A Desert Safari

After the excitement of the Grand Prix we managed a few quiet days. Our next big adventure was a Dubai desert safari experience. Other than shopping this is one of the most common tourist activities in Dubai.

According to the travel websites there are a range of options but broadly speaking the more you pay the more you get. The more expensive trips even include gold-colored vehicles, it seems that matters to some people. IT Guy picked one of the bigger Dubai desert safari tour operators because regularly seeing their vehicles around Dubai gave him confidence the company was reputable.

IT Guy had arranged pick up at a hotel near where he lives. Of course bad timing with laundry meant we were watching the washing machine timer when we should have been catching a taxi. This meant a mad dash to the hotel and then of course we sat for 20 mins waiting for our car to arrive.

Our first stop inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve was a falconry display and I was amused to learn that the the falconer was South African. Near the end of the display the falcon settled on the dune and I think the falconer starting to worry about getting his bird back, fortunately she returned.

This was followed by dune bashing. For me it was the highlight of the trip but near the end IT Guy was struggling with car sickness. At least one of the vehicles had to stop. Fortunately for IT Guy we soon stopped to watch the sunset.

A picture of cars driving through the dunes
A picture of the sun setting over the dunes

Then onto a Bedouin-style camp. We had our photos taken with a falcons. We also tried out the sandboarding although halfway up the dune I remembered how difficult sand is to walk in, and was regretting my decision. Sadly I can’t say the sandboarding down was worth the effort for me. We also had a short camel ride.

Once we got inside the camp we had just enough time to get a drink and then the starters were served. We found a nice spot around a fire and settled to enjoy our food and drinks. Our package included drinks so there were regular trips to the bar.

After we had eaten we both got henna tattoos. I was impressed at the speed with which the lady was able to draw a delicate pattern on my hand.  Then we watched the end of the belly dancing. Once that was finished, the lights were turned out for 5 mins. A sad reflection of modern technology is that most people turned on their cell phone flashes which I felt spoilt the moment.

There were element of the trip that were very touristy. Still that is expected. Overall I really enjoyed the desert safari and I would recommend going if you visit Dubai.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Finally the day of the Grand Prix arrived.  After a walk round the Pit Lane and having watched some Formula 2 I was definitely getting into the spirit of things.

The other advantage of having traveled to the Yas Island Circuit a few times is that it was easier for us to plan our trip to Abu Dhabi on the day of the Grand Prix.  Well in theory anyway.  We had to make a stop to collect a ticket for a friend and ended up taking a wrong turn.  Interestingly the SatNav directed us through the Yas Mall car park. 

Unfortunately we arrived too late to see the drive past with the racing car drivers.  We caught a glimpse from the bus as we drove past the race track to our grandstand.  After finding our seats in the Marina Grandstand we headed for the beer garden to chill out before the start of the race.

A picture of a crowd of people in a beer garden

There was a fantastic atmosphere with everyone having fun.  There was loud music and of course fans of the different teams dressed up to show who they supported.  We returned to our seats in time to catch the fly by.

Part of the Yas Marina Circuit which shows the Marina and the Yas Hotel

I have to admit that I was half expecting to get bored part way through the F1 race but in the end I found it really interesting.  The race started with a rather spectacular crash but the driver was unharmed.  IT Guy had showed me some videos about strategies related to tyre changes and the impact of the safety car so we considered what effect such an early use of the safety car would have.  The next challenge was getting a few decent pics of fast cars.

In the top right of the above picture, is a corner which was very popular for overtaking.  The challenge was watching for overtaking attempts and who would be ahead as they came out of the corner.  Then the cars would come flying back past us and under the Yas Hotel.  When the cars came back round we would be watching for more changes to the order from overtaking on other parts of the circuit.  There was enough going on to keep me interested till the end of the race.

After the race ended we spent more time chilling out in the beer garden.  We knew there was no need to rush to the Du Arena for the “Guns and Roses” concert.

This was the first time I had been to a Grand Prix and I really enjoyed it. Being able to attend a range of activities made for a fantastic experience and added to my enjoyment of the main race

Soaking up the Atmosphere at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

One of the nice things about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, at the Yas Marina Circuit, is that you can buy tickets which cover a wide range of events.  We got a package that covered the 4 days starting with the Pit Lane Walk which meant we could see the cars up close.

