting to attack us. We saw also the most beautiful sunsets in Africa and in this place one of them.

Beautiful African sunset

Beautiful African sunset

After that we  continued to Etosha National Park for game spotting. We saw lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, springbook, hippos, oryx and many more animals and birds. We also saw the great Etosha Pan and yet another sunset.

Giraffes

Giragges in Etosha

Gnu

Blue Wilderbeast, gnu, in Etosha

zebra

Zebra in Etosha

Oryx in Etosha

Oryx in Etosha

Etosha Pan

The Great Etosha Pan

Lion in Etosha

Roaming lion in Etosha

Etosha sunet

Etosha sunset

After Etosha we continued to Windhoek, the capitol of Namibia and after that to Botswana and the wonderful Okavango Delta. And finally to the great Victoria Falls. All that will be in the next post.

To be continued…

//Monika

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From Cape Town to Vic Falls in the African heat (part 1 of 3)

My trip to see the Vic Falls in Zimbabwe was the most amazing trip I’ve ever done so far. Not only because of the Vic Falls, but the waterfall was a big part of it. Victoria Falls was added to the world heritage list in 1989. The waterfall is almost 2 km long and the fall is 109 meters high on the highest place. And it is magnificent. It’s difficult to imagine the amount of water falling down from the Zambezi river. You just have to see it.

But let’s start from the beginning. It was December of 2010 and Europe was covered in massive amounts of snow. Around Christmas there was so much snow that many of the major airports were closed. Families were split apart, waiting for their loved ones to come for Christmas. Other went away for Christmas and could not return home. When the airports opened again on December 26:th and 27:th there were delays, many people waiting for a new flight and cgaos. The snow kept on pouring down and the snow machines kept on putting it away, creating even more delays. One of the worst aiport with most problem was Charles de Gaule in Paris and we were supposed to change flights there. And had about one hour to change.

Snow in Sweden

The flight to Paris was more than one hour delayed and the only thing that saved us was the fact that 25 people were continuing to Joburg. An officer on the airport caugth all of us and we ran across the entire aiport to catch the other flight. That resulted in next delay, so we had to run in Joburg as well to the domestic flight to Cape Town. But we made it. And we still had five minutes to sit down and breathe, before the flight took off.

Sunshine in Cape Town

The rest of a trip was much less running. This was a three-week trip in Southern Africa starting in Cape Town in South Africa, going north to Namibia, Botswana and finally Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls.

Nomad office in Cape Town

Nomad office in Cape Town

 

Our transport, the truck Sid.

We started in Cape Town with finding Nomad’s office, signing all the papers, meeting our guides, rest of the group and packing the truck full with our stuff. I say truck, bacause it was a truck, It had windows, that you could open, but no aircon, it had quite good seats with built-in massage (or was that bumpy roads?), storage for kitchen and the tents and all you could need including two spare tires (remember that one). Just perfect.

Our bush guide at first camp, Skoke.

The African sun and heat was overwelming. It is so much better than ice and snow and chilly winds. We drove north and first night was near Nanibian border. First night in tents was interesting. Later it showed that my friend and I picked the best test. Some of the other leaked, our did not. We cooked our meals together, ate together and travelled together. The group was OK, some people were nice, some got annoying after a while, but that first night everyone was OK.

Tree in the desert

 

Bush in the desert

 

Me, Monika in the desert

In Namibia we saw the desert, both stone and sand. The trees and bushes of the desert were special. The creatures were not visible, but we could feel their presence, the lizard, snakes and spiders, just waiting for the perfect catch.

We saw social weavers and a large nest with a spitting cobra trying to eat the eggs. We learned that the snake swallows the eggs, then he drops to the ground to crush them. Cool!

Social weaver nest

Social weavwer nest with snake

Then we continued to the Fish River Canyon, second largest Canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon.When we reached it the clouds were heavy and the expected sunset seemed to be only a dream, but suddenly clouds went away and we witnessed magical moments.

