Destinations

  • South Africa

    Cities: Cape Town, Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve

    As Linda and I landed in Johannesburg on our South African Airlines flight from Washington, DC, we were met right off the plane by a representative of Swain’s Platinum Meet & Greet service and were and escorted through South African Customs and claimed our luggage (a definite worthwhile addition to anyone’s trip). We made our way to the domestic terminal and boarded our 2 hour flight to Cape Town.

    A short transfer to the beautiful Cape Grace Hotel led to the first “wow” moment of the trip. This was the first time I had visited this property since it’s huge “refashioning” – it is superb, the textures, the colors, the staff, just everything is perfect. After being shown to our room (it is now 9pm), we went back to the Signal Bar and Restaurant and sat at a table on the terrace overlooking the marina. Had a great light meal and called it a night. The beds at here are so comfortable!

    The next day we had free to explore, as our friends who asked us to join them were not arriving until later this evening. I took advantage of visiting other hotels in Cape Town while Linda sampled the spa. In the last couple of years there has been a flurry of new 5 star hotels built and I managed to see them all. The new Taj Cape Town built in an old building with a new tower offers great rooms; the One & Only Cape Town reflects the signature features of a One & Only property with all the essential amenities you come to expect there. Some of their suites are located on a small island in the middle of the harbor! The new 15 on Orange was beautiful and trendy. I was impressed with the Cape Cadogan and More Quarters for those who are looking for a more homely atmosphere with the ability to cook your own meals, whilst in walking distance of many of the great restaurants of Cape Town. The Pepper Club is very interesting with beautiful suites and situated right near Long Street where all the action is at night time. Of course I visited with our friends at the Mount Nelson, an icon in Cape Town as it sits snugly in front of Table Mountain. They always do a great job and the rooms are still beautiful and their high tea in the afternoon is a MUST!

    Out of the city center you have Kensington Place and the boutique guest house of Four Rosmead, both featuring delightfully renovated bedrooms. They are both bed and breakfast properties, and the owners who reside onsite can suggest and confirm great restaurants for you when you stay there. A great way to enjoy Cape Town in a very familiar, homey way.

    But I have to say, the Cape Grace’s location right on the waterfront is hard to beat!

    Linda and I walked along the waterfront and went to Quay Four for lunch with great views of all the activities happening there. Great shopping for traditional African artifacts and clothes and Linda bought a great one of a kind jacket!

    Madame Zingare is a dinner show held about 30 minutes from the Cape Grace in a circus tent. We heard about it from the hotel and they made a reservation and had the Cape Grace BMW take us there that evening. Now I have been to many shows in the world, but never one as eclectic as Madame Zingare. When we arrived, the entire staff was attired in fancy dress and they acted as their characters throughout the meal service, which was surprisingly very good. It was similar to a Cirque de Soleil with great acts, the vaudeville of the old days.

    Our friends arrived at the same time as we arrived back from Madame Zingare, so we all met at the Signal Bar for some complimentary port and sherry.

    The first day of the experience was a free day so we all scattered with some going to Kirstenbosch, the Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, some walking the waterfront and some sleeping in.

    We all assembled at the Bascule Bar that afternoon and boarded the Cape Grace’s 46 foot boat for a cruise around the harbor and another outlook of Table Mountain. With champagne and fine wine and canapés, we cruised around for almost 2 hours, and had a terrific time.

    That night after the cruise we took the BMW’s again to a small hotel which had 3 restaurants surrounded by a small open air courtyard. We sat in the middle and had the choice of ordering from either of the 3 restaurants. The Raw Bar (sushi and oysters etc), HQ which offered just one dish – steak, plus salad and chips (French Fries), and Caveau Wine Bar & Grill, which was more a tapas style eatery. I had to try the steak; if a restaurant can survive on offering just one kind of dish (plus a big selection of desserts), it must be good…..and it was…. We all had a great time that night and retired to the Cape Grace for a port and bed.

    Our second day, we drove out to Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. It is only a short drive from Cape Town and our first stop was Rust en Vreda (rest and peace) where we all sampled some great reds (6 of them) in a most picturesque setting.

    From there we stopped in the village of Stellenbosch where we walked around for half an hour. Onto lunch and Del Air, a well known winery with a perfectly placed restaurant where we sipped on their delicious white wines.