After the Pit Lane Walk we headed for the beer garden for a drink and to enjoy the atmosphere.  We managed to find some food although being late in the day our choices were somewhat limited.  Still there was a really good atmosphere with everyone enjoying themselves.  At some point some of the drivers were signing autographs.

Chilling at the Yas Marina Circuit
Driver Autograph signing

Every evening there is an after race concert starting with Post Malone.  So after eating we headed back to the bus stop to catch a bus to the Du Arena.  We did stopping to get some photos with formula 2 cars.  We got to the Arean there shortly after 6 pm when the gates opened so while the stadium was starting to fill we had to wait till 8 pm for the concert to start.  The first part was a DJ.  I guess we were showing our age because we decided it was way too loud and it was not worth waiting for Post Malone so we left.  Nonetheless the concert was very popular and I’m sure most people would have enjoyed it.

Grand Prix Concert at the Du Arena

On Friday we decided not to attend the F1 Grand Prix.  It was mostly practice races and we were not very interested in the after race concert.  IT Guy had some work to complete and I wanted to catch up on my sleep.  It turns out this was a good choice because security decided to close the gates early and so there were riots with people pushing and shoving so the gates were reopened.  I gather this kind of behavior in the UAE because the authorities are quick to clamp down on any trouble.

On Saturday we had planned to attend the qualifying race but we ended up watching IT Guy’s cricket team.  Then we headed for Abu Dhabi and it seems like everyone was in the Grand Prix spirit with a lot of fast cars and also crazy drivers with aspirations to drive racing cars.  We arrived in time for some Formula 2 racing.  I found it a nice warm up for the Grand Prix because it was a chance to get an idea of what it would be like watching fast cars go round the Yas Marina Circuit.  We quickly learned that there was a good view of one of the corners which was a good spot for overtaking so it was interesting to see which car would come out of the corner first.

Then we headed for the concert area.  Sam Smith was performing and IT Guy was very keen to watch him live.  I enjoyed the concert but I think IT Guy was a bit disappointed because he did not perform all of his best songs and did a lot of talking.

Overall I enjoyed the Grand Prix concerts and the atmosphere.  Even if you are not interested in watching the F1 racing there is still a lot to do and it can be lots of fun.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Pit Lane Walk

One of the nice things about the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi is that you can buy tickets that cover 4 days of activities starting on the Thursday.  The main activity on Thursday is a Pit Lane Walk.

We were staying in Dubai so we drove to Abu Dhabi in the early afternoon which is about an hour’s drive.  The tickets included parking in car park W.  Typically we only decided to check which car park we were in as we drove past the turn-off for our car park.  Naturally this meant we ended up going the long way round.  We then managed to drive in the bus entrance and had to do a slightly dodgy stunt to park. Clearly we weren’t the only ones because when we returned later they had put extra cones out.

Thursday being relatively quiet there was a long line of buses ready to take passengers so we hopped on the first bus and were soon on our way.  From there it was about a 10-15 min walk to get to the pit lane so by the time we arrived we only had an hour to look at the cars.

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It was great because you could watch the guys working on the cars.  We got really close to the cars and with a good zoom lens it was possible to get detailed picture of the fins.  They are developed by the aerodynamics team to create downforce.  The front wing is really important because it affects the airflow for the rest of the car.

Grand Prix Pit Lane

It was very interesting watching the guys getting the cars ready.  When we walked past the Red Bull team they were busy sorting out the suspension on the car.  With most things looking very high tech it was rather amusing to see this process involved a hammer and guys sitting on the car.

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Of course one of the most famous teams is Ferrari with the biggest fan base.  So crowds were biggest in this area.

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One of the key part of the preparation is to get technical approval of.  Every so often a team would push their cars past us so then we really were very close.  We were so focused on watching the guys working on the cars that I was a bit slow getting a decent photo.

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This is the Haas team taking their car for inspection.  Interestingly in the middle of the season the inspection found that leading edges in the middle of the car exceeded requirements by a few millimeters.  This was enough for them to have points deducted.  Fortunately this time it seems they did not have any issues.

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The Williams team were making the most of a brief rest while they waited for the inspection.

