I am sorry to say that this blog is now asleep. I have merged my travel musings with my primary blog and will update there in future.
If, like me, you enjoy visiting the world of Harry Potter, either in the movies or the books, and you find yourself with an evening to kill in the UK, I highly recommend you plan this evening to kill a little in advance and get yourself some tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour experience. And I really do mean plan a little in advance, as the tickets do seem to sell out quite quickly in advance, depending on the time of the year. A general admission ticket is, at the time of writing, £29 for an adult and £21.50 for a child, but I would really suggest spending a little bit extra (£38.95 for an adult or £31.45 for a child) to get the full package that includes a souvenir guide and a digital guide too. We were lucky enough to be driven to the park, but there are public transport options.
The thing to remember is that this is not an amusement park, but a studio tour. It is a tour of the actual studios where (most of) the films were shot. And I think this is amazing. You walk through spaces where the actors walked, and can easily recognise your favourite (and not so favourite) scenes, props, etc. I took a LOT of photos during our extended tour, these are a couple of my favourites in no particular order.
The tour takes anywhere between 2 and 4 hours, depending on how long you spend looking at things. I could easily have spent an extra couple of hours inside, as there are a couple of exhibitions I feel I may have just glanced over, since I did not take at least 100 pictures from each angle. But then, as a fan, I think no amount of time is enough.
And then, of course, the tour ends in the gift shop, so make sure you take many many many pounds with you as you can buy anything from small fridge magnets to wands and capes, and you really do also want to sample the Butterbeer.
Excellent tour, excellent day out.
I started reading Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series of books when I was 17, which was a very, very long time ago indeed. And you can say I am something of a fan of his work, so, when I discovered the existence of the Discworld Emporium, I knew I had to make a small journey, you may even almost call it a pilgrimage, to the town of Wincanton in southern Somerset in England.
Wincanton is a little bit of a challenge to get to using only public transport, but not completely impossible, and well worth the effort too. You can take the train through to Templecombe from London Waterloo, and then from there hope to strike it lucky and find a cab to take you the rest of the way, which is between £12 and £15.
Of course, once we got there, I fell in love with the small town charm and the English country side. And did I mention the Discworld Emporium?
The Discworld books, and the other Pterry works, have formed a large part of my life for a very, very long time, and much of how I see the world is either influenced by the books or reflected in the books. So, going to the town of Wincanton and the Discworld emporium was, for me, a little bit like going to holy ground, a sacred space of sorts.
Despite having been a little bit of a Discworld fan for the better part of 30 years, I haven’t really done the typical fan thing and reached out to other fans, either on the internet or the outernet, nor have I been to conventions or meetups or the like. So meeting the lovely folk at the DE was both overwhelmingly intimidating and a little bit like meeting old friends for the first time. If you are lucky, like I was, to visit on a quiet day, you can spend hours chatting and laughing, mostly laughing. If you are a fan, be sure to take LOTS and LOTS of money, because you will want everything. I spent a good three hours absolutely mesmerised by every nook and cranny of the store, while my patient husband photographed everything – because I was simply too spellbound to take a single photograph.
And I got a very special shopping bag. You may say it is one of a kind, really.
If you’re a fan, there is no way you can visit the UK without visiting Wincanton.
After our extensive visit to the Discworld Emporium, we walked around the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul. Yes, we do have a thing for churches and the like, don’t we?
We just walked around the outside, really not wanting to intrude, but found some of the old gravestones really interesting.
The date on this one reads 1826.
And on this one, it looks like 1865.
And, of course, no visit to anywhere beautiful would be complete without the obligatory picture of a doorway. I am particularly fond of this doorway.
As we are both big Lego fans, we decided to try and include a visit to a Legoland as part of each of our travels. So, when we visited the UK, we had to include a trip to Legoland Windsor.
Our journey to Windsor started at Paddington Station, where we took the train to Windsor and Eton station via Slough. From there, bus shuttles run every 20 or so minutes – you can check the scheduling and pricing on their website.
The resort is beautiful and looks out over the Windsor valley, with the Castle in the distance.
My favourite store was the Lego Star Wars store, located right at the beginning of the journey through the resort. Be sure to walk through the whole exhibition for a wonderful experience.
