Travel

Muizenberg Beach Huts

Cape Town Adventure

I have been asked by several people about our recent trip to Cape Town. Rather than write the same email 15 times, I thought I would share the details behind our trip.

After securing flights at a great price thanks to Jack’s Flight Club for my wife’s birthday, we quickly found ourselves with a trip to Cape Town on the horizon. But where do we stay? After a little research, I quite liked the idea of combining the best of a city and beach break so narrowed down our options to Camps Bay, Sea Point and Simon’s Town.

As a man of a certain age, there was something incredibly appealing about Simon’s Town being a quaint little town with delicious food, and waking up to a beautiful view of the harbour. It is 45 minutes away from the main city but everything we wanted to do was on the doorstep and I loved the idea of retreating from the hustle and bustle at the end of each day.

I am a simple man of simple pleasures and my only demands from any accommodation is Free Wi-Fi and Free Breakfast. Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel had all this and a killer view to wake up to each morning, and for seven nights, it only cost £435 through Booking.com, so it seemed like a no brainer.

Day One: Boulders Beach The Penguin Colony

A short 15-minute walk from the Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel is Boulders Beach where you will find the famous colony of African Penguins. Two breeding pairs arrived at Boulders Beach in 1982 and founded their little colony. Since then, numbers have grown to around 3,000.

Boulders Beach Penguins Simon's Town Guide

In the afternoon, we took it easy and decided to soak up harbour life in Simon’s Town.

Day Two – Cape Town Explorer

As Cape Town is a 40-minute drive away and we were not driving, I wanted to find a private tour that would enable us to see Table Mountain, Robben Island, Bo Kaap and VA Waterfront all in one day. My Google search led me to Anna-Marie Smith who provides custom-designed private tours for optimum flexibility, maximum enjoyment, and best combinations for individual preferences.

Anna-Marie was the perfect guide who ensured we saw everything we wanted plus a few surprises too. She shared her passion for the natural outdoors, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the Western Cape to provide a and rewarding travel experience in a world-class destination.

Following Anna-Marie’s advice, we purchased tickets in advance for a morning slot to Table Mountain and a 1pm Ferry to Robben Island and she took care of everything else.

Top of Table Mountain looking down at Lions Head, Robben Head, Green Point Stadium from 2010 World Cup and little old me

Day Three – Snorkel With Seals

The idea of taking a boat into the middle of nowhere and jumping into the water with the Cape Fur Seals and have a blast with the clowns of the sea was too hard to resist. The destination was Partridge Point which is home to a few hundred seals.

My wife was a little nervous about how to get in and out of the boat and is not a very confident swimmer. But the staff at Pisces Diving were first class and instantly put her at ease and ensured she too had the time of her life. The seals are extremely curious and playful and entertained divers and snorkelers alike. They mostly hang around the surface when they are in the water but also dive down to 25 meters to Scuba divers.

An experience that will stay with us both for the rest of our lives.

Snorkeling With seals Simon's Town

Day Four – Shark Cage Dive

When staying at Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel, breakfast is served at the Saveur Restaurant which is a 2-minute walk away. Next, to the restaurant, you will find Apex Shark Expeditions where you can experience a shark dive in a metal cage.

On the way, we encountered a school of dolphins before anchoring by seal island which is home to over 80,000 seals. Based on the weather, Apex will decide on the best spot to weigh anchor and begin attracting sharks to the vessel. The cage is then deployed, where it floats next to the boat.

Once a shark approaches the boat, bait is kept in the water to keep the shark around long enough for identification, viewing and cage diving purposes. The sharks come very close to the boat. Although it might sound scary, it really isn’t, but it is an amazing experience that you will never forget. We were also incredibly fortunate to encounter a school of dolphins on the trip which made the day even more special.

Day Five –  Muizenberg Beach Huts and Kalk Bay

From our hotel in Simon’s Town, we got an Uber to Muizenberg Beach to check out the Instagrammable red huts for around £6.00. Bright, vibrant and very photogenic, the Muizenberg beach huts continue to be an Instagrammer’s delight and a perfect backdrop and location for film and commercial shoots. The beach with its huts is a perfect setting for safe swimming, family outings, learning to surf, sun-bathing and ice-cream eating.