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I think it really does make things more interesting when you can see a bit of the background activity and see the cars close up.  So I really like the way the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix provides tickets for a Pit Lane Walk

Paarl and Franshoek

We woke in Tulbagh to find that it had rained a lot in the night.  A pity because there are a few nice hiking routes in the area.  Still like most people in Cape Town I am not going to complain about rain.  We had seen a place in town advertising wine tasting so we decided to head there.  Sticking with the theme from the day before it was closed.

So we decided to head on our way.  Tulbagh is in a valley with a small pass to cross back over the mountain range we had crossed the day before.  Then it was a long straight road with the mountains on the left as we headed through Wellington and into Paarl.  And no, we didn’t feel the need to go to Paarl Mall again.

Instead we decided to head for the Spice Route which has a lot of craft places.  The things to do include wine tasting, spirit tasting, craft beer tasting and chocolate tasting.  We headed for the Barley and Biltong Emporium which I hadn’t been to before.  A great choice for a winters day because there was a fire burning and a spectacular view from the window (I never thought to take any photos.  I will blame the gin from the day before).  IT Guy ordered a platter of biltong and cheese, and some beer.  Biltong is a South African form of dried meat a bit like beef jerky but I believe much tastier.  We also visited the craft chocolate place.

Then we drove to Franshoek which can be translated as a French corner because this is where the French Huguenots settled after escaping persecution for their Protestant beliefs.  These days there is even a Bastille Day festival.  Franshoek is a very pretty town with lots of restaurants and wineries however large parts are very posh and pretentious.

We parked on the main street and went looking for some cake and coffee.  I picked a place based on the fact they claimed to have a chocolate mouse cake only they had sold out.  I had the baked cheesecake but it was a bit dry and heavy so I was rather disappointed.

After cake we continued walking down the high street and then decided to return on the back roads.  Part of the way back IT Guy noticed water running down one of the gutters.  We were curious because it had not rained so we decided to follow the water.  A little further up we noticed a lot of algae growing in the gutter suggesting a constant stream of water.  We followed the water back to the main road at which point the water disappeared underground and we could not follow it any further,  Perhaps someone reading this knows more about the origin of the water.

Then we headed for our guest house for the night.  It had a really nice balcony so we were able to sit outside with a glass of wine enjoying the view.  Then when it got dark we headed inside to watch a movie.  Afterwards we headed back into town for a quick, light meal although we didn’t pick the best restaurant for that.  Still we had a very nice day.

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Worcester, Ceres and Tulbagh

The morning after the chocolate festival we woke early.  We had been warned the night before that the power would be off for most of the day.  Typically just after it went off IT Guy realised his phone had not charged.  I felt bad because if I had known I would have put his phone on charge after mine was done.   

We headed to a nearby wine farm for breakfast.  Officially they had power because of solar panels but we could hear a generator running.  We had a nice cooked breakfast and booked a hotel for that night.  After breakfast we once again headed for Paarl Mall to get an in-car charger.  I have never felt the need for one.  Given that IT Guy’s phone often runs out of power at awkward times it did get me wondering if one reason guys need lots of gadgets, is because they are less organised.     

After shopping we got on the main road (N1) heading out of town and it wasn’t long before we reached the Huguenot Tunnel.  The Huguenot Tunnel goes through the Du Toitskloof Mountains and is 4 km in length.  It feels like a whole new world when you emerge from the other side.  More remote and chilled.

We headed for the town of Worcester which a farming town.  By this point I was getting tired and was hoping to find a nice coffee shop for a drink and to stretch my legs.  Of course being a Sunday virtually everywhere was closed.  Then I remembered the Karoo National Gardens on the outskirts of Worcester.  We got there to find the restaurant was closed and that there was a charge to get in.

Fortunately IT Guy had spotted a golf club on the way and suggested we stop there.  It is not somewhere I would have thought of but I figured it was worth a try.  It worked out really well because there were some lovely views, the the people were friendly and welcoming, and it was fun watching a people on the golf course. 

A view of the golf course in Worcester
Worcester Golf Course

We then headed for Ceres.  It is a lovely drive with beautiful scenery and mountains.  I had hoped to stop at a winery for some wine-tasting and maybe some food but of course they were all closed, such a contrast to the other side of the mountain.  In the end we stopped for lunch next to a place that does ziplining.  The zipline consists of 8 slides totaling 1.4 km down a mountain valley so the views are spectacular.  It was great to learn that IT Guy also enjoys this sort of thing.      

