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Monthly Archive: December 2017

Sun and blue sky in the Highlands!

We woke up this morning to discover blue sky in Scotland! After 13 days in the U.K., can you tell we get really excited about blue sky??  We had no other plans and have a rental car for Mark to drive on the left, so we hopped in the car and drove 33 miles to Fort William to check out the scenery.  We saw some pheasants along the road and lots of closed B&B’s and hotels.

sun on Loch Ness

Loch Ness in the sun!

 Canal and village Boxing Day

Fort Augustus village and the canal the runs through the middle. We want to see the locks in operation but there’s not much boat traffic in December!

view of the Highlands mountains

A view of the Highlands mountains with a bit of snow. Notice how green the grass is. We’re betting it never turns brown.

With a population of about 11,000, Fort William is the 2nd largest city in the Highlands.  The drive was beautiful and few of the mountains have snow on the top.

Boxing Day (December 26) is a holiday in the UK – no postal service or banks open. Not many shops were open either and some of the pubs and coffee shops were actually closed when we wandered down High Street. Thank heavens Tesco was open since we need some toilet paper and cheese and crackers.  The little store in Fort Augustus didn’t have toilet paper this morning!

BBC had an article about people not shopping at the Boxing Day Sales today. Since not many stores are open, what do they expect??  Clearly, after-Christmas sales are not a big deal here, at least on the 26th.  Maybe tomorrow!

A pizza debate in Cambridge

How do you split a pizza in half – along the Equator or down the International Dateline?  We were in Cambridge, England, visiting Darcy (Mark’s cousin) and her husband, Kelly.

Darcy and Mark

Darcy and Mark at a pub in Cambridge

They took us to a lovely musical program at the Round Church in Cambridge after which we had a beer at the Student Union (Discount with the music program secret code), followed by pizza and beer at a local pub.

Beer and Wine sign

We found this sign in the Student Union.

Kelly and Darcy shared a pizza and couldn’t agree on which half of the pizza belonged to whom.  Kelly says pizzas are split across the middle. Each person takes the half closest to that person – north or south of the equator. Darcy insisted pizzas are split from top to bottom. Each person takes the left or right side of the pizza.  After a long debate with all four of us involved, no settlement was reached but the pizza somehow disappeared.

How do you split a pizza?  Of course, if the pizza has different ingredients on the two sides, this isn’t an issue!

This is the First  Court at Christ’s College  at Cambridge University in Cambridge. During breaks, they rent out student rooms to visitors. It was not expensive and is right in the middle of Cambridge.  The room was pretty good considering that the building was built around 1640. We had breakfast in the Upper Room which is the cafeteria for the college’s students. It’s wood paneled and had pictures of famous grads, such as Darwin and John Milton.

Ugly sweater napkin

“Ugly sweaters” seem very popular in England. We saw them all over the place – hotels, stores, bars, Starbucks, Tesco. Our lunch restaurant had ugly sweater napkins just in case you didn’t have your own sweater.

Gluhwein and Friends Heidelberg

We flew Condor from the Seychelles to Frankfurt because that’s the only direct flight to Germany and we really didn’t want to connect through either Istanbul or Dubai. The flights all leave Mahe late at night (10 PM or later), making the connections at 0 Dark 30.

After flying for 10 hours, the Condor flight landed on time and our body had a small weather shock.  It was about 85 F when we left the Seychelles and it was 32 F when we landed in Germany.  What was Mark wearing??  You guessed it – shorts!  One flight attendant looked at him and said, “I hope you have pants packed someplace.”  He did!

Our luggage with all our summer and safari clothes actually showed up and we managed to have some coffee before we met the Lufthansa shuttle to Heidelberg. The room was ready when we showed up at 10 AM and our suitcases with winter clothes (We’d left them in Heidelberg with friends.) were waiting for us! By the time we sorted out dirty clothes and found warm clothes, the snow started. The Christmas markets are pretty magical when everything is white, even if it was wet snow.  When we wandered back to the markets in the evening for some more gluhwein (Susan’s favorite!), the snow stopped and was all melted!

Snowy Heidelberg shopping street

Snowy Heidelberg shopping street

Snow at the Christmas Market in Heidelberg

Snow at the Christmas Market in Heidelberg

Mark melted snow on face in Lowenbrau

Mark has melted snow flakes on his face from all the wet snow. Yes, we were having a dunkel beer to warm up!  And he’s wearing the U. of Iowa scarf to stay warm.

