Tag Archives: weather

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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Eurotrip 2012: Day two in Paris, France

23 – 27 April: Paris, France

Continued from part 11: Day one in Paris

24 April – Of plans and schemes comes naught

Our plan for the day is to visit a rather vast area riddled with tourist attractions in the 7th and 17th arrondissements of Paris. These include the École Militaire, the Champs-ÉlysĂ©es, the Champ de Mars and a trip up the Eiffel Tower. I’ve found Tripomatic an invaluable asset in planning what to see in our unknown destinations, and would highly recommend it!

The first stop on our tour (no matter what that plan may say) is the House of the Invalids. We chose a Metro stop on the far end of the Ponte Alexander bridge and the view is stunning walking over it. The bridge is one of the oldest in Paris and is adorned with quite a few wonderful details.

It seems as soon as we arrive at Les Invalides it starts pouring down with rain again. We meander around the courtyard looking at the displays of canons and the like whilst keeping out of the rain as best we can, though after three weeks of constant rain I have to admit that I’m no longer feeling the love.

Together with a gaggle of other tourists, we spend the next 40 minutes or so hiding our in an alcove. At this stage it seems abundantly clear that the skies won’t be relenting their watery assault any time soon, so we make the tough decision to go back to the hotel and have lunch. The rain has been somewhat like a toddler with a light switch, and the constant on-off on-off of the torrential downpour has at least been constant in its unpredictability. It has now become clear that our already short-listed version of the sights we want to see in Paris, will have to be cut again and again in order to fit in with the weather’s schedule.

During another dry spell we grab the opportunity to visit the Eiffel Tower. Instead of leisurely strolling through the surrounds, we act like true tourists and take the Metro to the closest stop to the tower and get in line straight away. Through some fluke we end up buying 2/3 tickets, meaning we have to climb the first two levels of stairs before we can take the elevator to the third level. Though the views are amazing and it’s a rather nice experience, the wind is biting and horrible as one ascends.

The view from the top is amazing. The only hill in Paris proudly boasts the SacrĂ©-Coeur and the Louvre is clearly visible. Having studied the lay-out religiously in preparation of our visit tomorrow, this offers an amazing bird’s eye view. In the distance the Arc de Triomphe is visible with its adornment of crazy traffic, but over it all lies a bank of cloud threatening everyone with its seemingly ever-present gloom.

Esplanade du Trocadero, with Paris CBD in the background

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Les Invalides

After descending the steps and reaching ground level, Francois requests that we take a stroll down the Champs-ÉlysĂ©e, at least for a while before we get wet again. The gardens are beautifully kept and it’s a great experience walking down these well-worn stones, but in the light of wanting to save some time we find the next Metro stop and head to the Arc de Triomphe, as the rain is holding out on us for the moment.

Knowing that I may be judged severely for this, I have to admit that the arch itself is not all I expected it to be. The symbolism is great and the detail on the structure itself fascinating, but as a whole I felt rather underwhelmed. As far as unique experiences go, the arch itself doesn’t make it to my list of top 10s. However, while we were standing around looking at the traffic and being told to stay away from the arch, it seems that some military procession was taking place and we were caught up in the middle of it. This did make up for the lack of great weather a bit!

After our long day of (mis-)adventure, our final stop for the day is meant to be the restaurant we found in Montmartre last night. We get dressed in our finest, non-tourist garb and settle in for a wonderful meal of foie gras, duck and chocolate fondant. The service is impeccable and the wine lovely, perhaps all the more so because of the beautiful setting.

After dinner we realize that we may still catch the 23:00 light show on the Tour de Eiffel is we hurry, and as the weather is behaving we take the longer route across the Champ de Mars towards the tower. The lights start twinkling as we walk hand-in-hand towards the tower and I have to admit, that it is every bit as wonderful, romantic and clichéd as one could ever imagine. The perfect ending to a less-than-perfect day.

Next: a day at the Louvre.

