Eight Days on the Carnival Horizon Cruise Line

I’ve cruised before but this was my first time cruising with Carnival and here’s my observations.

On June 2, 2018, my oldest son graduated from high school and I took him on his first cruise as his gift.   I also took my niece and her girlfriend along with us as they had recently graduated college.  We boarded the huge Carnival Horizon on June 5 anticipating 8 days of fun in the open water.  The first few days of sailing were at ‘at sea’ days as we made our way to the Caribbean from New York.  These days were spent by the pool, drinking, eating, enjoying and participating in shows, partying, relaxing, walking around the ship and taking photo shoots, enjoying Zumba on the deck, late nights in the jacuzzi, watching movies on the big screen under the stars, watching sunsets and spending time together.

On our second day at sea we got some unfortunate news.  One of the passengers suffered a heart attack and we had to turn back and sail toward North Carolina to meet the Coast Guard to air lift the passenger to land.  Due to this, we lost a day of traveling and had to miss one our port of calls- Turks and Caicos.  This was very disappointing because I had never been to Turks and Caicos and was really looking forward to it.  Even worse is the fact that Carnival did not give us anything in its place except a 20% discount voucher to cruise with them again.  So we made the best of our extra day at sea by exploring the ship.  Zamir rode the sky ride that I chickened out of at the last minute after seeing another lady having to be rescued once she got scared after starting the ride.  I was not about to be embarrassed like here.

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We did make it to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Zamir and I decided to explore on our own.  We happened upon a beach and spent some time there.  Then we enjoyed a tasty treat and walked around the cobblestoned streets of San Juan where we took some fab pictures and purchased souvenirs.

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Our last port of call was Dominican Republic.  This was the highlight of our cruise.  We did the Big 3 excursion: Thrill bus ride, zip line, and beach.  The zip lining was amazing and so much fun.  There was the possibility that I would have a panic attack and chicken out but I was not about to do that.  I’ve wanted to zip line for a long time, so I just thought about the fun I was going to have and went for it.  As I climbed higher up the steps toward the first zip line, my heart began to beat so loudly, I thought others in the line would hear.  I was not quiet about being nervous and everyone was cheering me on, so I strapped on, watched my son zip across the trees, leaned back and went for it.  As my heart dropped a little, I allowed myself to enjoy the ride.  I opened my eyes and felt the wind breeze over my body.  Then it was over.  I DID IT and it was fun.  I was ready for the next one and even more excited for the bigger zip line straight across the ocean.   The last time I let go of fear and enjoyed a thrill was last year on my cruise with my husband to Cuba.  We jet-skiied in Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.  I’m beginning to see a pattern here.  Anyway after the 3rd zip line, we did a sky course (obstacle course in the sky)- this was very fun too- then the last two zip lines were back over the ocean and over the trees to the beach.  I had a stiff drink after that and enjoyed some time by the ocean.  I’m still upset that we didn’t get a picture on the actual zip line but here are some pictures of the zip line itself and of D.R.

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We met some lovely friends on this excursion and partied with them for the remainder of the cruise

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After zip lining, I was feeling extra pumped so when we got back to the cruise, I decided to go all in and ride the skyride.   I literally pedaled a bike on the edge of a cruise ship over the ocean.  I chuckled just thinking about it.  Then we conquered the ships sky course (obstacle course high above the cruise).

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My son and I really enjoyed the cruise and did some bonding.  We went clubbing together and I saw him intoxicated smh.  We played some adult games together with a team and even won a small trophy at a trivia game.  We weren’t ready to return home.

I’ve cruised before but this was my first time cruising with Carnival and here’s my observations.  Carnival is a party cruise line.  There is always something to do for everyone.  However, their customer service does not even compare to Norwegian.  I had several problems with my meals including waiting over an hour on several days in the main dining hall to eat and finding a bug in my food.  Carnival nickel and dimes you.  There were so many extra charges for this and that, it was kind of ridiculous.  By the time the cruise was over, I had spend an additional 600+ for my son and I.  My suggestions, if you plan on going on the Carnival Horizon: pay attention to the fine print, plan for additional fees including a service and tax fee at the end of the cruise for 120+ pp, don’t expect too much from the food service, get to know the managers on board, make friends early (for several reasons), indulge in the activities, and shows, wear knee length shorts or pants if you plan to zip line, be sure to participate in the Carnival Quest game (18 years old and up) and go to the lip sync battle.  The Carnival Quest game is a must do! And by all means, have fun, try something new, YOLO!!

