Things to See in France: Mont Saint-Michel Travel Attractions 27 JUL 2017

One of the earliest recognised UNESCO World Heritage Sites, France’s famed Mont Saint-Michel island commune in Normandy stands as one of France’s most recognizable landmarks, not to mention one of its most popular tourist destinations.

Situated about 1 km off the country’s northwestern coast, the tidal island crowned by its great Romanesque abbey supports a small population of around 50 permanent residents, all living within the boundaries of this medieval walled city.

Inaccessible during high tide, this fortified position has been held since Roman times, and in addition to its position as a place of worship since the 11th century,  The Mont as a strategic stronghold stands legendary as having been unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War, not to mention its successful 1433 defense against a full scale English assault.

Of course the reverse of this unconquerable nature wasn’t entirely missed either, with the tidal island also spending a fair bit of its history as prison stronghold for some of the Kings of France.

A team over at Great Big Story put together this great little primer on the fabulous Mont Saint-Michel:

No wonder it is one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

Related Link: Wikipedia | Forbes | About France | YouTube

Weekend Away at the African Tulip Guest House in Tulbagh (2016-12-09) Accommodation | Photo Gallery 26 JUL 2017

If you are interested in the Cape’s architectural heritage, then a visit to Tulbagh should very much be on your agenda.

You see, the damage that the disastrous 1969 Boland Earthquake wreaked upon the town sparked a renewed interest in its heritage, with the result being extensive projects of restoration lead by the National Committee for the Restoration of Historic Buildings in Tulbagh and its Environment and later Tulbagh Valley Heritage Foundation groups.

Because of this work, Tulbagh’s historic Church Street is now home to the largest single grouping of Cape-Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian provincial heritage homes in South Africa.

That said, we were mainly there for the wine.

Towards the end of last year, Chantelle and I left the kids with the grandparents and struck out to enjoy a weekend away on our own, forgoing the allure of staying in an old heritage house and instead opting for the more comfortable amenities that the African Tulip Guest House promised on their website.

Just as well that we did, because our lavender-themed room was spacious, featured a giant en-suite bath, had direct access to a patio with the most gorgeous of views, and not to mention a particularly inviting breakfast nook that came paired with some particularly good breakfast, courtesy of our lovely Dutch hosts.

(Plus, given the heat, the pool was DEFINITELY a very welcome bonus!)

For Friday night’s supper we tucked into the most decadent of burgers at Tulbagh Hotel’s The Olive Terrace, all the while enjoying the live music courtesy of a Valiant Swart concert being held next door at Saronsberg Theatre.

Saturday saw us make an impromptu decision to first head out to nearby Ceres (via Michell’s Pass), followed by a longer drive through to Klondyke Farm for a stab at one of their super popular cherry picking sessions.

Back in Tulbagh, we first explored a bit, tasted chocolate at Moniki Chocolatier, and then while Chantelle enjoyed a late afternoon nap, I set about taking in all the historical architecture with a leisurely stroll down Church Street (photos of which I must still get around to posting!).

Saturday’s supper was taken at Readers Restaurant, a dining establishment that operates out of one of the heritage houses on Church Street and by someone who appears to have very much a thing for cats going on. I don’t know why.

Finally, Sunday saw us take our leave of the wonderful African Tulip as we embarked upon a day of wine tasting, stopping in first at Saronsberg (Tulbagh), then Waverley Hills (Wolseley), and following a jaunt over Bain’s Kloof Pass, ending it all off at Val du Charron (Wellington).

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So. Not a bad first ever stay in Tulbagh then.

Related Link: African Tulip Guest House | Tulbagh

Kids at Play at Peregrine Farm Stall in Grabouw (2017-03-11) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 25 JUL 2017

Situated in the fertile Elgin Valley, just outside of Grabouw, Peregrine began life as a humble little fruit vending stall on the side of the N2 way back in 1964, and in the many years since, has morphed into somewhat of a road trip institution for anyone travelling over Sir Lowry’s Pass.

2014 marked Peregrine Farm Stall’s 50th anniversary, but as circumstance would have it, this was also to be the year of tragedy striking in the form of a destructive kitchen fire that destroyed most of the long-standing restaurant area.

This was however a perfect opportunity for new life to be breathed into Peregrine, and the new Peregrine Cafe that rose up in the old restaurant’s place is light, open, and with a very contemporary feel to it.