Muizenberg Beach Huts

Once we had secured our cool pics, we hailed another Uber to Kalk Bay which cost £3.00. Forbes Magazine’s Ann Abel finds up-and-coming neighborhoods slightly out of the mainstream where local creatives live and work. In her list of the 12 coolest suburbs in the world, you will find the quaint and rustic Kalk Bay. With its old world charm and fab restaurants like the acclaimed Olympia Cafe, Kalk Bay is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

The main road is filled with colourful clothing and bric-a brac stores, coffee shops and art galleries. And there’s music if you’re in the mood at spots like the iconic Brass Bell and the laid back Cape To Cuba restaurant. Having soaked up the cool vibe and grabbing something to eat and a cold beer, we used the free wi-fi to grab an Uber back to Simon’s town for only £5.00.

Day Six – Cape Point

A combination of having no public transport and Simon’s Town being a little out of the way, getting to Cape Point was more of a challenge than I expected. The first option was to get a boat cruise around Cape Point. But we wanted to get off and walk up to the lighthouse so this was out of the question. With no apparent trips from Simon’s Town, it was looking like we would need to get an Uber to Camps Bay and get the Red Bus trip to Cape Point, but this seemed very inefficient.

The problem with getting a cab is that the paid entrance gate to Cape Point is 15km away from Cape Point itself. So you need to pay the entrance fee of the cab driver and they will have to wait for you. Luckily, we befriended an Uber driver who advised he would take us to Cape Point, wait for 2 hours while we look around and then take us back to Simon’s Town for 500 South African Rand which is only £25.

The driver picked us up at 08:15 and we arrived at 08:50. South African residents only have to pay around £4.00 entrance fee so we covered this and he waited in the car for us to return. From here, we had a few options. It’s a 90-minute return hike to Cape Point, or you can buy a single or return ride on the Funicular and be at the top in just a couple of minutes. We got the first Funicular ride of the day at 09:00 and were the first people at the top before the busloads of tourists arrived.

Simon's Town to Cape Town

We stayed for two hours and was back in Simon’s Town by lunchtime.

Day Seven – Simon’s Town and Long Beach

Our hand was forced today as all the roads were closed due to the Cape Town Cycle Tour running through Simon’s Town. We enjoyed a lazy day cheering on cyclists, soaking up the atmosphere and visiting the nearby Long Beach.

Long Beach Simon's Town

Day Eight

As we headed to the airport for our flight back to the UK, my wife and I began discussing the possibility of one-day retiring here in Simon’s Town and waking up this view every day. I cannot think of a better compliment than that.

Quayside Hotel Simon's Town

In 7 days, we both fell in love with how diverse activities in Cape Town. Where else in the world could you hike up mountains, swim with sharks, dance with penguins and swim with seals? As I stood with my head in the clouds at Cape Point while fending off baboons, I found myself reflecting on the incredibly humbling trip to Robben Island and being inspired by the story of Nelson Mandela.

Our Cape Town adventure was full of experiences that we will never forget and I wish you the best on yours too.

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4 Days in Reykjavík, Iceland

When planning a father and son trip to Reykjavík, it was easy to pick up cheap budget flights by booking six months in advance. But, Iceland is notoriously expensive, even a three-star hotel can set you back £200 a night.

However, we picked up a reasonably priced apartment from Airbnb that acted as the perfect base for our travels. We got the Flybus from the airport and got off at the Reykjavík Marina which is just a 5-10 minute walk away from the apartment. There is free wi-fi nearly everywhere in Reykjavik and even the tour buses have a handy USB charging dock to charge your phone or cameras much to the delight of my son.

All the trips we booked through Reykjavík excursions also picked up from the Marina too. The Blue Lagoon books up in advance so make sure you book before you travel to avoid disappointment. It’s a unique experience that has to be ticked off your bucket list.

Next up was a Game of Thrones tour. The day covers many memorable locations from season four such as the Bloody Gate. You also get to see where the Hound and Brienne of Tarth fight for Arya Stark and the stomping ground of the White Walkers. The trip is a great day out that lets you see some beautiful scenery and add something different to your holiday.

Next up we went on the South Shore Adventure where we got to see the gorgeous Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss is part of the Seljandsá river, which has its origins in Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

The waterfall was also used in the films Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We also went to Reynisfjara black sand beach, with the Reynisdrangar rock formations, columnar basalt and hundreds of puffins.

Finally, a must see for any visitor to Reykjavik is the Golden Circle Tour where you can see some of Iceland‘s most stunning sights. Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss Waterfall will blow you away.