It’s always nice to see familiar faces and this time we enjoyed meals with 2 different sets of German friends.  The first night (after we managed to get our clothes washed!) we met Joachim at Heidelberger Kulturbrauerei for beer and dinner.  The sauerbraten was really good, and the side dishes were enough for all to share.  Their November beer was good even if we drank it in  December!

Christmas wreath

Christmas wreath at Kulturei Brauerei

The second night after a day of shopping for supplies, we met Bettina, Michelle, and Hermann for gluhwein at the Christmas market and dinner at the Zum Güldenen Schaf.  It was a fun night with the gang who’s being so kind to store our suitcases and clothes so we don’t have to take them all with us everywhere!

Christmas market pyramid

This Christmas pyramid was on the main square in Heidelberg. There were at least 5 different market locations in the city, including one with an ice rink.

Drinking gluhwein

We were all trying some Gluhwein. It’s pretty hard to hold the cup with mittens on.

Two weeks in the Seychelles

Let’s start with the first question we get from friends and  the Moms – “Where are the Seychelles?”   It’s an island country (115 islands) off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 95,000.  It’s east of Tanzania and lies about 4 degrees south of the equator.

We flew  from Johannesburg, South Africa and spent 2 nights in Victoria, Mahe, including Thanksgiving.  Marie Antoinette is a highly-regarded Creole restaurant that just happened to be next to our little hotel, Hilltop Boutique Hotel, so that’s where we ate Thanksgiving dinner.  The people were friendly and the food was yummy!

Mahe Thanksgiving dinner

Some of the Creole food we had for Thanksgiving dinner long with South African white wine.

Next stop was the island of Praslin, reached by a 1-hour ferry ride.  We hung out there for 9 days at the Old School Self-catering – translation: apartment.  The apartment is in Baie Ste. Anne village so we checked out the various shops and markets.  Our favorite market was ISPC because it actually refrigerates its white wine and has A/C for the red wine.  Many of the other stores were HOT and we didn’t want to think what the heat did to the wine on the shelves!  Wine is very expensive in restaurants but wasn’t badly priced in the stores.

The apartment was lovely and clean and above a bakery.  We bought many an item from them, including some roasted chickens, quiches, meat pies, desserts for dinner.  Peter and Shirley were lovely to visit with and get information about Praslin.  Yes, they know most of the population of the island!

football on the cell phone

We watched NFL football on our Slingbox on our cell phone!

Beach view

Praslin Beach view from my beach chair

Peanut butter from Dubai

Peanut butter made in Dubai.

Curieuse Island is home to Marine National Park, home to Aldabra Giant Tortoises, and made a great day trip from Praslin.  After we visited with tortoises who wander freely, moving more quickly than I ever imagined, we hiked 2 km. across the island to Anse St. Joseph for a BBQ and to meet our boat again.

We’re pretty sure there was some hanky panky going on with these 2 tortoises!

Two kilometers (about 1.7 miles), you say.  How hard can that be??  One version of the “walk” was it would take about 20 minutes. Another version was “it’s a short walk”.  What everyone failed to mention was the mangroves to walk through (easy and flat on boardwalks); the trails filled with tree roots and big rocks; and the up and down over the rocks and roots (not so easy).  Did I mention the heat and humidity??  We each had 1 large bottle of water with us, thank heavens!  By the time we reached the other side, all I wanted to do was jump in the clear Indian Ocean to cool off – and we did!  Oh, it took us 45 minutes to walk this.

Curieuse Beach

I need a geology lesson to explain all the rocks on all the beaches.

snorkeling site

We made a snorkeling stop after the visit to the turtles and the hike.

Susan on Boat

Enjoying the sun at the snorkeling site

We had a small world moment in the middle of the mangroves. Mark wore his Fort Collins University of Iowa shirt and we heard “Fort Collins?  Are you from Fort Collins?”  It was a guy who grew up in Wray, Colorado; graduated in Fish and Wildlife from CSU and is now a pilot for Austrian Airlines and lives in Vienna.

Another day, we took the ferry to La Digue Island (population 2000) to see some of their beaches. We spent the day at L’Union Estate on the beach Anse Source D’Argent, the most photographed island in the Seychelles. The water is incredibly clear and warm with fishes swimming all around.  This beach has no waves – just water to float around in.

Anse Source D’argent, La Digue Beach

Crystal clear water at La Digue, Anse Source d’argent

Mark under a tree at La Digue

Everyone put the towels under a tree because the sun was so intense and so hot!