In the desert by Fish River Canyon.

Every day we felt it was the best ever and every day was better then the last one. We saw Fish River Canyon on the New Years Eve of 2010 and saw that years last sunset there. That was amazing! The Canyon is huge and when you face it, you realize how little people are and how magnificent the nature is.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

 

Sunsetin Fish River Canyon

Sunset in Fish River Canyon

Few days later we climbed Dune 45, a red sand dune, in the sun rise. Once again the smllness of people and the greatness of nature got overwelming. We ate breakfast, watching a large crow, waiting for a catch.

Dune 45 in the dark

Dune 45 in the dark, an early morning

 

Jump of joy on Dune 45

Jump of joy on Dune 45

 

Dune 45

Dune 45

 

Crow

Crow at Dune 45

We went on into the desert. We passed dry rivers. The trees around thr river banks were green. That’s because of thr water few meyetrs deep under the earth.

Red bridge

Red bridge in the desert

In the sand desert we met a local guide who told us about the creatures and plats here and that they haven’t seen rain for five years. No rain and the desert is full of life.

Desert

The dry empty desert is very much alive

 

Monika in the desert

Monika in the desert

 

Evening in the desert.

Evening in the desert.

This story has just started. The part 2 will be here soon. Part 3 with our final destination and the world heritage site Victoria Falls as well.

To be continued…

//Monika

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Cracow, oh Cracow, feelings, history and joy

cracow by night

It has always been a competition between Warsaw and Cracow. It started when the Polish-Swedish king Sigismund moved the Polish capial from Cracow to Warsaw, 1599. Why? Maybe to get closer to Sweden? Maybe to piss off the people of Cracow? Well, maybe he didn’t intend to, but he did. Ever since it has been a competition between the two. Warsaw is the capital, the big city with pulse. Cracow is much more laid back, it has culture, pubs, a great castle and soul. I’m a girl from Warsaw. And I love Cracow.

Paintings for sale by the Barbakan-wall

Since I’m from Warsaw, I’m not supposed to like Cracow, but I do. It won my heart many years ago and sometimes I just go to visit it for a weekend to feel better. Most often I fly to Warsaw, I jump on a train and after two hours I’m in Cracow. It’s that simple.

Castle on dragon’s hill

The Wawel Hill with its magnificent Wawel Castle

Cracow’s Historic Centre was one of the first sites on UNESCO’s World’d Heritage list. And how could it be different? It’s a perfect choice. It has it all. The Historic City Centre, or the Old Town is an Medieval city. On the one side there is a huge Medieval castle with great interior and great exterior. It’s been extended several times and you can see it, in a good way. It’s different parts look different, like a mirror from that time period.

The Wawel castle by night from the river side

It also has it’s own dragon cave with a dragon outside.The dragon is a statue built in 20:th century. It spits out fire every 15 minutes. According to an old legend, there used to be a dragon there, who ate beautiful virgins and all the local sheep. The king Krak (thereof name Krakow, or Cracow) promised princess’ hand and half of the kingdom to the person who could get rid of the dragon. Many tried and died and finally a poor farmer showed up with two sheep filled with sulphur. The dragon ate the sheep. The sulphur made him thirsty and he began to drink water from the river nearby. He drank so much, so he exploded. The city was saved and the farmer boy got his kingdom and the princess. The moral of the story: too much water is not good for you.

The dragon guarding the castle

The castle is situated on the Wawel hill, just by the Vistula river. The view from the castle is great. In the castle area, on the square there is the great Royal Cathedral. Many of Polish kings and great leaders are burried in it’s catacombs and in the tower there is the great Sigismund’s bell. It’s huge and it rings on special ocasions.

Wawel Cathedral

The Castle Cathedral

The bell

The Sigismund bell in the cathedral

Town’s square ans St Mary’s church

Further down, there is the city itself. It has Europe’s largest medeval square. It’s still the biggest in Europe. There are several restaurants, cafes and bars around it. All year around people sit and enjoy themselves there.

