Tag Archives: roadtrip

A cold Easter in the Free State

As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent the long weekend away from home visiting the beautiful Golden Gate Highlands national park in the Free State. Other than gushing about the beauty and complaining about the bitter cold, I thought I’d share my five tips from the weekend.Yes, and some (mostly HDR ’cause I’m a little obsessed at the moment) photos.

  1. If you’re visiting Clarens (which you should!), don’t pay R60 for a pretentious breakfast. Go to the Roter Hahn Bierstube Und Deli and enjoy a very wide choice of German beers with an even better meal.
  2. Pack lots of blankets. Then another one. Also, a hot water bottle.
  3. Take a good single malt with, it fights off the cold.
  4. If you’re camping in a spot that doesn’t get a lot of sun, stay in bed ’till the sun hits your tent.
  5. Visit the vulture restaurant on the Oribi loop drive. Maybe you’ll have better luck than we did and see some of these amazing birds.

 

All  images by the author: © catterflyworx 2014. Please contact me if you would like to use any images from this site.

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Golden Gate in HDR

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We’re spending the Easter weekend in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Stunning mountains and freezing temperatures are the first two things that come to mind. These two panorama images, taken on my HTC One, were a spur of the moment experimentation with HDR. I’m quite happy with the results.

Full report back at a later stage (when not posting from my phone and dependent on patches of signal).

UPDATE: Photos and a few tips in the next post.

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Eurotrip 2012: Everything in one place

Eurotrip 2012: The route (click for more detail)

Reliving our trip in April digitally over the last few months has been amazing. Sometimes I wish I’d taken more photos and other times I wish I had spent less time behind my camera. Either way, I have loved capturing the trip here.

I’ve summarised the posts below in chronological order of events, with the photo galleries  (for those days where I could just not get around to writing) below the story of our trip. I hope this helps ease navigating the month long trip! Continue reading

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Eurotrip 2012: Lyon, France


22 April: Lyon, France

Continued from part 9: Bourg-en-Bresse, France

Lazy Sunday markets and the roadworked steets of DOOM!
After packing up our fresh, clean clothing and saying goodbye to the small town of Bourg-en-Bresse in the south of France, we journey on to Lyon and find that the drive doesn’t take too long. We arrive a little too early to check in at the hotel, but leave our bags there and head to the fresh produce markets currently open on the riverbanks.

Olives at a market in Lyon, France

As we arrive there is a brass band playing on what seems to be the main bridge, connecting the parking area with the markets.

Brass band on bridge in Lyon, France

The brass band on a bridge in Lyon, France

There is an amazing assortment of fresh products on sale, each vendor trying to drown the next with their shouting. We recognize a few from one of the markets we visited in Turin in Italy a week ago. We stroll along the riverside tasting cheeses and meats, watching the other shoppers.

Fresh produce market Lyon, France

One of the stall owners starts a heated conversation about her wares with Francois in French, never allowing him a chance to explain that he can’t understand her. He eventually walks off and we continue our people-watching.

Fresh produce market in Lyon, France

 We get something to eat from one of the many stalls, and keep walking. The views are absolutely spectacular, made even more so by the fact that we have a few hours worth of sunshine again.

View across the river in Lyon, France

View across the river from the markets in Lyon, France

After sating our appetites and sure that we can check into the hotel now, we venture off in search of a gas station to refill the car and then the rental car agency to return our little Renault. What should take no more than 20 minutes, turns into a 90 minute ordeal as we are forced to take detours across the city due to roadworks , and are sent from one one-way street to another. When we eventually arrive at the parking area for rental returns, I am far beyond my limits for dealing with unknown areas and useless GPS’s, and we head back to the hotel on foot.

We check in and are shown to our ‘room’, though ‘apartment’ would actually be a better description. Living in luxury for one night, we take full advantage of the fact that we have a kitchen and enjoy some wine and dinner at an actual table. We’re off to bed early though, as we have another early train tomorrow to Paris. This time we double-checked that we have the right train station, as we didn’t want a repeat incident of our last train ride!