After 9 days on Praslin, we took the ferry back to Mahe on what can best be described as a rough crossing.  The ferry rocked and rolled for the entire hour.  Then we spent 6 days at Le Meridien at Fishermens’ Cove on Beau Vallon/Bel Ombre.  Great hotel, super location, nice people.  We’d met a Finnish couple on our Curieuse Island Expedition and they ended up staying 2 hotels from us so we enjoyed a few dinners with them.

Fan Palm

Fan palm, I think! This tree was outside of our room at Le Meridien.

Bird on the beach

This big guy showed up every day at the beach on Mahe. I tried to see him catch a fish but no luck!

Seychelles postman

The postman on La Digue uses a Fat Boy bike to deliver mail.

Americans don’t make it to the Seychelles too often since it requires about 20 hours of actual flying to get there. Most people guessed we are British and that means we don’t like spicy food.  We were warned all the time “This food is spicy”. Then we’d have to explain we’re American and we like spicy food.  Of course, none of the food even came close to being as spicy as some we eat at home!  Even Susan didn’t think it was spicy.

After 17 days, we headed back to Frankfurt, Germany on Condor Airlines, the only direct flight to Germany,  even though the flight was 10 hours long!  As we exited the plane in Frankfurt to 32F temps, the flight attendant told Mark “I hope you have some warm clothes packed”.  Yes, he was wearing shorts!

A few days in Cape Town

After the safari and gorilla adventures, we decided to spend a few days in Cape Town since Star Alliance flights in that part of the world either go through Johannesburg or Nairobi and we opted for Jo’burg.  After spending the night at the Johannesburg airport hotel, we caught a flight to Cape Town.  Nice small airport, the luggage showed up and our taxi driver gave us a running commentary on the way to the Westin Cape Town (used Starwood points). He pointed out the hospital where 50 years ago Christian Barnard performed the 1st heart transplant.

We’d booked 2 day-tours ahead of time with I&F County Tours since we didn’t really want to rent a car and navigate our way to what we thought we wanted to see.  On Sunday we had an all-day tour along the coast to Maidon’s Cove and Chapman’s Peak Drive.  We saw the Dimension Data Professional cycling team out riding. We learned they had a training camp in Cape Town when we ran into a Dimension Data guy at the hotel waiting for an elevator.  Geraint Thomas, a Team Sky rider, was riding, too, but we’d seen him the day before at the airport.  His big Team Sky bike bag was a dead giveaway!

Capetown beach

Beaches south of Cape Town

Susan Mark By cape of good hope

The Cape of Good Hope is behind us.  We skipped a trip to the Cape of Good Hope when we saw the line to pay for the park.  Since the Cape is not really the southernmost point in Africa, we opted to take a picture from afar.

The highlight of the day was a stop at Boulder’s Beach to see the African penguin colony.

moulting penguins

These penguins were molting, a once a year activity.

no selfie stick sign

No selfie sticks allowed!

The coastline is spectacular with wide sandy beaches and sharks!  Shark spotters are employed to look for the sharks before they become a problem.

Shark spotter

Shark spotter south of Cape Town

Our second day trip was a city tour along with a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent most of his prison sentence.  Fanny was a great tour guide and showed us Cape of Good Hope Castle and the daily ceremony of the keys.  No cannon shot today because the only person who can shoot off the cannon didn’t show up for work!

Castle of Good Hope

Ceremony of the Keys at the Castle of Good Hope in the middle of Cape Town. It was built in 1666.

She took us to the Malay area on Cape Town with brightly colored houses and then to the District 6 Museum in a small church that tells the history of one piece of apartheid. The museum was well done and brings home in a personal way how awful apartheid was. Fanny, who is considered colored, was willing to answer questions about living through apartheid and what it was like for her family.  She had to get a pass to enter the white part of town to visit white friends and police walked up and down in front of the house to make sure she left, for example.

The day was windy but we didn’t give it a thought until we got to the departure point for the Robben Island trip and discovered all the boats were cancelled due to weather.  No Robben Island for us!

What else did we do on Cape Town?  Stocked up on all the items we’d run out of – deodorant, toothpaste, contact lens cleaner. We had a fine time shopping and eating at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront.

Lay's potato chips

In the midst of the search for all the items we needed, I found some new Lay’s flavors. The onion and vinegar ones were the best.


Sushi at the Harbour House restaurant overlooking the water. The square ones are called sushi sandwiches and we saw them on all the sushi menus around town.

plastic gift bag made into an ice bucket.

Really good South African Sauvignon Blanc. The plastic gift bag was filled with ice to make an ice bucket.