A walk through the resort takes you on a meandering pathway through various worlds, from Vikings to Egypt and beyond.
The other big attraction at Legoland is the mini land, with presentations of various famous landmarks and cities. Many of the presentations also include some animations, so be sure to press every button and keep a close eye on each item in the presentation.
We visited the parish church while walking around, which dates from 1822. The church has some beautiful stained glass windows, and many tributes to lost loved ones.
Windsor Castle is the official residence of the Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. If you can spare around £20 per person, you can take a leisurely tour of the castle and gardens. We happened to, coincidentally, visit Windsor Castle the day that prince George was born and there was much excitement in the air.
The castle and gardens are beautiful. We also wandered through the state rooms, but were not allowed to take photographs inside, which is really a pity, and the amount of history crammed into each nook and cranny of these well, stately rooms was overwhelming. It was also near neigh impossible to take photos without tourists in the way, but here are some of my favourites.
Out first visit while in the UK was to Ightam Mote (Ightam thymes with might-am), which is a lovely 14th century moated manor house with a gorgeous garden. You can explore both the house and the garden, with some lovely guides stationed at strategic places to answer all your questions.
Here are some of my favourite photos from the day
If you find yourself in the Kent countryside and would like to explore some history or just want a quiet day in the countryside, I highly recommend a visit.
…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…
~ Samuel Johnson
London is a big city. Probably one of the biggest I have ever visited. And yet, it felt very familiar. It felt, at times, (and I may be shot for this) very much like being in South Africa, just with more old and pretty buildings. I think part of the familiarity is the language and the diversity of the people, but probably also has to do with the lingering influences of the British empire in South Africa.
While we spent just over a week in the United Kingdom, we really only visited London three times in that time and so, I am sure, we only saw a fraction of what there is to see. Here are some of the highlights from our visit:
The Tate Modern is a really, really, really big art gallery. And, unless you want to see the special exhibitions, entry is free. Even if you’re not a big art connoisseur, there will be something here for you to see. It was fantastic seeing everything from Klimpt to Goya to my favourites, Dali and Van Gogh, live in person, so to speak. The store is also well worth checking out, but make sure you have some cash to spend. While most things are relatively inexpensive, you may want to buy the whole store, especially if you have a fondness for stationery and art supplies.
This is one of the biggest food markets I have ever visited, and was quite impressed with the range of foods offered. There are also some lovely vegetarian and vegan stands. I really enjoyed the bunless vegan burger I had for breakfast.
In our quest to find the original Globe theatre, we discovered the Rose theatre, which was where a young Shakespeare started out. It was truly a wonderful find, as the Rose is such an important historical landmark, and there are some great things happening here to preserve a bit of history.
Give yourself at least two hours for this visit, as there is a wonderful video to watch, and then a fantastic talk by a very passionate employee (whose name I unfortunately missed) about the history of the Rose and what is happening now with the conservation project.
Be sure to have some £££ available to spend in the giftshop. There are some great items for sale, and all the proceeds go to saving the Rose.
The Thames canal cruise
We always try and make use of one of the hop-on-hop-off busses when we visit a new city, and our visit to London was no different. We pre-bought the tickets online using the Original London Sightseeing tour, which also included a free Thames Canal Cruise. As always, the bus tour did not disappoint, giving us access to sights in London we may not have seen otherwise, but the highlight was definitely the canal tour. Our impromptu tour guide, in the form of one of the ship’s mates, was absolutely fantastic, and gave one a very different view of the buildings along the Thames, including a lovely view of Traitors Gate.
London Walking Tour
On our last day in London, we took a lovely walking tour from Trafalgar Square to St Pauls Cathedral. The tour guide was bloody brilliant, and his knowledge of London and its quirky side alleys and things was massively impressive. The tour was booked by my lovely bestie Mandy, and I unfortunately lost all the other details, but it is well worth the sore feet at the end of the day.
While London is a fantastic city, I left with mixed feelings. There was so much to see, much more than I even touched on in this post, but in some ways it felt a little too much like home for me to fall in love with it. That said, I will definitely visit again.
