USA 2016 – 24 Exploring San Diego on an Old Town Trolley Tours Bus (2016-07-19) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 31 JUL 2018

San Diego is a magnificent city. The history, the weather, the landscape – it is impossible to visit and not come back loving it. It is the second largest city in California, the eighth largest in the United States of America, and boasts a population of over 4,9 million people. The city is know for its mild year-round climate, natural deep-water harbour, multitude of beaches, long association with the United States Navy (the deep water harbour, remember), and these days, its role as somewhat of a healthcare and biotechnology development center.

Oh, and it happens to also host the world’s best Comic-con too.

One of the best ways of getting an overall look at the city, its history and layout is to jump on one of the many distinctive green and orange Old Town Trolley Tours’ hop on hop off busses, which is exactly what Johann and I did for my third day in the city.

The San Diego branch of Old Town Trolley Tours launched in 1989, and its (rather large) fleet of busses continuously operate on a 40 km loop that moves through 10 neighbourhoods with 10 destination stops.

We caught our first bus in the gorgeous Balboa Park, with our tour operator/driver being a an extremely enjoyable and amicable ex-policeman with a lot of great local stories to blend in with all the San Diego information being fed to us as we drove through Little Italy, headed towards the Old Town Market.

After a hop off and a bit of exploration there, we jumped back on a bus, this time heading down to the Embarcadero Marina, then Seaport Village and the Marriott Marquis and Marina. On to the Horton Plaza Park, through the revived Gaslamp Quarter, past the East Convention Center, Petco Park and Hilton Bayfront, and then over the bridge into Coronado.

After a nice refreshing drink and a bit of an exploration of the iconic Hotel del Coronado, we stepped back on a bus and rode it all the way up to our starting point back at Balboa Park.

Honestly, the entire experience was lovely. The entertaining guides were great with their local knowledge and the trip itself turned out to be a great way to see a large swathe of the city which I might not have otherwise had the chance to.

It genuinely is a pretty good way to get introduced to San Diego, and as such is a pretty easy recommendation for anyone visiting the “America’s finest City”.

As for the rest of the day? Well I was going to spend it at the zoo of course!

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(Oh, and if your teenage years were in the 90’s like me, then it is worth knowing that San Diego was also responsible for delivering to us both Tony Hawk and blink-182. An all important factoid if ever there was one!)

Related Link: Old Town Trolley Tours | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 23 Supper with a Flair at Shogun Kobe in San Diego (2016-07-18) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 28 JUL 2018

Following our day of exploring the USS Midway and the Cabrillo National Monument, Johann thought it a good idea to cap off the evening with an entertaining supper at the local Shogun Kobe. I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

If you are not familiar with the name, essentially the Shogun group of restaurants (established in 1980 in Pasadena by founder Bruce Kanenobu) are fashioned very much after the more famous Benihana group of American restaurants (which we’ve all seen on old TV and in 80’s movies), all of which are basically (heavily) Japanese themed restaurants that specialize in producing Japanese-inspired cuisine – the big drawcard being that the food is prepared by an entertaining, kitchen implement swishing chef on Teppanyaki grill right in  front of you.

It is delightfully cheesy, a little silly, and honestly quite a lot of fun.

Our chef on the evening was quite entertaining, skillfully flipping, dicing and flicking ingredients all over the place, with appropriate spurts of flames and coloured lights making an appearance every so often. Us diners all sat enthralled, the Western-style teppanyaki food (Americans would never take to authentic Japanese flavours) was surprisingly delicious, and the house wine not too horrible.

So, a pretty good evening out then in other words.

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It is a pity then that the whole teppanyaki experience isn’t widely found in South Africa at all – I honestly believe that it could be a bit of a hit with family diners.

Related Link: Shogun Kobe | Shogun Restaurants | San Diego#USA2016

USA 2016 – 22 Ships, Fish and Chips along the Embarcadero of San Diego (2016-07-18) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 25 JUL 2018

It is kind of sad that Anthony’s Fish Grotto, which had faithfully been serving customers along San Diego’s Embarcadero for 70 years, eventually lost the bid to renew its licence, meaning that when February 2017 rolled around, that familiar waterfront sight was now no more. That said, I’m pleased to report that I did actually get a chance to grab some fish and chips from this iconic San Diego eatery while it was still in its original location!