    The day ended superbly – we drove to Waterford Estate, where Kevin Arnold created from scratch a new winery (12 years ago) with a very Spanish style; a central courtyard surrounded by all the buildings where the wine is made and stored. But the best was yet to come after sampling their champagne. Kevin took us in his safari vehicle on what he calls his “wine safari”! Here we drove through the vineyards and stopped amongst the chardonnay grapes and sampled his chardonnay! WOW, drinking wine from the area where it was grown is so much fun, particularly listening to Kevin and his passion on wine making and describing and explaining his unique process of growing newer style grapes.

    We stopped amongst the red grapes and sampled the Cabernet Sauvignon and their pride The Jem! All the wines are named after the members of the two owner families. These wines are superb and are house wines in some of the best lodges in South Africa.

    Back to the Cape Grace, and then a very casual dinner at the hotel before retiring after a great day.

    After breakfast we headed to the base of Table Mountain and took the Funicular to the top and walked around the top to view the surrounding area. Amazing how the temperature and wind changes so dramatically from top and bottom.

    Back safely down, we headed south past the Twelve Apostles Hotel (a great place to stay just out of Cape Town with terrific views of the ocean) and onto Cape Point. Here we walked to the beach where the penguins come ashore. The views along the way are simply stunning with all plenty of small bays and inlets to stop and enjoy the small coastal towns and villages.

    After reaching the Cape of Good Hope, we thought the highlight would be taking our picture at the most south-westerly point on the Cape of South Africa…that was until a small troupe of baboon wandered along the road, and all of a sudden it was a game drive!

    Stopping for lunch after the penguins we then headed back to Cape Town, with plenty of fabulous moments captured on camera. For our last night in Cape Town we headed for Beluga Restaurant, a new style trendy restaurant, with loud music and the “in crowd” of Cape Town dining.

    An early start for the transfer to the airport as we sadly bid farewell to the Cape Grace (very sad for us all). Back to Jo’burg International and then a charter flight in a Cessna Caravan (there are 12 of us now) for just over an hour and we land at Londolozi’s private air strip in the Sabi Sands area.

    We are staying at Tree Camp, which has 6 enormous suites, our group took the whole camp, talk about exclusive! Londolozi also has 2 three-suite camps, and 2 ten-suite camps. The group loved their suites, all with private pools overlooking the plains where game is abundant.

    Callie the Tree Camp Manager meets us when we arrive and goes through the typical day at Londolozi – 5:30am wake up with coffee / tea brought to your suite, and then leave on morning game drive, back at 9.30am for breakfast then time to rest, or visit the village, before lunch at 2.30pm, followed by afternoon game drive at 3.30pm until 7.00pm when dinner is served when we return to camp.

    Londolozi is the largest game reserve in the Sabi Sands with 17,000 acres and then a further 18,000 acres where they can traverse in search of game. The first afternoon, right out of camp we see white rhino, giraffe, impala, wildebeest, zebra, kudu and bush bucks. Then we encountered a pride of lion. There were 9 in total, 1 large male, 2 other males and the 6 females, which includes a couple of cubs. They are basking in the afternoon sun waiting for the evening to start their hunting. We watch in awe as they start to stalk a lone giraffe in the distance. But luckily the giraffe spots them and stays a safe distance away.

    We stayed with the pride for quite a while and then left them for our dinner, which was a surprise stop in the village (there are 200 villagers living there, of which many work in the lodge at the various camps, along with their children). Londolozi has a tremendous way of looking after their “family”. Dinner in the village was great and we headed back to camp for bed.

    The morning bought us all one of the best sightings I have ever seen (and I have done almost 100 game drives!). We spotted a male leopard that had a bush hare in his sight. It was amazing watching him stalk the hare – carefully creeping closer – each slow step he would move his back paw to the exact place his front paw was, to reduce any sound. We watched for 25 minutes as he inched closer (he crept about 20 feet in that time, and then pounced, but missed. This is all happening within 80 feet of our vehicle. The hare took off, and then turned left at right angles and the leopard struck again and again missed, but the third time, he didn’t and the hare was his mid morning snack. He took only about 10 minutes to devour the hare and then lazed back to rest after all his hard work.

    Seeing a leopard kill is extremely rare – we were so lucky. Not so the hare though.