St Mary's church

St. Mary’s Church from side

Beautiful St. Mary’s church in the town square

Next to the square is the famous church of St Mary, from which’s tower a trumpeteer plays every hour in memory of a medieval siege. There is an old legend here as well. It tells about a guard of the city in the tower, who was supposed to warn the city if the enemy was comming. And one night, when everyone slept the Cosacs on their horses with bows and arrows were getting closer and closer, hoping to take Cracow by surprise. The guard saw them and started to play his warning song. He was shot dead in a middle of a note, but he managed to wake up the people of the city. They discovered enemy in time and the city was saved once again. To his memory a local firefighter plays a song every hour from the top of the tower stopping as suddenly, in the middle of a note, as the guard in the old times. Today it’s a tourist attraction. Some days you can even go up (many stairs) to see the city from the tower and to see the firefighter play.

A firefighter playing trumpet every hour  24/7 from the top of the tower

cracow

View from top of the St Mary’s cathedral

The church itself looks great on the outside and even better on the inside. It has an altair made by Wit Stwosz with man size figures, eight gold and magnificent colours. If you pay a little more for your ticket, you also get a photo permit and you help the church and it’s artwork and are allowed to photograph it.

Altair

Beautiful piece of art, the altar by Wit Stwosz

More religious places

The cathedral is not the only church in town. They are many. Some magnificent, some simple, all beautiful. There are also several monasteries in and around Cracow, so it’s not unusual to see a nun or a monk around here. The former Pope, John Paul II was here quite often and he was actually born in a town called Wadowice, not far from here.

A little part of the ole Jewish part of town, Kazimierz

The churches are not only catholic. Not far from the old town is Kazimierz, an old Jewish part of town wih many synagogs, Jewish restaurants, very cute squares and some very nice places. And in the main square there are the best zapiekanki in town. Zapiekanki is a typical polish fast food. It’s a half baguette grilled with cheese and some other stuff (meat, salty cucumber, chili, sausage tomato, just to name some).

zapiekanki line

In the line, waiting for the best zapiekanki in town

The Cloth Hall

In the middle of the square there is the Clothing Hall, a medieval shopping area, called Cloth Halls, where today you can buy handmade products, art, jewlery, crystals and souvenirs. There is a lot of folklore, colors and curious tourists there. The prices are not very high either, which is a surprise for me. But that’s Cracow.

cracow sukiennice

The Cloth Hall in the middle of the town square

cracow sukiennice

Inside the Cloth Hall

University, students and bars

Cracows Historic Centre is also home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, The Collegium Maius. People like Copernicus have studied there as well as a few Nobel Prize winners. It is still a university town with students everywhere from the whole world. In the summertime the student dorms turn into a hostel, quite nice and cheap way to stay in this wonderful city.

Collegium Maius, the oldest part of the university

Churches, students and a castle, is Cracow a quiet town with no night life? No, no, no. The people here say that there are many museums, more churches and even more bars here. Just in the old town there are more than 400 bars and pubs. Some are open until 3 in the morning, some as long as the last guest wants to stay.

What to drink

Beer is always possible to get. Or beer with juice (piwo z sokiem), which is beer with rasberry syrup. It’s good, even if it sounds weird, and perfect in summertime. Many places have also a drink called Kamikaze. That is a small plate with six or twelve small glasses filled with a blue sour liquid. It’s vodka, blue curacao and lemon and the point is to drink up the small glasses fast. That’s the reason for the name.

Kamikaze

The famous drink Kamikaze

The city of artists

Cracow is also a city of artists. Many famous artists, authors, actors and screenwriters are from here. They are either born here ot have lived here. To name some: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Wislawa Szymborska, Roman Polanski and many more. During one of my visits here I saw Steven Spielberg leaving a bar, just like an ordinary man. I think he was recording Schindlers List back then. And last year we witnessed a Bollywood team recording Romeo and Juliet here. Why not.