The Embarcadero (Spanish for “landing place”) is the area along the San Diego harbour on the east side of San Diego Bay. Administered by the Port of San Diego, the Embarcadero is home to the San Diego cruise ship terminal, the USS Midway museum ship (which we just visited!), the San Diego Maritime Museum (which includes the iconic Star of India – a full-rigged iron windjammer ship – and several other historic vessels floating in its collection), the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), the Downtown Waterfront Park, and various restaurants and shops dotted along Seaport Village.

So basically lots to see, pretty much everywhere that you look.

Then of course there is the gorgeous, clean skyline of San Diego itself, and thanks to the time of year that we found ourselves there, the bustle associated with everyone busy frantically setting up for nearby Comic-Con.

Not a bad place pull up a chair and people watch in other words.

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Oh, and pleasingly the fish and chips were rather nice.

Related Link: Anthony’s Fish Grotto | Embarcadero | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 21 The USS Midway Museum in San Diego (2016-07-18) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 22 JUL 2018

Following Johann’s and my stroll around the Cabrillo National Monument park, we next headed down to San Diego’s harbour district, with our sights firmly set on what was without a doubt the highlight of #USA2016 for me – a visit aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum.

Growing up I had an absolute fascination with military planes, spending hours sketching them, reading about them, building model kits of them – so essentially (thanks to the cornucopia of naval fighters on display) this was literally like walking into a little slice of heaven for me!

Decommissioned in the 1990’s, the USS Midway holds the distinction of being one of the United States of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers (1945-1992), having seen action in Vietnam, served in the western Pacific and played a part in Operation Desert Storm.

Now permanently moored at San Diego’s Navy Pier, the USS Midway is a dedicated museum ship, allowing you to explore (with the help of extensive audio guides) both inside and out, whilst also housing an extensive collection of exhibits that cover everything from the crew’s sleeping quarters to the primary flight control on the bridge.

My favourite part is of course the fact that the USS Midway is home to an extensive range of naval fighter planes, with a collection that includes all the iconic American fighters and support planes stretching all the way back to World War II.

Basically, Hornet, Phantom, Intruder, Dauntless, Corsair, Avenger, Panther – they literally have them all!

The whole experience was further enhanced by the fact that the ship is teeming with volunteer veterans, eager to impart their knowledge and point out facets that you might have missed or skimmed over. Heck, we even sat through a little session on the flightdeck where we were taken through the process of how they land fighters on the ship. (Incredibly interesting, though probably not a skill that I’ll ever need to master! :D)

It is a truly wonderful experience for anyone with even the slightest of interest in military matters and I seriously have no idea as to just how many hours I dragged Johann along with me as we wandered about the aircraft carrier – but I know that given the chance, I could easily spend the entire day there!

Well, well worth the price of admission.

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It is no wonder then that the USS Midway is ranked as being the most popular naval warship museum in the whole of the United States!

Related Link: USS Midway Museum | USS Midway | San Diego | #USA2016

The Muddy Princess Obstacle Mud Run at Vergenoegd in Stellenbosch (2017-04-30) Events | Photo Gallery 19 JUL 2018

Last year Chantelle surprised us all when she agreed to join Andy and a few other ladies on the local Muddy Princess Vergenoegd run. Now if you haven’t heard of it before, the Muddy Princess is an outdoor women only obstacle mud run, with an emphasis on having a “girls’ dirty day out” in the mud.

There is no timing or competition, instead it is all about fun, with the 18-19 obstacles delivering a variety of challenges that sees the ladies (all generally decked out in tiaras, tutus and fairy wings) having to run, walk, climb, slide, balance and laugh their way over the finish line.

Needless to say,  Chantelle was more than just a little nervous come obstacle run day!

However, a couple of hours and a whole lot of mud later, she and the rest of her very wet and bedraggled group emerged victorious. (My shoes that I had loaned her less so.)