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

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Eurotrip 2012: Day one in Paris, France


23 – 27 April: Paris, France

Continued from part 10: Lyon, France

23 April – Arriving in a wet (and somewhat dodgy) Paris
We’ve been packing and unpacking so much lately that I feel we could be awarded some kind of medal by the ‘Efficient Packers ‘r’ Us Brigade’. After bidding farewell to the lovely Lyon, we’re on the train speeding through the picturesque countryside of France. We’re headed towards Paris and, though it’s sure to be just as wet and rainy as everywhere else on our trip I can’t help but feel super excited about what awaits.

Our train arrives at the Gare de Lyon in the 12th arrondissement in Paris. It’s one of the bigger train stations we’ve been to in the last few days and even from the inside, the characteristic Parisian architecture is clearly visible. I’d booked tickets for us to visit the Musee du Louvre from South Africa and indicated that we’ll collect the tickets from the FNAC counter in the train station. Picking them up is easy and after tucking them away safely, we set off in search of our hotel.

Gare de Lyon, Paris, France

Gare de Lyon, Paris, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our bid to stay within budget and have a hotel that’s conveniently close to the Paris Metro system, we seem to perhaps have overplayed our hand. Though the hotel’s site showed charming photos of a newly renovated older building, the reality is far from it and we arrive to one of the dodgiest hotels I have ever had to stay in. Oh. So. RIDICULOUSLY. Dodgy. If they didn’t have my credit card details, I’d just have turned around and left. The up-side of this is the fact that this will force us to spend as much time away from the hotel, and thus on the streets of the city, as possible.

The Sacre Coeur! This seems like a great starting point for places to see in Paris. I also really want to spend some time in Montmartre in the early evening visiting shops and walking these tiny artistic streets. Though it looks like a complete shambles on first inspection, the Paris metro is incredibly convenient. We pop out right at the bottom of the hill, only to find it windy and rainy. Hoping it will pass, we stop to have some coffee and strategize a plan of action for the next few days.

Our first attempt for the day to view the Sacre Coeur, Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge all fail miserably as the weather is terrible. The wind gusts raindrops into any small opening it finds from all directions and overall, the morning is a complete waste.

Sacre Coeur Montmartre Paris

A view on the Sacre Coeur from the streets of Montmartre

In a last ditch attempt to see some of the city while keeping dry, we head to the Galeries Lafayette centre. It is an insanely large, multi-level department store with anything and everything under the sun. The food court is an amazing assault on the senses with flavoured candies, coloured sugars, exotic spices and a plethora of exquisitely prepared foods from across the globe on sale. One could spend a week here and not find everything it has to offer.

After getting something to eat it seems the torrential downpour has slightly abated and we head back to the Sacre Coeur. The view from the hilltop is amazing and a must-see for a visit to Paris. The basilica’s interior is astoundingly beautiful and well preserved, and the exterior offers many intricate details.

Sacre Couer Paris

We stroll through Montmartre hand-in-hand, as if the inconvenience of the rain and dreadful events unfolding the morning are completely forgotten. In a little side-street, we find a pub with pints of beer for a decent price and decide to enjoy some drinks as a reward at the end of the day.

Montmartre Paris

Montmartre Paris

On the way to the metro station, we find a French bistro that looks promising, and earmark it as The Place to have our one eat-out in Paris tomorrow evening.

Montmartre Paris

Montmartre Paris

Enjoying the amazingly well-behaved weather and wanting to take advantage of it, we decide to visit the Moulin Rouge again and are rewarded with a beautiful light show, though the prices for getting in are laughable.

Moulin Rouge Paris

Moulin Rouge prices April 2012 Paris

Still not sated with our first night in Paris, we arrive at a beautiful view of the Eiffel tower at 21:50 just in time to enjoy the 22:00 show.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

We finally call it a day and head back to Dodge central for a night of rest, feeling well rewarded at the end of the night.

[Tip of the day for Paris: Download a map or mobile app of the metro for easy reference]

Followed by day two in Paris.

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

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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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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.

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