Continues in part 11 with our (rainy) visit to Paris, France.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Bourg-en-Bresse, France


21 April: Bourg-en-Bresse, France

Continued from part 8: Annecy, France

The road to clean washing
We check out of our hotel and stop at a little boulangerie (bakery) across the street to get some croissants for breakfast. They were life changing! Best. Croissants. Ever. EVER! Soft and buttery on the inside, flaky and crunchy on the outside, and absolutely divinely fresh!

We arrive in Bourg-en-Bresse just before 12:00 and check into the hotel. It seems we unwittingly booked two hotels in the same franchise and are really happy with being assured of clean rooms and decent service, though this room is even smaller than our hotel room in Annecy was (didn’t really think that was possible, but hey!). After checking in, we head out to view the only point of interest we could find in Bourg-en-Bresse: The Royal Monastery of  Brou.

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

The Royal Monastery of Brou on a gloomy day

We arrive to find the doors closed, together with the rest of the town it would seem. We’ve forgotten about the fact that everyone packs up shop between 12:00 and 14:00; one can’t even find an open coffee shop to have something to drink in while we wait! We decide to wait in the car while we watch the weather closing in again. The wind picks up and a bride and groom arrive, with photographer and yards of white dress in tow for some pre-ceremony photos. Nothing else of interest happens, and I eventually fall asleep in the driver’s seat.

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

Entrance to the Royal Monastery of Brou

Finally when the doors open at 14:00 we get inside. The monastery has amazing Gothic architecture and intricate carvings. Sadly, no photos are allowed inside. Overall the churches in France have been less impressive than their counterparts in Italy, though it seems that the focus is more on the architecture and design than paintings, sculptures and frescoes.

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

An inner courtyard in the Royal Monastery of Brou

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

The monastery is famous for it’s multicolor tiled roof.

Upon returning to the hotel at a decent hour for once (we may be getting used to this “the sun only sets at 22:30 at night” thing), I decide it’s past time we found a laundromat and get some clean clothing. This seems more trouble than I’d anticipated, as neither the guide, Google Maps or our GPS can find one (searched for in English and French). Luckily the concierge is able to help, and he points us to the only laundromat in town.

It takes us a while to figure out how to get the machines to work, and luckily we’re not the only tourists completely dumbfounded by the all-French instructions. Eventually the washer fills up with what seems to be soapy water, and after about an hour and a half we return to the hotel with semi-dry clothes. We spread them out all over the tiny room, leaving a little space to wiggle under the bed-covers and sit up reading while it rains again outside. Tomorrow we’ll pack up and spend a lazy Sunday in Lyon, before leaving for Paris on Monday.

Continues in part 10 with our stay in Lyon, France.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Annecy, France


20 April: Annecy, France

Continued from part 7: Chamonix Mont Blanc, France

Snow, snow, snow, and cold
Our little hotel and surrounds have been transformed to an area covered in a fine layer of white. The snowfall whithers to light rain and strengthens to snow again, and as we arrive in Chamonix from Passy there is a marked difference in the amount of snow and how low on the mountains it is now. We arrive at the train station and travel up the mountain at a crazy angle.

Heading down to the Mer de Glace

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But, before I go

We’ve planned a lovely weekend away at the beach. Thursday is National Women’s Day in South Africa and we’ve taken leave for Friday, looking forward to KwaZulu Natal‘s mild winters, sunny skies and city-free living. However, the Winter Queen had one last thing to say before she leaves the southern hemisphere, and she chose to send her message in white. Snow white, to be exact.

Continue reading

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Eurotrip 2012: Chamonix, France


19 April: Chamonix Mont Blanc, France

Continued from part 6: Genoa and Turin, Italy

Trains, taxis and “airports”
We wake up to some mighty cold weather and sadly, no hot water. After packing, checking our goodies and making sure we have easy access to our passports, we head off towards the train station. Francois has our train tickets and luckily we are both close to the station and he set it up as a destination on the GPS last night. We arrive approximately 15 minutes before our train is set to depart, but as we look at the “Departures” board, our train is not on there. In fact, there is no train to ChambĂ©ry from this station… we’re obviously at the wrong station, with 10 minutes before our train leaves the platform.