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The girls and I were there to support her at the finish, and despite being super proud of her for having completed something that is so VERY much out of her comfort zone, I still refused to allow her anywhere near my car.

So, so much mud.

Related Link: Muddy Princess | Vergenoegd Low Wine Estate

Strawberry Picking at Polkadraai Farm in Stellenbosch (2017-09-24) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 16 JUL 2018

Soon soon strawberry picking season will be rolling in again and when that happens you simply have to make a plan to bundle your kids in the car and make the drive through to Polkadraai Farm in Stellenbosch for what is currently one of the better strawberry picking options on offer.

The team at Polkadraai really have gone all out in terms of spending money on expanding the strawberry picking experience into a full on family  attraction. They’ve added more parking space (truthfully, it is almost never enough), they’ve created a fun playground area for the kids, there are pony  rides to be had, a tractor trailer tour to jump on, a putt putt mini golf course to tackle,  a quick and easy outdoor eating area for light lunches (if you can keep your kids from munching on all strawberries in your bucket), and of course a playfully decorated farm shop that should cater to pretty much everyone’s needs.

However, the strawberry picking itself remains the highlight of any visit, with the large fields with the row upon row of strawberries relatively easy to navigate and pick from – though you might want to consider wearing boots or at least hardy closed shoes given the always slightly soggy ground.

Honestly, the experience is a whole lot of fun if you have small kids to entertain, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying trudging through the channels, pointing out which strawberries the girls needed to pick, and generally just trying my hardest to stop the girls from randomly tucking into the strawberries that were just lying there right in front of them.

As you might be able to pick up from the photos below, last year’s visit saw my folks, Chantelle’s folks, and my heavily pregnant sister Claire with her boys join us for this particular strawberry picking run.

I won’t lie, the kids had fun! :)

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And yes, as any self respecting strawberry farm which likes attracting kids should have, there are plenty of very colourful scarecrows scattered all around.

Related Link: Polkadraai Farm | Stellenbosch

Picking Roses at Chart Farm in Wynberg (2017-11-04) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 13 JUL 2018

If you ever feel that you need a vibrant burst of colour in your life, a drive up to Chart Farm, a slice of rural charm situated right alongside the bustling Wynberg Park, is an almost guaranteed solution – if in flower season that is.

Purchased in 1934 by the Garlick family, the Chart Farm covers about 18 hectares of land (a hectare or two was lost to the construction of the M3 highway), with about 12 hectares of that arable and being used to cultivate grapes, chestnuts, lemons,  and… compost – but it is of course the rose growing operation for which Chart Farm is most famous among Capetonians for.

Home also to Ludwigs Rose’s, Chart Farm grows a huge number of rose varietals in their rose garden, all of which can be ready picked for special orders but which are in fact much more fun to be picked out using your own hands and the secateurs and buckets supplied down at the farm stall out in front.

(Okay, so maybe I’m making this out to be a little more fun than what it actually is – but both the girls were SUPER excited to be walking among the roses bushes, selecting the flowers that were to be daintily removed with as minimal pricking as possible for their mom, and then making sure they made it safely back  to the pay point.)

As previously mentioned, down at the entrance to Chart Farm is their small little farm stall,  which offers fresh farm produce (in  season), including  items like lemons, limes, grapes, figs, chestnuts and cherries, as well as a selection of preserves and of course already cut roses (just in case you don’t have the time to meander among the flower beds).

Then there is The View @ Chart Farm, a perfectly situated coffee shop that serves delicious home-made cakes, breakfasts and light lunches, all whilst offering the most magnificent view over what is a very lush greenbelt area.

Seriously, it is a ridiculously picturesque spot.

All in all, it is impossible not to recommend Chart Farm as an outing with your mother (unless she is SERIOUSLY adverse to pretty roses), and as you might expect, Chantelle is very much itching for us to schedule a return visit so that she can see this gorgeous little find with her own eyes!

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Tip: There is of course a thing as seasons for flowers, so the best time to come is late spring, with the roses generally being available from October all the way through to June.