    Continuing after that, we saw large herds of elephant and giraffe before heading back for breakfast at camp.

    Whilst our group rested at the spa back at the camp, I went and visited 10 of the nearby lodges, some I had seen before and others were new to me.

    The following two days and nights with games drives each time brought many new experiences for us all – one especially notable experience was when we drove into the middle of a herd of 250 cape buffalo. When the buffalo move, they have the large bulls on the outside for protection of the females and calves inside. We were amongst them and it felt like we were part of the herd as it slowly grazed its way along the terrain.

    Another special moment was when we simultaneously saw zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, impala and elephant, all sharing the same area of bushveld. During our stay we also saw a pack of hyena, a couple of very large crocodile and another pride of lion.

    Dinner on our last night was quite spectacular. We arrived at a spot during our game drive, where we were greeted by lanterns that lit up a pathway and dotted the trees, which led to plush rugs, a full bar complete with fine wines, and of course, the managers of the camp, just waiting to tend to us! Our game ranger, Lucien is from the Cape and his family has a winery – Beaumont Wines, so who better than to set up a wine tasting for us? The sunset burned a whole on the evening sky that night, simply breathtaking. To end the perfect day, we dined in the “boma” (an area around a central raging fire, with a barbeque (or Braai as it is known locally) and delicious food. To top that off, the village choir entertained us with song and dance, traditional performances that have been passed down from their ancestors for generations.

    After this morning’s game drive, we actually walked back to camp (about 45 minutes), and it was great to enjoy another perspective of this incredible country.

    We sadly left Londolozi after three spectacular days and flew back to Jo’burg where Linda and I flew back to the states, and the group continued on to Botswana I’d visited in May this year – see my Botswana and Zimbabwe blog for details.

    [nggallery id=12]

    August 16, 2010 • Africa • Views: 10135

  • The Baltic Cruise July 2010

    Cities: Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia), Tallinn (Estonia), Copenhagen (Denmark)

    We land in Stockholm by way of Philadelphia and London, and make our way to the city and the Grand Hotel Stockholm with our informative transfer driver. The Grand Hotel is directly opposite the Palace and on one of the many canals of Stockholm.

    There’s easy access to Old City with its cobblestone streets and quaint laneways – a perfect city to explore on foot. Linda and I walked over a couple of the small islands and ventured into areas that were intriguing to us both. The old boats that lined the docks, some dating back to 1890’s were a great surprise for me.

    The next morning I watch Le Boreal dock right in town. Being only 466 ft long and drawing 15 ft, this small ship can dock and maneuver in small ports, where larger ships are unable. This is one of the charms of small ship cruising.

    Le Ponant, a French shipping company which owns four small ships (soon to be 5) just launched Le Boreal in May of this year. With just over 200 passengers and 135 crew, it is a very intimate cruise. I eagerly boarded at the appropriate time and we were shown to our cabin on Deck 5. Our accommodations for the duration of our 7 night Baltic Sea cruise would be in a Prestige Suite, featuring a separate living area, two bathrooms and bedroom. A long balcony stretching the width of both living area and bedroom provided ample space to view the scenery as we sailed away from Stockholm.

    That in itself is a wonderful and magical experience – through the hundreds of small islands Captain Garcia steered the ship perfectly giving us incredible 360 degree views and something I won’t forget.

    Passing small boats as the locals enjoyed this particularly hot day made me think of what it would be like in the winter! With the sun setting at 10.30pm and rising again at 3am, I had many daylight hours to enjoy the view of the sea as we sailed at a comfortable speed of 15 knots.

    Le Boreal is really a state of the art “green ship” from many perspectives. Its two electric engines resulted in the elimination of engine noise and the typical shuddering of propeller shafts as she churned through the Baltic Sea. With the open bridge policy, you can be on deck with the Captain at anytime and learn about what makes this ship so great! I was fortunate to be on the bridge as we docked in Tallinn, Estonia, which was an incredible highlight for me.

    The main dining room is located on Deck 2 and can seat all guests simultaneously for French gastronomic cuisine each night. For a lighter option, there’s the Grill on Deck 6 where about 50 guests can enjoy dinner and with al fresco views. Deck 3 is where we found the main lounge – perfect for cocktails!