A view of the valley from the Ceres Zipline
Ceres Zipline

Then we headed for Tulbagh and our hotel for the night.  We have decided this was our favorite hotel so far.  We spent a few hours in the bar because they were showing the England cricket game that IT Guy had been following.  Fortunately for me the bar also stocked 19 different craft gins.  The food was also very tasty.  Chilling out in the hotel bar made a nice end to the day.

A glass of gin in the hotel bar in Tulbagh

The Chocolate Festival

Of course with so little notice of IT Guy’s arrival we did not have much time to make plans.

The first morning of his visit I needed to take care of a few work things before making some plans for his visit.  He was keen the Chocolate Festival in Stellenbosch and I found a Jazz Festival the following day so I suggested we spend a few days in the area. Normally I would aim to go to an event like the Chocolate festival when it opened but by the time we were ready to leave it was too late for that.  There there was a long queue to get into wine farm where the festival was being held.  I think we queued for about 20 mins to get parked.

Which of course meant that there were crowds everywhere including for the food vans as it was lunchtime when we arrived.  We headed for the building which housed the chocolate festival and after a bit of pushing and shoving we managed to get some chocolate covered strawberries from the fountain.  Then I had a cheese platter, it was very tasty but I would have liked more bread or crackers.  IT Guy had opted for a pie when we stopped for petrol, which seemed a bit wrong to me. Typical of many of these things there was not enough seating so we had to eat standing up.

We found a stand doing very nice gin cocktails based on various flavors of tonic.  There didn’t seem to be enough choice of chocolate to justify the title but maybe this was because I was already familiar with most of the brands (maybe I shouldn’t admit that) although I did find a very nice chocolate spread (without nuts) and some tasty chocolate.  So I ended up back at the chocolate fountain for a waffle.  Then we got some drinks and IT Guy found a table because the placed had started to empty a bit.  We sat for a while enjoying each other’s company, the good weather and the atmosphere.

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Our guest house was only about 10 mins away so we stopped there briefly to check in and they recommended Paarl Mall for some food.  After snacking on various things we were definitely in need of a decent meal.

It was lovely day and while this kind of festival can get a bit expensive I the weather and the atmosphere made for a very nice day.

 

The Future of Heartbreak and Hope

This started out as a blog about online dating but since I met IT Guy I have deleted all my dating profiles.  Of course one can never be completely sure how long a relationship will last but right now the signs are good.  I’m sure anyone who has been following my blog for a while will have noticed that it has been evolving.  So I figured it was time to clarify the future of Heartbreak and Hope.

I have always found that writing is a great way of organizing my thoughts and making plans to sort out problems.  I could continue with a more personal journal about my search for a job and some of the challenges with a long-distance relationship.  Blogging about a job hunt seems rather dull and fraught with risks that something will come back to haunt me.  Plus, at the start I was aiming for something more lighthearted and entertaining.

I have already decided to be more cautious about what I share about IT Guy.  I want to be able to share this blog with him so it was frustrating that I published a post about the challenges of staying in touch a few days before he made his last-minute visit.  An important topic I had not been able to discuss with him was the most recent post which made sharing the blog rather awkward.

Also one of the goals of this blog was to learn more about blogging.  I had been trying to think of a topic for a while before I got the idea of an online dating blog.  This has been great for learning more about blogging and over time I have been using more features.  Another issue that has been bothering me is that the web address and title of my blog do not match.  For a while I have been thinking about starting a fresh blog.  Something without the online dating and allows me to share my name and face.

My dream is a joint project with IT Guy.  He has been doing websites for work and his cricket club so he knows a lot of about the with the technical aspects and marketing.  The first challenge is actually being able to show him my current blog.  I suspect he is going to find loads of things to fix.

And the content, you must be wondering by now.  I like the idea of a travel and lifestyle blog.  Something with a bit of humor and the odd ‘it didn’t really go according to plan‘ story.  Fun stories that give more of a sense of the experience of places I visit.  Nothing too serious there are plenty of websites that specialise in facts and figures.

For now I will continue writing here.  It will give me a chance to figure out the content, writing style and timing for a new blog.  Please feel free to let me know which posts you like and what you think of where this blog is going.