While the farm stall and bakery continues its long tradition of providing excellent local produce, artisanal creations and mouthwatering bakes to the public, it is the outdoor express section (complete with takeaways, a kiddies play area, and pop-up shops) that excites my girls the most, the result being that we quite often end up at Peregrine without actually stepping inside the cafe or old farm stall itself!

Not that I mind of course, the pies are particularly excellent no matter which counter you purchase them from – and besides, the fact that they wash down pretty well with some of Everson’s excellent locally produced cider (available right there!) doesn’t hurt either.

Also, how could we NOT stop to see the giant blue bunny, courtesy of the Art@Almenkerk project!? ;)

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It’s really, really hard to miss.

Related Link: Peregrine Farm Stall | Facebook

Moer Koffie and Melktert at Die Tolhuis Bistro and Farm Stall in Ceres (2016-12-10) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 24 JUL 2017

Towards the end of last year, over the course of our weekend away in Tulbagh, Chantelle and I decided on the spur of the moment to try our hand at cherry picking on Klondyke Farm (as well as fuel some nostalgia by checking in on Ceres’ Dennebos – aka Pine Forest – holiday resort that both of us frequented as children), which then of course meant an impromptu trip over Michell’s Pass.

If you are not familiar with it, the pass carves a route through the Skurweberg and Witzenberg mountains, in the process connecting Ceres to Tulbagh and Wolseley, and is named after the Cape Colony’s first Surveyor-General, Charles Michell – incidentally the man responsible for planning this very path in the first place.

The original road was constructed by famed road engineer Andrew Geddes Bain and it stood for nearly a century before finally undergoing two major upgrades to form the tarred pass that we are now so familiar with.

Pleasingly, the historic toll house survived all these changes, and now acts as a welcome halfway stop along the pass, with the grounds hosting a small farm stall filled with odds, ends and tasty treats, and a small bistro (aptly called Die Tolhuis) which serves up some good old traditional ‘boerekos’ on its wickedly tongue-in-cheek menu, very much designed to put a smile on South Africans’ faces.

Melktert. Moer koffie. Enamel cups. What more do you need to know about this self-proclaimed Republic of Roosterkoek?

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Definitely a fun little stop.

Related Link: Die Tolhuis | Facebook

Things to See in Slovenia: Lake Bled and Bled Island Travel Attractions 23 JUL 2017

Some 55 km from the capital city of Ljubljana, you’ll stumble across the tourist popular little town of Bled, tucked in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwestern Slovenia.

The picturesque Lake Bled, a lake of mixed glacial and tectonic origins, lies adjacent to the town, with the medieval-era Bled Castle overlooking the waters above the north shore.

In the middle of the lake is a tiny island, Bled Island, and what makes this small island so special is the fact that it is home to several buildings, chief among which is a pilgrimage church (complete with Gothic frescos and Baroque equipment) dedicated to the Assumption of Mary.

The church has a 52 m  high tower and there is a stairway of 99 stone steps leading up to the building – which tradition holds brings extremely good luck should the groom be able to carry his bride all the way up the stairs and ring the bell at the top, on the day of their wedding.

Recently, a team from Great Big Story put together this great little feature on Lake Bled, more than enough to stir up the wanderlust in pretty much anyone who sees this!

Stunning.

Related Link: Wikipedia | Lonely Planet | YouTube

Our Upcoming June 2017 Family Holiday My Life 23 JUN 2017

In just ten or so days’ time, Chantelle and I will be packing our bags, bundling the girls into the car, and fumbling to find a radio station that both of us can agree on, all so that we can hit the road and enjoy what should be a super awesome, nine nights long mid-year school holidays breakaway.

Interesting fact: this will officially be the longest road trip holiday that Chantelle and I have ever had with the girls – so it should be a pretty interesting experience all around!

Now, knowing that I despise just languishing in one place for too long, you might have guessed that this holiday road trip will involve a fair bit of driving around… and you would be 100% correct. Of course it does.

So, on to the rather exciting breakdown for our upcoming July 2017 holiday then:

We kick things off with a three night stay in Oudtshoorn (a place I’ve last been to a full decade ago!), using the wonderful looking De Oude Meul Country Lodge as our base of operations. From there we should be more than adequately placed to visit with ostriches, cheetahs and camels, go spot a waterfall or two, and of course enter some very famous underground caves.

Next we head straight up to the Main Rest Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we’ll sleep for just one night. This should be an unforgettable first time experience for the girls, and I am looking forward in particular to staking out the main waterhole with them come sundown!