    The theater is located on Deck 4 and is used for lectures when Le Boreal is on expedition cruising in Antarctica in the South and Iceland in the North (its next stop after our cruise).

    Above the Grill on Deck 6 is the outside bar on Deck 7 which was prime position for watching as we pulled out of each port and sailed to our next destination. Also a great spot to grab burgers, chops and salads for a delicious quick lunch each day.

    The Carita Spa is aft on Deck 5 and the team there offered massages, facials, reflexology and all the usual services from a spa. The nice thing is the view you get from each treatment room and the large aft deck space for reflection.

    After an hour exploring the ship I was able to traverse the decks and learn the ins, outs and whereabouts of everything aboard. Boating is a passion of mine so I was clearly in a very happy place – with Le Boreal being home for the next 7 nights!

    Linda and I venture to the top deck; we settle in at the bar, order a drink and await our departure from Stockholm.

    Our first day aboard was great; we enjoyed a lovely dinner and a nightcap listening to the singers in the lounge. We met a couple from England, Catherine and Erik who sat with us during dinner and we became instant friends. The ship was a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds – Americans, French, some Swiss Austrians, Germans and even an Australian couple on board along with us.

    Sleeping was easy onboard as there just was no noise at all! We wake up in Helsinki, Finland and we are docked right in town. We passed by the larger ships which were all docked several miles from the town, and again we all thought how lucky we were to be able to walk to the main areas right from the ship.

    Helsinki was a short stop for a few hours so Linda and I walked around the city square, visited the two huge cathedrals, one Lutheran and one Orthodox. The Orthodox Cathedral was so ornate inside whereas the Lutheran very simple, but beautiful from the outside and one that is an icon to the city. The markets which have been on the docks for hundreds of years, sold everything from fruits and produce to souvenirs.

    We sail away early afternoon bound for St Petersburg, Russia. The Captain’s Welcome dinner was on tonight so we all met Captain Garcia and enjoyed dinner downstairs again with our English friends. All meals are included while onboard (including 24 hour room service) and wine with meals. They also have a wonderful wine list featuring French wines and local wines from the previous ports that they have called at. The ship represents incredible value, with some great pricing available right now, and even the wines are half of what you might expect them to be!

    I rose early to watch us sail into St Petersburg, which takes about 2 hours from the flood gates that keep the city safe, through the archipelago that surrounds and makes up this town that was created by Peter the Great hundreds of years ago! Quite a special arrival this morning and again we cruise past the larger ships and dock on the River Neva within half a mile from the famed Hermitage and Winter Palace.

    Russian formalities completed (if you are on a cruise ship you can have 72 hours in port without having to obtain a Russian Visa, providing you take group shore excursions, otherwise you must obtain a visa to allow you to walk around yourselves – we didn’t have time to obtain so we signed up for the shore excursions) we then set out on our panoramic tour of the city. We drove in coaches and were shown all the highlights, including the Winter Palace, Hermitage Theater, Small Hermitage Museum, St Isaac and Peter Cathedral, the Resurrection Cathedral and the old fortress.

    Back to the ship for lunch and then out again to return to the city and go inside the cathedrals, which was truly amazing. 210 ton granite columns cover the entrance of the Cathedral and amazing mosaics adorned the other.

    Linda had convinced me we must see a Russian Ballet while here, so we set off after an early dinner to the Hermitage Theater (which in itself was worthwhile), and we saw a performance of Giselle. I really enjoyed it and the music and musicians great.

    The Winter Palace was next morning’s stop (we were docking in St Petersburg for 2 nights), wow what a huge home for the winter that Catherine the Great built. She turned it into a museum and bought collections of art from all over the world. There are over 3 million works of art there which would take over 11 years to see them all! We concentrated on Picasso, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the major masters of the last four hundred years – words cannot describe the collection housed here.

    Linda with her Eastern European ancestry had always told me how she grew up doing Russian folk dances, and of course in St Petersburg there is a Russian Folkloric show that she just had to go to…it was a very entertaining 2 hour show and Linda loved it and expressed how she could do all those dance moves too…

    The next day we took it easy and relaxed on the ship, in the pool, before we sailed at 5pm for Tallinn, Estonia. The sail away was more dramatic as the sailing in, as we had a beautiful afternoon, hot and balmy and perfect for watching the archipelago in the distance from the Top Deck.