 

 

 

 

Shopping and Steam Trains

Shopping and Steam Trains make a good combination for a day out.  In this case I am referring to a trip yesterday to Elgin Railway Market.  Elgin is a place I associate with apples and it is not surprising because about 60% of South Africa’s apples are grown in this valley.  More recently they have started making wine and I believe there are some unusual varieties due to the climatic conditions.  I must make a plan to do some wine tasting there soon.

I supposed it is was inevitable that some clever businessman would figure out that a grand old apple warehouse could be converted to an interesting market.  Then work out that as the apple warehouse is in a rather rural location, but next to a train station, that a steam train would be a good way to bring in more customers.

A warehouse roof with showing some of the interesting decor inside the market

My sister and her husband bought tickets for the steam train which runs from Cape Town to Elgin so we arranged to meet her at the market.  We arrived about 30 – 60 mins before the train was due to arrive.  So we got some coffee, found a nice table and settled down to wait.  In the end the train was about an hour late.  It seems it kept running out of steam and had to stop to let the steam to build up again.  The route to Elgin is uphill and includes the rather spectacular Sir Lowry’s Pass with fantastic views of the sea.

The market offers a nice range of food stalls so once my sister arrived we all went to get something to eat.  One thing I liked about the market is that while there were enough people for it to feel lively there weren’t excessive crowds.  We didn’t have to queue for long and were able to find a decent place to sit.  (I once went to a festival where they even charged to get into the seating area and we left feeling cheated.)  In fact at the Elgin Railway Market we were able to find a nice place to sit overlooking the train tracks and could watch them preparing the steam train for the return journey while enjoying a few drinks and some cake.  I particularly like the gin bar with a good range of gins and tonics and interesting garnishes.

A picture of a steam trainAn outside view of the Railway Market overlooking the steam train

We also managed to browse the various craft stall which included wine tasting, clothes, jewelry and paintings.  I managed to get a jar of bacon, rosemary and pinotage chutney for IT Guy and a nice necklace for one of my nieces.  It was a good day out but I must say, I’m not sure I would drive that far just for the market.  It definitely needed the added attraction of something like the steam train.

Heading back to Cape Town

Finally the last installment of IT Guy’s visit in June.  A combination of short posts and the time job hunting means it has taken a long time to cover this, long enough that there has been another visit from IT Guy in the meantime.

I realized when I started to write this post that the last post on this story ended rather abruptly.  No doubt because I was rather tired and stressed about my dental implant.  I briefly considered changing it, but I think picking up the story from where we left off is better.

After watching the movie we decided to head out and get some food.  I decided it was my best chance to get dressed up.  One thing I am finding with this long distance relationship is that it can be difficult to make time to get dressed uo to go out.  When he is here we are together all the time and this means we are generally out doing something during the day.  So by the evening we are tired and often go with a lazy meal solution.

We ended up going back to the same restaurant as the night before.  The food looked good, there was not a lot of choice at the hotel restaurant and there didn’t seem to be many other places.  While there was some life in the restaurant on the Friday night we were the only guests on the Saturday night.  I think we were also the only people in the hotel on the Saturday night.  I guess weekend visits to small South African farming towns is not common in the winter.  Plus there was rugby on so many people would have stayed home to braai (BBQ) and watch the game.

Most of the smaller farming towns are dominated by the Christian church.  You can generally find the down centre by following the church spire.  It also means that pretty much, unlike the bigger cities and towns, everything is closed on a Sunday.  So we decided to head slowly south and back to Cape Town.

Our first stop was Citrusdal.  Strangely enough this is a major area for growing oranges.  Also everything was closed.  We tried to stop at Die Sandveldhuisie which is described as a quirky little art house.  Certainly it looks very interesting from the outside but it was closed.

The next stop was a farm-stall.  This particular farm-stall was well recommended in a local travel magazine.  They do the most amazing light and fresh chocolate cake.  Then on to the winery we tried to visit a few days earlier.  This time we managed to do our wine and our wine and biltong (dried meat) pairing.  We also managed a tasty late lunch.  Then home where we chilled out in front of the cricket.  IT Guy really likes cricket.

Sadly the following day it was time for IT Guy to leave it was a rather sad and stressful day.  We had a really amazing time and looking back on the photos I can see how the relationship evolved over the week.  I have a photo of use together on his first full day in South Africa looking rather awkward together in comparison to the last few days where we were much more comfortable with each other.

So it seems that by the end of this holiday the relationship was going well and a good chanced to learn more about each other.