The realization sets in that we cannot afford to miss this train, and we run out of the station straight to a waiting taxi. The driver must’ve had some experience with people emulating contenders on The Amazing Race, and he has the car ready and loads our bags in record time. Without waiting to hear where we are headed, he starts the car up and heads towards the station exit. We show him our tickets and emphasize the departure time. He nods in understanding and races us to the other train station in Turin, a mere two kilometers away. We meet the train and gratefully (though panting and breathless) sit back in our reserved seats, finally on our way to France.

We wind through the amazing landscape and as the train snakes through the mountains, it is under the cover of thick fog and light snow. Francois and I are like small children, staring out the window at what can only be described as a wonderland.

Arriving on the train station in Chambéry, we start looking for a bus or metro train that connects the train station to the airport from where we need to collect our rental car, about 10 kilometers from the station. After much debate (and now having to not-understand people in yet another language), we figure out that there is no bus or train line to the airport. So, two taxis in one day it is, then.

The airport is tiny. Miniscule. Ridiculously small. It’s an airfield, with converted shipping containers for offices. The taxi driver looks at us a little dumb-founded (as there aren’t any planes), but off loads us none the less and points us in the direction of the rental car offices.

We walk in to find about eight rental car agency desks, though only one is manned by a slight French woman. We explain in a mixture of English and newly-acquired-Italian that we’re looking for a representative from Europcar, and eventually she calls their offices. She hands the phone to me and I am confronted by an angry-sounding Frenchman, accusing us of not booking a car. I assure him that we did, give him our reference number and he inquires as to why we booked a car from the airport, when we arrived by train. I tell him that their website only showed the Europcar at the airport and he changes his attitude and assures us that he is bringing our car to us.

He arrives in a huff and apologizes profusely. He refunds us the cash we’d spent on the taxi to get to the airport and very deftly handles our contract. We receive the keys to a tiny Renault and are off on our way to Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Snow-covered French Alps
Driving from ChambĂ©ry, we watch as the temperature drops as we close in on the Alps. Accommodation in Chamonix itself is very expensive (due to all the skiers), so we are staying in the next village over, Passy. After checking into our rather quaint hotel rather high up the mountain, we get our “we’re seeing snow” today faces (and gear) on, and hop in the car to Chamonix. The temperature drops even further, and as we arrive in Chamonix it is 0ÂşC. The mountains are all covered in mist, but it only adds to the effect of having an all-white landscape surround us.

A quaint street in Passy, France

There are a number of cable-cars and -lines in Chamonix so after enquiring as to which ones are operational, we buy our tickets and head up the mountains. As soon as we depart the ground station, I have an insane feeling of trepidation and excitement build as we enter the fog and lose visibility of Chamonix and anything more than 50 meters away.

A last view on Chamonix

The first stop is at 1800m. It feels warmer than in Chamonix, but is ghastly white. Francois and I run around in the snow and make scrunching noises as we walk. The skiers look at us with dubious eyes and obvious judgment, but coming from sunny South Africa, we don’t care. Before we depart to continue our ascent, we make snow angels on one of the banks.

Francois & Catherine in the snow. Chamonix Mont Blanc, France

The cable car winds further up the mountain and the next stop is at 2500m. We get out and are immediately blasted with a freezing wind and swirling snow. When the wind isn’t blowing, it is deathly quiet and feels as if you’re inside a huge ball of cotton wool. There really isn’t much to see this high up other than snow and wind, and we head back down to our previous stop to enjoy a (VERY) expensive cappuccino.

Cafe at 1800m on Mont Blanc, France

Back in Chamonix we get something for dinner and some more medicine from the pharmacy, as we’re now both officially sick with flu. We plan on coming back tomorrow morning, to take the train du Montenvers up the mountain to the Mer de Glace glacier and ice cave.

Continues in part 8 with our visit to the glacier and our stay in Annecy, France.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Genoa and Turin, Italy


17 – 19 April: Sleeping in Genova and Torino, Italy

Continued from part 5: The sites of Florence

After completing our visit to the Uffizi gallery early on the morning of the 17th April, we get in our little rental car and take to the road. We’ve planned a road trip to the North-Western tip of Italy and from here we will be crossing the border into France.