    Overnight we cruised to Tallinn and when we docked we had then covered almost 700 miles so far. As I mentioned, I helped the Captain dock Le Boreal in Tallinn. The local Tallinn pilot was telling me how the bay freezes during winter (which lasts almost 9 months here) and the ferries which connect Tallinn from Helsinki, Stockholm and St Petersburg act as Ice Breakers and keep going throughout.

    Tallinn was an unexpected pleasure as Linda and I met our local guide as we left the ship. A walled city built in 1219 by the Danish Crusaders, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a lot of the old buildings in place including the main wall. We spent 3 hours with Maria as we walked through the cobblestone streets and learned about the history of Tallinn. With the various countries occupying Estonia over the years really adds to the color of the country and city. The Russians and the Swedes had the most influence on the city and we were shown the KGB headquarters and interrogation house they used.

    While some on the cruise thought Tallinn to be “contrived” I felt it was a wonderful city and one most should enjoy and experience for themselves as the history here is amazing.

    We sail from Tallinn in the afternoon following other ships and turn to port and head out of the Baltic Sea towards Copenhagen. A small squall went over and around us shortly after leaving and Le Boreal just cruised on, remarkably with little movement.

    Tonight was the Captain’s Farewell Dinner; some wore with jacket and tie, others jacket, and some just casual – but all enjoyed the dinner and entertainment.

    My favorite days on a cruise are the sea days and today, our last day, is a sea day as we sail to the Danish capital. I wake up, sit on the verandah and watch the sea go by as we pass and are passed by other ships as they navigate toward other parts of the world.

    I was up early on our last day to watch us sail into Copenhagen past the wind turbines, over the tunnel (reminds me of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Norfolk) and small islands.

    We cruised 1,100 miles on this journey and we say farewell to our friends and crew onboard and disembark the Le Boreal, but we will return.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Le Boreal, its crew and the sailing and will certainly return for more cruises in the future. Le Boreal is a beautifully appointed small ship and one I can certainly recommend to those looking for a more intimate cruise experience. They cruise all over the world and call in to ports that many larger cruise ships simply cannot access. You can see the difference in size (see images below) as she is docked behind the 900 passenger Regent ship. I’d be happy to provide further details – feel free to contact me for more information about my small ship cruising experience aboard Le Boreal.

    [nggallery id=11]

    July 21, 2010 • Cruises, Europe • Views: 3236

  • Australia May/June 2010

    Cities: Outback South Australia, Lord Howe Island

    Flinders Ranges, Australia May 2010
    After record rainfall in the Outback of South Australia, the ranges were bursting with lush plant life. Far from the usual red desert, abundance of green was evident, and only enhanced the dramatic scenery of the Flinders Ranges and the National Park. Continue Reading

    June 7, 2010 • Australia, Bloggers, Ian Swain Sr • Views: 2138

  • A Fijian Escape – Part Two

    Cities: Wakaya Club

    As we check in at Nadi airport at Air Wakaya we are met by the airport representative of the Wakaya Club and Spa.

    David Gilmour created the fantasy island 20 years ago and it has been the resort of choice for many famous and intrepid Americans searching for paradise, since then. Mainly marketed by word of mouth, it has always has the intrigue of something very special. Continue Reading

    May 21, 2010 • Bloggers, Ian Swain Sr, South Pacific Islands • Views: 2324

  • A Fijian Escape – Part One

    Cities: Likuliku Island Resort & Spa

    We left San Francisco on board Air New Zealand’s 747 in their Premier Business Class section. The seats are in a “herringbone” configuration on either side of the plane facing towards the windows in the forward part of the plane and then facing outwards, side by side in the middle. The service was fantastic with very attentive and social flight attendants. Sleeping was easy on board for this night time flight to Auckland. Continue Reading

    May 19, 2010 • Bloggers, Ian Swain Sr, South Pacific Islands • Views: 2026

  • Botswana and Zimbabwe May 2010

    Cities: Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Chobe National Park, Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

    It had been a couple of years since I had ventured into the wilds of Botswana, and many more years since stepping into Zimbabwe.

    BOTSWANA-AND-ZIMBABWE-MAY-2010

    Continue Reading

    May 11, 2010 • Africa, Bloggers, Ian Swain Sr • Views: 1869