Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas in Al Ain

We spent Christmas at home in Al Ain this year. It had a pretty rough start with Ron being doubled over in pain and having to be admitted to hospital. Apparantly he had a kidney stone/s and it caused him excritiating pain for a few hours late on Christmas Eve and early into Christmas morning. So at 1 am we found ourselves on the way to the hospital through a very thick fog! A few hours later and after an injection for his pain we were sent home with instructions to follow up in the morning! So the better part of Christmas Day was spent in thehospital having tests done. Anyway the stone must have decided to dissolve, move or explode (!) and by the evening Ron was in fine form to go to Christmas dinner at gail and Peter Mapham's house.

We had a terrific night with them and Mark and Liz Steven's, Tracy and David Davies and our dear friend Brian Minns. The photos show us all enjoying ourselves - and a fabulous dinner!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Ulusaba - The Big Five - Fabulous!

After spending our few days in Capetown we rose at 4am to set off on our trip to Ulusaba. Early morning flight out of Capetown to Johannesburg and a transfer to a small plane to take us out to the game reserves that sit next to the Kruger National Park. The reserves used to be fenced from the Kruger but now it is one large open area that allows the animals to pass freely and wander all around the reserves and the Kruger National Park. Ulusaba is owned by Richard Branson. Now we all know that name is linked with adventure and fun – so we were really looking forward to an interesting and adventurous 3 days. We were not disappointed – Ulusaba could not possibly disappoint even the most discerning traveler – it is heaven with staff!

On arrival we were met by some guys from Ulusaba who greeted us with a bottle of champagne and asked us to sit and take it easy while they prepared our transport to the Rock Lodge. The lodge is where we are staying and it is perched high on a kopje above the plains with spectacular views across waterholes and bush, over looking the other part of the resort – the Safari Lodge, which is located on the edge of a small waterway leading to a dam with hippopotamus and crocodile in residence!

The views were gobsmacking! We spent some time on a tour of the lodge – beautifully fitted out in true safari style, just like you see in the movies! The staff all came up and introduced themselves personally to us, with a handshake and a welcoming smile from everyone. They remembered our names the whole time we were there and addressed us by them at all times – of course we had difficulty remembering all of theirs! The service was nothing short of spectacular and every little thing was no trouble at all.

We had booked 3 days of ‘full board’ which we expected would cover our room and meals and tours etc. We were pleasantly surprised to find this also covered all our alcoholic drinks, laundry (though we didn’t need to use it), internet, sunscreen, insect repellent, and generally all facilities other than the health and beauty spa. The food was gourmet, the wine excellent. We even had our own private wine tasting from Sir Rick's cellar. We locked our wallets in a safe and never had to put a hand in our pockets for a thing. Here are some pics from around Rock Lodge. If you go to our album website at you will see more photos of this fabulous place and a couple of short movies.

Of course you go ‘on safari’ to see wild animals – and mostly particularly the Big Five – elephant, lion, water buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. We were not disappointed and were stunned and amazed that the animals can be seen at such close quarters. We had lions and leopards within a few metres of us. The elephants actually came right up to the transport. Here are our best photos of the Big Five.

We also saw some other fabulous animals and many of them had their young with them. A zebra that was only a couple of days old, a newborn wildebeest, monkeys, hyena, giraffe……and the list goes on.

One of the highlights was visiting the local village of Justicea. We were greeted by young people and taken around to see various sights and activities in the village. There was traditional dancing, gumboot dancing, some women making maize porridge, a boys choir and a mixed choir. We had a lovely time, though a bit rushed – I would have liked the opportunity to talk to people. It was clear that this is a regular tour occurrence in the village and they had a program to present. All in all, a very special 3 and a half days.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Bridget's very short (too short) holiday

We have planned and schemed for months for Bridget to come and stay for a holiday. The grand plan was 3 days in Abu Dhabi, 3 days in Al Ain and another 3 days in Dubai. Well I have to say it was an absolute whirlwind holiday and we had a fabulous time. The best bits were the sitting around catching up on friends and family and talking it all over and analysing it all to the tenth degree (as we do!).