I think it is very important to travel outside of the world one knows, and to explore distant cities and cultures. Travelling helps greatly with gaining a greater understanding of the world, and it also assists greatly with reducing any prejudices one may have picked up along the way.
I always believed that travelling is reserved for the rich and famous, because it is generally thought of to be too expensive for the common man – especially if you live in a country with a weaker currency. When we finally started looking at the costs of travel a couple of years ago, we realised that it was well within our reach – especially if you plan the trip carefully and well in advance.
The biggest expense is typically the actual travel component – plane tickets, train tickets and so on – but there are ways to reduce this cost too.
Flying from South Africa to Europe can cost you anything from about R6000 to R15000 per person, depending on your destination, and the airline you choose. Most airways have regular special offers, so you just need to keep an eye on the specials, and use services like SkyScanner to get the best deal. Also do not accept that you have to fly at full cost to your final destination.
As an example, if your holiday is to start in, say, Austria, you may find it cheaper to fly to Frankfurt, and then get a cheaper connecting flight from Frankfurt to Vienna using a low cost airline like Ryanair.
Many airlines also offer rewards programs with points for travel, which doesn’t help you with the first couple of trips but starts paying off when you travel regularly.
It is also possible to traverse most European countries without needing to rent a car. The public transport systems are outstanding, and most cities/countries offer multipasses or similar. I am particularly fond of using Eurail for train tickets, as they offer great multiday travel passes with options to cover multiple countries. Using such a pass is also a great alternative to flying between cities, and allows you to see a bit more of the country you’re travelling through than simply flying over.
In South Africa, hotel rooms are charged per person, while, in my experience, hotels in Europe and elsewhere are typically charged per room, so you often pay about half for a hotel room in Europe of what you would pay in SA. Again, many hotel booking sites, like Hotels.com, offer rewards programs with deals such as free nights for frequent use. Many South African hotels are also affiliated with these sites, so you can also book locally to rake up those rewards.
The last big expense is feeding yourself daily. While food can be relatively inexpensive, it is the exchange rate that kills us. What I do when I start planning a trip is to work out how many Euros (or Pounds or whatever) we will need for the trip and include that in the budget. I also overestimate the exchange rate (as it can fluctuate quite dramatically) and then put that rand value into the budget. While we’re travelling, we will then draw cash in Euros, and we know we have x amount of Euros to spend. If you are happy to live on quick meals and take-out while you’re travelling, you need to budget in the region of €50 per day for two people. You can typically pick up a nice filled roll and a cold drink for around €5, and a burger with chips from Burger King also goes for about €5, while a pizza slice will cost you in the region of €2.
Dining out at a restaurant can cost a little more, especially if your tastes are more delicate. At a reasonable family restaurant you can look at around €10 for a main meal, while more up market restaurants could charge up to €30 for a main meal. Also look if your hotel has a restaurant, as it may, in some cases, provide better value for money. But not always…
On our first trip to Europe, we visited a couple of cities in Germany first, and then ended off our holiday in Amsterdam. While in Germany, we made use of the in hotel restaurants a couple of times and found the food to be great while relatively inexpensive (€20 for two people, including a couple of beers). So, on our first night in Amsterdam we also visited the hotel restaurant and ordered without really paying attention to the prices, assuming they would be along the lines of what we experienced in Germany – big mistake. The portions were considerably smaller, for double the price, and that meal consisting of main course and desert for two people, as well as a beer for the husband and a coke for myself set us back €65.
And, of course, you want to make sure that you have enough money to spend on gifts and trinkets. This depends on what your budget can spare. Some things can be much cheaper in Europe than you would expect, and buying things isn’t something you can really plan that much for, unless you go for a specific purpose, such as buying electronics. Each country has their own speciality, and you will want to bring home things that remind you of your trip – so be sure to leave yourself at least €200 to €400 for such items. And don’t forget to leave space in your suit case for such things – we generally put an empty shoebox into each suitcase just for this purpose.
And lastly, be sure to schedule all your account payments, etc for while you are on holiday, because the last thing you want to do is worry if the bills at home were paid while you are ticking items off your bucket list.