(Bonus fact: the last time that I was in Addo was back in 2009, when Chantelle and I embarked on our epic Honeymoon road trip around the country!)

From Addo we will then drive down to Port Elizabeth and spend three nights there in the company of Evan and Natasha. The girls are SUPER excited at the prospect of playing with their friend Evalynne again, while I have to say, I’m secretly rather excited to try and find an opportunity to slip out and visit the PE branch of the SAAF Museum, or perhaps make an attempt to see the infamous Cape Recife Lighthouse if the wind blows that way.

The last leg of our July holiday sees us shack up at The Gull self-catering chalet (right on Myoli beach!) in Sedgefield for two nights, a town of particular nostalgic value to me seeing as that was where I spent the vast majority of my holidays as a child thanks to it being home to my mom’s folks.

In other words, I may be even MORE excited than the girls for this upcoming little breakaway! ;)

Gaming versus Blogging Games Notes | My Life 23 JUN 2017

If you are a long time follower (or perhaps just someone who occasionally checks in on this little corner of the web), you may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been blogging this year (or for that matter, much last year either). It’s not that I’ve stopped, or that I don’t feel like it, or that I don’t have content – it’s just that I started to rather enjoy playing games again, after quite a long period of not enjoying them all that much.

So yes, instead of banging out words on the keyboard, I’ve been digitally slaughtering and racing all manner of things instead.

The truth of the matter is that the quality of AAA games being released for current generation consoles these days is simply put, phenomenal, and as such I’ve had an absolute blast losing myself in their slick, well crafted worlds for more than just a short while now.

So exactly which titles have been keeping me away from this blog then?

Well, interrogating my Xbox Live profile (CraigLotter in case you want to look me up) and then extracting the biggest time offenders in order, the list currently looks something like this:

BioWare’s superb action RPG Dragon Age: Inquistion is probably the title which first brought me back into the gaming fold, with my time played clocking in at around 134 hours.

Then, the punishing Lords of the Fallen, my first taste of a Dark Souls type of difficult, measured combat Action RPG game, sucked up a good 19 hours or so of my life.

Ubisoft and Ivory Tower’s rather fun, online multiplayer arcade racer The Crew next stepped up and cost me just over 29 hours of racing around and exploring all the major landmarks of their digital version of the United States of America.

In a rather surprising turn of events (primarily because I haven’t been into wrestling since I was a teenager), Yuke’s rather fun, and pretty content-packed, wrestling title WWE 2K16 also stepped into the ring, did an Austin 3:16 on me, and managed to extract a further 72 hours from my evening leisure time!

Plus, I have no idea why I spent as much time on the colourful, Chinese mythology borrowing, frantic button masher (but graphically not so great) Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate as what I did, but this action beat-’em-up borrowed a full 19 hours of my life.

Then the strikingly brilliant, action-packed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor arrived, allowing me to hack away at hordes of orcs and trolls for a glorious 29 hours of unadulterated, slick, brutal head hacking action.

Ryse: Son of Rome backed this up with even more bloody, fast paced swordplay, allowing me to defend Rome against all manner of barbarians that were knocking at her doors (not to mention time spent in the Colosseum) for a good 14 hours or so.

One of the best Action RPG titles that I have ever played also jumped into the fray, with the sublime The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from CD Projekt Red weighing in with a hefty 105 hours of monster hunting, side quests, and of course daughter saving action.

Despite having played it before on the Xbox 360, I decided to replay the action excellent DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition from the insanely clever guys over at Ninja Theory. Pulse pounding hack and slash action accompanied by the crazed aggrotech sound of Combichrist – no wonder that smacked 6 hours off my life.

Staying with the slightly retro vibe, I also culled a further  6 or so hours from my time here on Earth by tackling the backwards compatible Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Decent enough game, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever willingly play a Xbox 360 title again – there’s just too great a jump in quality on the current generation consoles.

Now I’ve been playing EA Sport’s FIFA football franchise for literally most of my life, and pleasingly the FIFA 17 entry didn’t disappoint one bit, with the Frostbite engine powered “The Journey” story line mode being a particular highlight for me. While I did play a bit of offline season mode, in the end I finally succumbed to FUT, which is probably then the reason my play time now stands at around 76 hours of digital soccer action.

All of which then brings me to the current game that looks like it might be keeping me busy for a VERY long time to come.