We 'did' the Emirates Palace and the Grand Mosque, the malls and shops, some local restaurants, a jazz club and city tours amid the crazy traffic - and that was just the Abu Dhabi bit! On to Al Ain to meet friends and acquaintances and
sip wine and visit the (you guessed it) malls, and the souks and the livestock market. All the while chatting and laughing and generally having a great time. On to Dubai for henna tattoos, a dhow cruise, and walking the souks and (once again) the malls. We had a glorious time even though most of it was spent battling the Dubai traffic.

The highlights were the Emirates Palace, The Grand Mosque, the dhow cruise, lazy day at the Hilton with friends, henna tattoos, the textile souk
and the waterfront in Dubai and the Madinat at Jumeirah City, a visit to the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah - oh yes and I shouldn't forget the Islamic Arts Institute! The malls were fun but paled into insignificance when compared with all the rest and with numerous bottles of white wine, good food and hours to chat. Photos are on the Picasa site at

A few days in South Africa

One of the nice things about the second half of the calendar year in the UAE is all the short breaks you get!

So this time we decided to go to South Africa. The lovely travel director (Cheryl) organised a fabulous 7 days. 3 in Capetown, 3 in a safari lodge. The lovely Cheryl has also told me that the first 3 days are my job! SO……

I loved Capetown ( at least in the summer anyway). We arrived late-ish in the afternoon on Saturday the 6th December. We were met by a driver from the hotel and taken to a gorgeous boutique hotel (The Ambassador) on the west coast of the cape. We came into our room and looked directly over the pool onto the Atlantic Ocean.
For us, who have been starved of sea views and the soothing sound of the shushshussshhhing surf for sooo long, it was delightful. That evening we caught the hotel shuttle into the Capetown waterfront zone. For the Sydney-ite readers, it’s a bit like Darling Harbour, but with a working harbour alongside. Restaurants galore, a few daredevil rides, buskers, lotsa shops and souvenir places etc. we found a nice balcony, ordered our wine and then the food (got the priorities in the right order) and enjoyed the ambience of being able to drink and eat outside, looking at the view and passing parade.

Next morning we did the Capetown tourist things – up to Table Mountain and a red bus tour. Table mountain is over 1000m above the town. You get about 300m high on the road. The rest is walk it (no chance) or cable car. See the photo for an idea of what this is like. Up there it is quite spectacular – like being in a helicopter with a total view of the town – and a bit scary as well – there are no high barriers separating the pathways from the drop – just a few little stone walls.
We again spent the evening in the waterfront area – a lovely restaurant called the Green Dolphin. Good food, good wine, and a jazz band. Sheer bliss!

Day 3 is wine tour day. Cheryl had lined up a private tour and guide. Gail (from Cape Sensations) was a walking encyclopaedia on Capetown and environs and particularly the Stellenbosch area. All in all this day we visited 9 wineries, and tasted at 5. Lunch was at another winery and superb. I’ve been lucky enough to visit most wine areas in Australia, and a few in France. I have to say the Stellenbosch is equal to or better than any of these. The scenery is beautiful – valley views, mountain backdrops, blue sky --- and good wine! My definition of heaven. Another attraction is that the wines are so cheap. A good wine at the cellar doo can cost as little as 40 - 60 ZAR – equal to about $4-6. A top wine can cost as little as 90 – 150 ZAR ($15). Most of the tastings cost a nominal fee – but that was always waived if you bought wine. Brandy is also a popular drink here and a number of wineries produce excellent examples. I indulged myself and bought a 20 year old brandy ( $30!).

And so we returned to the hotel after a fabulous day, and then indulged in yet another delicious meal. By this time the belt is getting a little tight. – and we still have 4 days to go!

And now here's Cheryl to do the bit on the safari at Sir Richard’s place.