The husband and I recently returned from our annual holiday. This time, we visited the UK as well as Germany, our favourite country. We saw and did so much, that I think it warrants a couple of posts, so watch out for the following posts coming over the next couple of weeks and months:
- Impressions of London
- Ightam Moat
- A day in Windsor
- Wincanton and the Discworld Emporium
- The Harry Potter Studio Tour experience
- Echoes of the Roman Empire: Bath and Cologne
- Wacken 2013
I will also be posting pictures over on my other blog from time to time.
Living in South Africa through the eighties and nineties, we never really got to experience the whole music festival thing, especially not alternative music. And then life happens, and we missed some of the bigger alternative bands coming to SA. So, in 2010, when we discovered that Apocalyptica was playing at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany in 2011, we looked at our budget and decided to put on our brave shoes, and travel all the way to Europe for the first time in our lives to go
camp rock out with 90-odd thousand other Metalheads. With less than a 100 90 days to go to the biggest Metal music festival, I thought I would share some of the things I learnt last time round.
Like I said, this was our first European music festival experience, and this guide would probably be a little ‘doh’ for those of you up North who are born going to festivals. Forgive me, but I promise I will get better at this festival thing.
If you don’t have a ticket yet, I am really, really sorry, because it means you will not get to go this year. Tickets go on sale not long after the end of the last festival, and they sell super quickly. Be sure to have your Euros ready late in August and grab your tickets.
The most popular option is to camp. The cost of your campsite is included in your ticket, and it can be a great deal of fun to camp. We met some very cool people in the camp sites, and there is always something going on.
The festival and camp grounds do get quite muddy, as it frequently rains during the festival, so if you are going to camp, make sure that your tent is watertight, and also big enough to accommodate you and all your things. And a SA flag may also help you identify your camp site at night stumbling back from the festival grounds.
If you are going to camp, invest in a WC (bathroom) pass – you will especially appreciate the shower this grants towards the end of the festival.
While camping may be fun, there are also other options for accommodation. Metal Travel offers some hotel packages ranging from hostels to 4 star hotels. We booked one of these rooms for this year’s festival – if it all works out I will write about it.
Things you’ll need
Like I have mentioned, it rains a fair amount during the festival, and the festival and camp grounds can be very muddy. For this reason, I would suggest leaving the heels at home and maybe wearing wellingtons instead. A raincoat will also be handy.
While there are a couple of pay-and-charge points where you can get your phone and other devices charged, life may be a little easier if you take some extra batteries with.
Note: a solar charger may sound like a good idea, but there is just not enough sun for a full charge.
You want to take a camera with to capture not only the bands, but some other precious moments.
If you are planning on camping, you want to take some earplugs with you – especially if you plan on sleeping at night. The camp grounds are constantly busy.
And if you are camping, be sure to pack some collapsible water containers that you can fill on the first day and keep in your camp ground. This will be handy not only for drinking, but also for washing – especially if you haven’t invested in a WC card. Just make sure the containers are PET and not glass.
And remember the sunblock.
Well, obviously you are there for the music, right? See as many bands as you can, and make sure you check out some bands you don’t know yet.
Visit the Wackinger Village, and check out the craft market. And if you’re vegetarian, the Wackinger Village also has some vegetarian-friendly food stalls.
Check out some of the side-line performances.
Drink beer, and share beer, and laugh.
Visit the Wacken village itself. The supermarkets sell a wide variety of items that will help improve your experience, and you can even buy some postcards to send home.
Leave with your memories. Leave only your footprints behind.
Many people assume that Metalheads are all evil and stuff, you know, but they are actually just a bunch of people, just like you and me, who like to drink beer and listen to a bit of heavy music. If you want to enjoy the festival, you will want to avoid negative energies, bad vibes and generally bad attitudes. While there may be some unfriendly elements, for the most part the metal community is a friendly, fun-loving bunch.
Take enough money with, not just for beer and food, but also for music and other merchandise. The food and beer can be pricey, so work on a budget of at least €50 a day to be on the safe side, especially if you also want to try out the cherry and mead beers.
And if you are going this year… see you there
We recently visited Cape Town for the first time. I’d been there once or twice for business, but it was always a case of fly in, do the work, fly out again, and the husband and I had both been there once as children, so long ago that the detail got lost in the annals of time.