Hi-Rez Studio’s F2P objective-driven, competitive team hero shooter Paladins has unreservedly dragged me into the world of online competitive shooter play. First person shooters have never been a genre that I have particularly enjoyed, but there is definitely something about this particular, rather frantic and fun title that has thoroughly entranced me.

After plus minus 21 hours of shooting other people with a variety of heroes (though that said, with a perfectly average win ratio of around 50%), I’ve at last unlocked the Competitive mode which now means that hopefully I get to play with people who take the matches a little more seriously.

(And no, I’m not quite sure why this matters to me all of a sudden).

So, carefully tallying all those casually dropped figures amounts to about 530 hours spent playing games on my Xbox One, or roughly 22 full days if you prefer it more harshly put that way.

Right. No wonder my blogging has suffered more than just a little bit then! ;)

Lunch at Eaglevlei and Play at Weltevreden in Stellenbosch (2017-03-05) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 30 MAY 2017

One particular Sunday back in March this year, Chantelle and I must REALLY have been in the mood for a proper Sunday afternoon drive, because basically our day ended up looking like this: first food at Eaglevlei and then play at Weltevreden (both in Stellebosch), before moving on to scones at Hillcrest Berry Orchards (just outside Pniel), which in turn was then followed up with a drive through the idyllic Franschhoek and of course a jaunt over the Franschhoek Pass. Next was one quick photo stop at the nearly empty Theewaterskloof Dam, before we rounded off our impromptu trip with a drive through the picturesque Viljoen’s Pass to reach Grabouw – and then straight on to Sir Lowry’s Pass to get back home to our beloved little hometown of Gordon’s Bay!

I started off by mentioning that we first had an early lunch at Eaglevlei Wine Farm, a Stellenbosch situated, wine producing farm that just so happens to also be particularly geared towards tourism – aimed almost specifically, believe it or not, at us locals!

So in addition to their wine tasting facility, Eaglevlei is also home to a large, welcoming restaurant, a pizzeria & beer garden in the form of The Nest, and perhaps most surprising of all, a giant indoor kids play park!

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they even have their own indoor movie screen, perfect for date nights, or as they call it, Movies in the Vines!

Also, and this is a pro tip mind you – be sure to keep an eye out for a very vicious little step leading down to the kids play park. Nearly did a very impromptu tuck & roll manoeuvre myself in case you’re wondering…

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Lunch at Eaglevlei was pretty good, but because we didn’t particularly feel like sitting inside watching the kids play, we decided to head back towards Stellenbosch for a cup of coffee at Weltevreden Estate, another great option for couples with kids thanks to their awesome Kids Carnival (and little more upmarket Lekke Neh) space.

So that is exactly what we did (though, only after first stopping to buy some of Eaglevlei’s rather enjoyable wine).

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Naturally, and as always I guess, the kids had a ball.

So, just in case you want to check them out for yourself, first a map of Eaglevlei:

Followed by a map of Weltevreden:

And there you have it – Two rather enjoyable family-friendly outing options in Stellenbosch then!

Related Link: Eaglevlei Wine Farm | Weltevreden Estate

Pit stop at Die Rooi Aalwyn Farm Stall and Coffee Shop in Riversdale (2016-12-30) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 17 MAY 2017

Back in December last year, Jessica, Emily and I hit the road for a bit of quick, end of year holiday, taking the N2 and heading all the way up to Gouritz, where we were to spend the next couple of days with oupa and ouma Monty and Cheryl.

Of course small children and long drives aren’t a fantastic mix, so I did my best to make the trip as enjoyable as possible, with stops every so often for a spot of leg stretching (and yes, sometimes a bite to eat!).

Situated just outside of Riversdale and part of a small outdoor shopping center that is famously home of the original Bali Trading decor and gifts shop, is Die Rooi Aalwyn Padstal (in English, the Red Aloe Farm Stall),  a small coffee, home industry and restaurant  establishment that is super welcoming and seemingly ALWAYS busy!

That said, before we could actually browse through any of their tasty looking stuff, the girls first had to take their time browsing through the local toy shop Caboodels, followed by some play time on the lush green lawn and big jungle gym, before finally wrapping things up with some time clambering about the old tractors out on display.

(In other words, yes, this is a pretty good pit stop option if you have small kids).

Anyway, to cut a short story even shorter, legs stretched, soft serve ice cream in our bellies, and a bag full of tasty treats from the farm stall in our hands, it was back on the road to tackle the last remaining stretch of our little holiday drive!

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As always, a map:

Related Link: Die Rooi Aalwyn Farm Stall