Make no mistake, Iceland is a beautiful country, but it also happens to be one of the most picturesque too. The breathtaking Nordic landscapes look like something from another planet. Maybe this explains why Hollywood directors spend so much time there.

The only downside is how expensive everything is. A Big Mac will set you back around £12, lunch around £20 and if you fancy a beverage of the alcoholic variety then expect to pay £8 a beer, £16 for a cocktail and £17 for a bottle of wine.

Thankfully, we came to Iceland for none of the above, but to appreciate the country for its beauty and this is priceless. Maria Helena was the perfect host at our Airbnb accommodation, and we left with amazing memories of our time in this fantastic city.

New York City Second Time Around

I was fortunate enough to visit New York for the first time around 7 years ago and, as a rule, I don’t return to the same place twice because I feel that you are missing out on somewhere else.

However, I had unfinished business with NYC and my first visit consisted of rushing around like a madman trying to see as much as I could racing to the top of the Empire State, Statue of Liberty and the Rock frantically attempting to tick as many things off my bucket list as possible.

Now that Grand Central Station, Central Park, Times Square, Wall Street and Brooklyn Bridge are a fading memory, I thought it was time to return and soak up the other things that New York has to offer at a more leisurely pace with 5 full days for our return visit.

NYC2

Arriving into Newark on an internal flight at 21:45, we got the train from the airport to Penn Station for only $12.50 which was only a 2 minute walk to our hotel the New Yorker and there were no safety concerns at all and everywhere was very busy despite the arriving in Manhattan quite late.

Day 1

It was time to learn and conquer the New York Subway so purchased a one-week unlimited subway and local bus pass for $30. NYC is a big place, so having the ability to zip around the city without scrambling around for loose change was the best decision I could have made.

Understanding the metro system offered a slight learning curve, but again the beauty of the unlimited pass means any mistakes were quickly rectified when I understood the difference between uptown and downtown or express and local service.

Next to the New Yorker Hotel Tick Tock restaurant is a subway station that allowed us to hop on the A, C or E line downtown to ground zero where the freedom tower has recently opened. Upon leaving the subway station, we were a little disoriented and unsure which direction to take but we turned a corner there it was and the sight takes your breath away. (more…)

Sorrento and Amalfi Coast Itinerary

A few people have asked me how we planned our recent trip that covered Sorrento, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Capri and the Amalfi Coast so I thought it would be easier to point people to this blog post and show how you can make this dream trip a reality without breaking the bank.

Tour operators and travel agents will try to convince you that trips like this are too hard too plan on your own and you should be paying around £1,200 per person to let someone else do this for you, but it really isn’t unrealistic to book a holiday like this for around £900 (or less) per couple in June which makes this beautiful trip much more affordable.

Depending on where you are located in the UK, your first job is to secure cheap flights to Naples and you need to do this sooner rather than later, but once you have your flights, the fun part of planning the trip can begin.  (more…)

Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome in 10 days

For our honeymoon, we planned our romantic dream trip of covering Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome in 10 days without spending a fortune, by using a budget airline flight from the UK into Venice and making our way through the Italian Cities via train before returning to the UK on a flight from Rome.

Venice (2 days)

Our Italian Trip began with a cheap flight to Venice from Birmingham in the UK and after leaving the airport, our first task was to find our hotel in this floating city with a few lines of instructions that you could write on the back of a cigarette packet.

Upon leaving the airport, we hopped on the Alilaguna public boat service (blue line) and disembarked at the Fondamente Nuove stop and which is less than a 5 minute walk away from our accommodation, the Ca’ Zanardi.

If you are the kind of person that enjoys luxury in a soulless corporate hotel where you could be in any city in the world as they all look the same but don’t mind because it’s right by the main tourist attractions then this is not the hotel for you.

However, if you want to soak up the real Venice with an authentic stay complete with a perfect host in a 16th century palace full of character at a reasonable price then look no further than the Ca’ Zanardi.

As you arrive at the giant door, you enter into what feels like a completely different world before being greeted by the perfect host Andrea. When he found out we were on our honeymoon, he upgraded us to a room overlooking the canal and even presented us with a bottle of wine.
The location is simply perfect and you are far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the tourism area but equally at the same time within easy walking distance to everything.

A short 5 minute walk from the tourist area and you are back in a quiet patio garden area where you enjoy a bottle of chilled wine, as Andrea lets you use the fridge in the main kitchen.

venice

People who have given poor reviews seem to be completely missing the point of Ca’ Zanardi, it might not be luxury tourist hotel but it all the better for just that. If you are a fan of history, art and want a unique Venetian experience then will want to come back for more.