We decided to approach the trip the same way we have our travels to Europe, to see how it would compare.
To ensure the experience could be compared with our European travels, we decided to ditch our car and fly in. We also opted for not renting a vehicle, instead relying on public transport all the way.
The city has a fairly new rapid bus system, the MyCiti bus, which is a great and inexpensive way of getting around. You will need a MyCiti bus card, which you can pick up from any of the full platforms for R23, and a trip averages on R5.60. You need to ensure you load enough money on the card, however, to ensure you can travel without being fined. The bus route is fairly extensive though, and we managed to get all the way to Blouberg Strand and the V&A Waterfront without much effort.
The City Sightseeing bus (hop-on hop-off bus) is also now available in Cape Town, and, while a little more pricey than the MyCiti bus, it does take you places where the MyCiti bus doesn’t quite reach yet, like the wonderful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Hout Bay. The City Sightseeing bus is R150 per person for a day ticket, but you can also buy a combo ticket that allows you to travel both the blue and the red route over two days, and this is only R250 per person. This is well worth it, as it also includes a canal cruise, and allows you to explore more of the city.
We’re big fans of these red busses, and have used them in a couple of different European cities, and it is always a very pleasant experience. The blue route is my favourite, as it extends to the outer city and goes past some of my favourite sights.
Things to do
Even if you’re not a big outdoors kind of person, this beautiful garden is a must visit. Founded in 1913 to preserve our unique flora, the gardens typically only contain indigenous plants. The garden also hosts a concert every Sunday, and other events too, in the natural amphitheatre.
Remember to pack a picnic basket and spend the day at the foot of the majestic Table Mountain in the African sun.
A lovely suburb of Cape Town on the ‘other’ side of the mountain, this is a must visit, especially if you are a seafood lover. The rustic restaurants on the harbour sell fresh fish and other seafood, and it is to die for. If you’re vegetarian (as I am), the chips are also lovely. And if you’re not into food, simply sitting on the harbour side watching the world go by is fabulous.
No doubt the biggest touristy area of the City, the V&A Waterfront offer shopping and eating for all tastes and wallets. It is also built around a functional harbour, and there are many many cruise options available.
The City Sightseeing bus also departs from here, and there is also a bus stop for the MyCity bus.
The Aquarium is always a wonderful day out, especially if you have younglings. The Two Oceans Aquarium is no different, and is very much set up for a family day out. Highly recommended.
Built originally by the Dutch East India Trading Company, this is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa and the museum provides a lot of historical information. While not quite a castle by European standards – more a fort really – it remains a must visit, even if you’re not a history buff.
This is the playground of the rich and famous, so if you’re into celeb spotting, this is the place for you. This stretch of coast has the highest property values probably in all of Africa, but it is well worth a visit, even if you just grab some take-out and sit on the beach to enjoy the spectacular sunset.
Cape Town is a coastal city, and very much geared towards international tourists. For this reason, some of the prices may be a little inflated, and some attractions not always accessible to local visitors. As an example, to go up Table mountain via the cable carts is R220 per adult for a return ticket – which can be very pricey if you are a family of more than two people. Choose the attractions you would like to visit most, and allocate enough money for those attractions. If you try and take in all the sights in one visit, you may find yourself broke and disappointed.
As I said, it is a coastal city, and the weather can be very unpredictable. If the sun is shining in the morning, still remember to take a jersey or pullover with you. I would also suggest a hat, especially if you are going to take one of the cruises or open-top busses. And always remember your sunscreen. And a small umbrella may just save your day.
Cape Town is a wonderful city that works. It is not quite on par with our beloved German cities yet, but the views are spectacular enough to make you forget some of the things that don’t quite work so well yet. This is quite a sharp contrast from the other cities in South Africa, and gives us renewed hope for our country.
It is not a city without problems, but the city is aware of its issues and work hard at correcting them. This is no small feat, due to the severe inequalities left behind by Apartheid. As with all cities, there are areas that should not be visited after hours, but for the most part tourists can be safe in the city.
We will definitely visit again.