Our destination for tonight is Genoa. We aren’t expecting much and take our time driving up the coast. There are storm clouds over the ocean and it seems that we will spend another night with rain as a constant companion, but for the moment at least the sun is shining and it’s easy driving. We stop in a few of the smaller towns along the highway towards Genoa, but most are deserted as it seems they thrive on holiday crowds in summer. The beaches are pristine and we risk setting our toes in the water, but it’s freezing!

Francois drives the last stretch into Genoa and it’s nerve-wracking. There are three ‘layers’ of roads on top of one another, as bridges cross over and run on top of one another and this thoroughly confuses our GPS. It takes a while to arrive at our hotel, where we receive the coldest “welcome” yet. The receptionist does not understand a single word of English and does not even feign interest in trying to let us know where we are going or how to get there. Obviously smiles are also foreign to her, and I’m less than impressed by her attitude. We settle in and park the car somewhere we assume is safe for parking, but spend a great deal of time throughout the evening checking up on it to make sure it’s not towed away or clamped in.

The hotel seems to be in little China/Nigeria and street vendors, loiterers and Chinese supermarkets are all we can find in the area. We get some supplies for dinner and head back to the hotel. We spend the evening watching horrible reality TV, as it’s the only English show we can find. Francois had a cold since we were in Rome and it seems I’m coming down with it as well.

Wednesday, 18 April
It’s my birthday! Francois wakes me up and hands me a gift that one of my friends from SA had him carry around all over Italy so that I would receive it on my birthday! It’s a pair of earrings I had been eyeing for months and I can’t believe the amount of trouble she’d gone to.

We leave the dreary city of Genoa behind and, unlike the city itself, the countryside around Genoa is absolutely stunning. We arrive in Turin just after 12:00 to find it’s an amazingly beautiful city. The weather has however closed in once again, and after dropping our bags at the AMAZING Tomato Backpackers Hotel, we head into the streets to explore the city. There is a biting wind chilling one to the core and finally we decide to get Francois a scarf to keep him from freezing to death. A very helpful lady unpacks some of her winter stock from a stack of boxes and after completing the transaction, we head off in search of a true Italian dining experience for my birthday. Unfortunately basically everything is closed at that time of day and as this is the first time we experience it, we have to come up with alternative entertainment.

A black and red bistro signboard in Torino, Italy

One of Turin’s main tourist attractions is the MolĂ© Antonelliana. It is one of the city’s major landmarks and depicted in most of the souvenirs and features in photos of the city’s skyline most prominently. We find parking in a side-street and take a walk through the cinematic museum on the ground level. From here we drive past a few landmarks while we wait for the rental agency to open so we can return the car, but the wind dissuades us from venturing out of the car.

The Mole Antonelliana in Turin, Italy

The Mole Antonelliana in Turin, Italy

Back at the hotel after returning the car, we explore our accommodations and find a great common area in the basement. We decide this is a great place to kill some time and avoid the rain (again), and open a bottle of wine, gather our books (or Kindle, in my case) and cozy ourselves in on the couches.

Wine, books and couches in the basement of Tomato Backpackers Hotel on a rainy day in Turin, Italy

Wine, books and couches in the basement of Tomato Backpackers Hotel on a rainy day in Turin, Italy

For dinner we decide pizza is in order for a birthday in Italy, and on the owner’s recommendation we go to a restaurant whose name I can’t seem to find anywhere (not even with Google streetview) just around the corner. The food is amazing and the prices unbelievable and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves, splurging on wine, beer, pizza, coffee and dessert (all for under €30!). We are sated afterwards and decide to spend our evening in our warm accommodation like an old married couple. We also have a 7:46 train to ChambĂ©ry in France tomorrow morning, so will have to be up early.

Continues in part 7 with our mad dash for trains, arriving at ‘The Airport at the Apex of Nowhere’, driving in France and seeing snow in the Alps in France. 