Special mention to Andrea who is always armed with helpfulness and cheerfulness and really gives the impression that he enjoyed his guests enjoying themselves.

We spent three days in this beautiful city soaking up sites such as St Mark’s Square, Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bridge of Sighs but the biggest magic of Venice is simply wandering aimlessly through its streets and alleys. By wandering (especially if you point yourself in the exact opposite of the direction where the herd is going) you can find Venice’s many charming and often-empty squares and streets, which goes a long way toward helping you appreciate the city.

After 3 days of zero traffic and wandering through the endless alleys Venice we said goodbye to Andrea and a 15 minute walk later we arrived at the train station for a 2 hour journey to Florence for only 19 Euros.

I strongly recommend that you purchase a ticket a few months in advance if you can to secure this low fair, and if you have any problems making the payment, you can always use Pay Pal.

Florence (4 Days)

In less than 5 minutes from getting off the train, we crossed the road and were settled in our room B&B Il Cielo. Greeted with the incredibly helpful Elisa who made us feel welcome and passed on the all-important free wi-fi password to plan our trip.

The B&B itself is a lovely, cosy and artistic only a short 10-15 minute walk to Piazza del Duomo
The daily breakfast consists of coffee, tea, juice, yogurt, pecorino and pears, pastries was excellent and I guarantee you will walk away loving the taste sensation of pears and cheese.

florence
Lovely people, artistic b&b and a perfect location ensured we have a wonderful time in Florence and many happy memories were made soaking up this beautiful city and ticking off the sites such as Uffizi Gallery, Giotto Bell Tower, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Centro Storico and the Statue of David.

Pisa (Half a day)

With a day to spare, we crossed the road from our B&B in Florence and hopped on a train to Pisa which is only just under an hour away.

pisa

Pisa is quite small so recommend you avoid looking for further transport and take a steady stroll to the tower which is around a mile away but gives you chance to soak up the city too.

After securing the obligatory tower photos it was back on the train for an evening meal in Florence.

Rome (4 Days)

The final leg of our trip involves a 2 hour trip on the train for around 19 Euros to Rome for 4 days, once again I strongly recommend buying the tickets in advance from Trenitalia using the guide at Seat 61 where the tickets are much cheaper than buying from any travel agent or UK based ticket agency.

Once in Rome, you can pick up a Rome Travel Passes  for 1,3 & 7 days that is valid on the Metro, Buses, Trams And Some Train Services and will save your feet from getting tired when there is so much to see and do.

rome

Our biggest annoyance of our trip in Rome was the seemingly omnipresent salesmen on the street, offering umbrellas, scarves, knock–off purses, parasols, and—the biggest scam—“free roses.” They can be quite insistent by putting a rose in your hand and then tried to charge you for it. Just avoid direct eye contact, say no, and keep walking.

The only other tip is if you are visiting the Vatican, make sure you get there very early to avoid coach loads of people and very long queues along with being stopped every 30 seconds asking if you want a personal tour guide.

You will be very busy soaking up the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and so much more, so I won’t bore you too much as I’m sure you already have a good idea of what you want to see and do.

This trip cost just over £400 each to arrange for travel in June to enjoy Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome in 10 days without feeling hurried. Itineraries like this are often seen in holiday brochures for £800 each and it really is the easiest trip to organise and is very romantic to enjoy a journey like this with someone special.

If you can arm yourself with Google, Trip Advisor, a cheap flight checker and Seat 61 you really can book a trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank.

Travel Expert Simon Calder

Travel Chaos is something that the media love to exaggerate in this age of 24 hour news channels that have too much time on their hands so spend most of the time looping the same footage for hours at a time. However what has amused me over the last few years is that when a travel crisis hits anywhere in the world, there is only one man that will know the answers and that mans name is Simon Calder.

The name on its own probably means little too most of you but I can guarantee that you will know his face. It would appear if you a run a newspaper or TV Station, the name that must be in your phone is Simon’s number filed under “Travel Expert” and he will be in the studio before you can say “Volcanic Ash”.

It has been a source of amusement to me for sometime how he seems to be the only “Travel Expert” that we have so thought it was about time I delved into this man’s past to see exactly who he is and how is able to get the entire British Media eating out of his hand. (more…)