Horse carriages are a common site and a nice way to see the town

You can also take a ride in a horse-carriage around the town. We did so and enjoyed it very much, even if it is very touristic.

A wheel of the horse carriage

Much more

There is so much more that can be said about Cracow and its neighbourhoods. Lets save that for another post. There are two more sites nearby.

Have I said that I love Cracow? It has many cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants. A lot of wonderful people, artists, theatres, it’s just great.It’s a city where you can be yourself. Just go there! Again and again!

My grade is without doubt five out of five:

GlobeGlobeGlobeGlobeGlobe

And the link: Cracow

//Monika

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Skočjan Caves in Slovenia – home of dragons and bats

Slovenia, Postojnska cave

The summer of 2011 was the time when we visited several sites in Slovenia and Poland. Among them was the Skočjan Cave in Slovenia. It wasn’t really a part of plan, but plans are great to have, so they can be changed, so we changed ours. The same day we visited another cave in the vicinity, so we decided to see this one as well.

Slovenia, Morning in Bled

A beautiful morning in Bled. Early sunrise. Welcome to heaven.

We started that vacation in Bled, a beautiful little town that looked like a postcard with it’s lake, the Alps, cute houses, a castle and a church on the island on the lake. We spent several days in Bled wandering around, feeding swans, taking a boat ride on the lake, walking up and down many stairs to the castle (about 500) and eating good food. This vacation started out really well.

Slovenia, Castle and lake in Bled

The castle in Bled. Just by the lake, on top of a hill.

Slovenia, woman in Bled

A woman enjoying the view of the lake in Bled.

After a few days we visited Ljubjana and the coast. Even there we climbed many more stairs in order to see castles and churches. Somehow building beautiful sites included many stairs. The more, the better place. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence. By the end of our stay in Slovenia it was time for the caves. Isay caves, because we saw two and not only one. By that day the weather had changed and instead of beautiful sunshine the weather became foggy and rainy. What a perfect day to visit caves!

Slovenia, Portoroz

The town of Portoroz by the sea.

The first cave we visited was Postojnska Jama. And what a cave! You had to ride a train from the entrance to what felt like the middle of the earth. Or at least the cave. We drove by cool formations with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and stalagmites growing on the groung. More and more magnificent. The the train stopped and we continued to explore the cave walking. And there were very nice rooms and bridges, lakes and cool structures created by nature alone. It’s like another world, totally separated from ours. At the end of our tour we even saw dragons, small creatures that live in the cave’s waters and look like small dragons.

Slovenia, Postojnska jama, cave

The Postojnska Cave, or a little part of it.

Slovenia, Postojnska cave

Small stalactites in the Postojnska cave.

After the first cave we decided to visit the Skocjan cave as well. I wonder if the both caves are considered to belong to the same world heritage site or not. It feels almost like that. And was this a great cave as well! The stalactites and stalagmites, the huge chambers, the lakes and bridges, all of it made the cave a great experience. It felt like magic, just like the first one. Like anothe world. The mountains in this region must be like a Swiss cheese, filled with holes, I guess that they are quite soft, so that water can carve out some marvelous structures.

Slovenia, Skocjan cave

Very interesting formations in the Skocjan cave.

Tha cave had lots of bats living and flying inside it as well and probably some other creatures as well. Maybe a fire-spitting dragon as well hidden deep down?

Slovenia, Skocjan cave

In the end of the cave we saw a light.

Outside the cave Slovenia was really pretty too, like a postcard almost everywhere. Go there if you haven’t been there yet. We travelled a little more in Slovenia, going, on a foggy day to mauntains, in Krajnska Gora and rode a car-train, being able to pass through tunnels in the mountains, made for trains, in stead of going around the mountains.

Slovenia, Krajnska gora

Mountains on a foggy day.

Slovenia Alps

Like a postcard.

This site became a world heritage site in 1986. Link to this site: Skocjan Caves.

My grade for this site: four globes out of five:

GlobeGlobeGlobeGlobe

//Monika

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