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Roadtrip through Tuscany and Pisa, Italy


14 April: Roadtrip through Tuscany, Italy

Continued from part 3.2: Two days in Rome

It’s another cold, wet, rainy and grey day in Rome as we pack our bags and head to Termini station to collect our rental car. We’re sleeping in Florence tonight, but we plan on making a roadtrip of it through the Tuscan countryside and are hoping that we will be escaping the weather a little further North of the city.

This is the first time that I will be driving on the “wrong side” of the road, and I have no idea what to expect. We get the car and luckily it seats five of us, plus all our luggage quite comfortably. The first stretch out of Rome is both the worst and best part of the drive, as due to traffic it moves quite slowly. After this the real test starts, as we’re on a small back-road out of Rome heading North to eventually join up with the highway. It takes a lot of concentration to stay far enough in our lane, without off-roading on the right-hand side whilst changing gears with my right hand. By the end of the day the driving won’t be as daunting as it was at the beginning, though when we arrived in Florence that evening I was absolutely dead tired.

Our first stop is the small town of Orvieto. We find parking quite close to the Orvieto cathedral and draw out our hoods and umbrellas to brave the rain. I am in no mood to bring out my camera only to then try and keep it dry in the rain, but instead grab Francois’ hand and walk around the massive zebra-striped cathedral with him. The rain is relentless and soon we opt to find some shelter in front of the cathedral from where we can view it without getting soaked. The header image to these posts were taken while we were hiding from the rain (but not the wind).

Duomo di Orvieto Cathedral

Duomo di Orvieto Cathedral, Italy (by fortherock)

Our second point of interest is Siena. The massive Piazza del Campo is slanted to allow for drainage of storm water, and though we’re sure the tower would offer amazing views of the beautiful city, the rain serves to dissuade us from making the climb. Instead we look for a coffee shop and treat ourselves to some fresh, warm coffee in one of the dodgiest little shops we’ve come across so far. We have our packed sandwiches for lunch in a dreary concrete parking lot and decide to trek on towards Pisa.

Piazza del Campo, Siena

Piazza del Campo, Siena (from Visiting Siena)

Our last planned stop on the way to Florence is Pisa. How can one visit the area and not see the famous leaning tower? We arrive late in the afternoon, delayed by rain and the twisty, windy roads of the Tuscan countryside. We remark again that, if it were not for the rain, we would’ve loved to stop at one of the hundreds of lookout points, wine & olive farms and miscellaneous other points of interest along the way. As it happens, the rain served to keep us in the car and make me more cautious about driving too fast in unknown territory.

The tower leans out at a somewhat ridiculous angle, and though it’s still pouring with rain, the tourists (like ourselves) abound to take ‘that’ picture with the precariously balanced tower. This is literally the only reason we are in Pisa and, after having the photos taken and reading some of the informative plaques, we get back in the car to head to our destination.

As we start heading out to Florence, we receive an sms from another one of our friends’s cellphones. He had apparently lost his phone in the coffee shop in Siena, and someone kindly handed it in to the Siena police, who are sending sms’es out to the people he last contacted. Included in this list happens to be his parents, who are understandably sent into a panic back in South Africa. It takes some time to sort out the misunderstanding and unfortunately he will have to return to Siena to collect his phone from them the next day.

We arrive in Florence in peak hour traffic and it’s a nightmare driving through the rain in the dark with Italian drivers who flow like water amongst the lanes of traffic. It’s a rather harrowing experience and by the time we get to the backpackers where we will be staying, I am overjoyed at the prospect of being able to park the car outside and just forget about it for the next two days. We finally check in and are sadly advised that the parking outside is only for permit holders and that we should take the car to the Piazza Michelangelo, where parking is free and safe. It’s however approximately 2km out on the other side of the river, but we’re assured that there are buses that will bring us back into the city. We fire up the GPS again and head to the parking lot, where we spend about 40 minutes waiting for a bus that never shows. In the end we walk all the way back in the rain and by the time we get back, we’re soaked, starving and (I am) quite irritated with the whole situation. We get some kebabs from a store around the corner and get in bed, hoping that tomorrow will bring some sunshine and a brighter view on Florence.

Continues in part 5 with our visit to the sites of Florence, Italy shortly. 

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
Duomo di Orvieto Cathedral by fortherock. Piazza del Campo from Visiting Siena.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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