Related Link: Chart Farm | The View at Chart Farm | Wynberg | Cape Town

Christmas at Country Mews (2016-12-24) Photo Gallery 10 JUL 2018

Oops, I found these photos sitting in my Unposted Blog Post Galleries folder (which sadly is rather massive). These are from December 2016, when a very excited little Emily and very excited slightly bigger Jessica were eagerly counting down the days to Christmas on mom’s mouse moving advent calendar.

Our usual shenanigans of opening Christmas presents up on the evening of the 24th involved supper at our house, all the grandparents (and uncles/aunts who could make it), some wine from Saronsberg, and of course a sneaky plan of distracting the girls by making them take out food for Santa via the back door while we secretly brought in presents through the front.

It was a great success.

On that note, Christmas lunch was at our house for a change as well, meaning that the next day the feasting got even bigger and better. Which is never really a bad thing now is it? ;)

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See, I wasn’t lying when I said said I was looking forward to Christmas 2016.

Stroking Leather at Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm in Paarl (2017-12-23) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 07 JUL 2018

The Cape Winelands is home to a surprisingly large number of animal-based attractions, in other words great news for tourists and dads with kids to entertain like myself. Situated on Babylonstoren Road in Simondium, an area centrally situated between Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch is Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm, a CITES registered breeder and tanner of the African Nile crocodile.

Basically, if you want a close up view of teeth on legs all wrapped up in a thick leather hide, Le Bonheur is the place to go.

So, obviously the main crocodile pond tour takes front and center in terms of activities for any day visitor, with eleven such tours taking place on a daily basis.

The tour starts off with a brief introduction to the species in the briefing room, before you are led out onto the ramps that walk you above the open dams and Le Bonheur’s approximately 300 crocodiles who are mostly lazing about beneath you. You will learn more about these animals from an experienced guide, maybe witness a feeding session (primarily during the Summer months), and definitely get to touch/hold a baby croc.

While not particularly exciting as such (crocodiles tend not to move very much unless they really have to), the tour is very informative and certainly worth it if you have never seen a crocodile in real life before.

Then there is the crocodile cage dive, a close encounter experience offered by African Croc Dive that sees you dipping into a pool full of crocodiles with only a steel cage between you and their rather plentiful teeth. (For those of you who don’t relish the prospect of getting wet, an underwater, dry viewing box experience is also on offer).

That said, it isn’t all crocodile on the menu at Le Bonheur. In the main building the team have setup an interesting little self-guided snake centre exhibit filled with both indigenous and exotic snakes, and also on offer is an interactive snake show that includes both an informative talk and touch session with some of their slithery stars.

Then there is the small onsite restaurant/pizzeria that produces a selection of good pizzas, pies, and other light lunch options (like their famous crocodile meat pies). Well priced and a good way to round off a croc viewing experience on a hot summer’s day. You can also pre-book a picnic basket to be enjoyed on their luscious lawn out by the dam, or book the braai facilities if you want to take charge of your own menu for the day.

The dam behind the main building is open for catch and release fishing (you can hire fishing rods from Le Bonheur if needed), and the small kids play area around the back is great for the little ones to run out any left over energy while you laze on the grass under the shade of their big trees.

Finally there is the small gift shop full of Nile Crocodile leather products, and just in case you didn’t feel like making the drive home, Le Bonheur also has self catering/bed and breakfast facilities available.

Oh, and they host kids parties, cater to weddings (their hall can accommodate anything from 160 to 200 guests), and offer conference facilities.

So pretty much everything then.

Anyway, the girls and I found ourselves spending a Saturday there back in December last year (the second time that we had paid Le Bonheur a visit), and as you might imagine, crocodiles were observed, croc skin touching was had, pizzas devoured, and lots of photos taken. So a good day out then.

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(Footnote: Obviously the horrible accident at the start of the year was an absolute tragedy for all involved, but given all the employment that this attraction provides in what is a relatively economically depressed area, I’m really pleased to see the Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm still operating and attracting as many visitors as what it does. Tourism still remains the best key to unlocking the biggest opportunities in rural communities at this stage.)

Related Link: Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm | Paarl