Here is some video footage of some of the shows we enjoyed..

 

 

My First Experience Traveling Solo- Copenhagen

Since I would be traveling alone back to Philly, I was looking for an in-between place to stop to break up that 12.5 hour straight flight.  This was my first time traveling alone internationally and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.  Is it safe?  What if I got lost?  Would it be fun?  What if…? What if…?  Then I remembered a quote:

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So I started thinking about the positives that would come out of this.  I could eat all the vegan food I wanted without compromise or hearing complaints.  I could go where and when I wanted.  If I felt like doing nothing, I could, because it was only me.  Finally, when was the last time I was alone?

It was when I stumbled across a picture of the little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen that I decided this would be my stopover.  The Little Mermaid is my favorite Disney movie of all time.  My connection to the movie has a lot to do with my sheltered child hood and how I longed to be a part of ‘their world’.  I felt everything Ariel did when she sang that song, Part of Your World. 

My plan of what I would do there started by researching what the city is known for: World’s Oldest Amusement Park – Bakken, Cycling, Shopping Avenues and Beautiful Gardens.  That’s nice but I wanted to see my statue (of course), some pretty scenery (overdue from Qatar), Christiania (something different) and whatever else I stumbled across.  Oh, let me not forget, EAT!  Before I went, I purchased a Hop On Hop Off Pass and a Copenhagen Card.  With these two purchases, I could tour the city, have transportation to major areas and have free admissions to a variety of places.  I booked my hotel room at Wakeup Copenhagen, a budget hotel in central Copenhagen close to popular sights.   I made sure I had ‘The Happy Cow’ app downloaded (for vegan restaurants), as well as ‘google maps’, and ‘From Rome to Rio’ for getting around and ‘Unit Converter’ to check on my spending.  I was ready.

The Hop on Hop off bus Pass was the best choice for Copenhagen.  With it, I was able to basically travel all over and since they don’t have uber it was perfect.  I found Copenhagen to be a great city for solo travelers.   I felt very safe and there is a lot to see and do, even for vegans.

They have this thing called brunch for vegans. I enjoyed the brunch at each of these three vegan restaurants: 42º Raw, SimpleRaw and Souls.  Their apple ginger shots are amazing.

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There are several castles there.  I even took a 40 minute train ride to see Hamlet’s castle.  It’s the last castle in the pictures below and my favorite.  It was worth it to take the train ride in the rain alone.

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Amalienborg- The Queen’s residence

 

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The Guards

 

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Rosenberg Castle- Royal Museum

 

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Kronberg/Hamlet’s Castle

It’s a pretty city too and they are big on sustainability as evident in their green roofs and bikes.  There are more bikes in Copenhagen than cars.

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I put out a bat signal on Nomadness travel group to see if anyone was in Copenhagen and wanted to show me around.  A fellow group member named Michael was kind enough to meet up with me.  He even accompanied me to FreeTown Christiania before it was raided and pusher street got closed.  In fact, the police showed up while we were there.  It was a very interesting experience.  I recommend you stop by there if you’re ever in Copenhagen.

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Michael even took me to and shared the background on the ‘I Am Queen Mary‘ statue.

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And during my travels all around Copenhagen I managed to find these gems, which made this trip dear to my heart and one of my favorite trips ever.

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The famous Little Mermaid Statue
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The Little Mermaid’s sister- Voluptuous, just a few feet away
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Another mermaid that I discovered in front of The Black Diamond
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I stumbled across this lonely chap looking for his mermaid at the pier of Hamlet’s castle

There were a few things that I didn’t get to do like Tivoli Gardens and shopping due to a flight delay that threw a monkey wrench in my plans, caused me to stay an additional day in Copenhagen some place else and cost me unexpected money.  It also rained a lot but I didn’t mind that since I haven’t seen rain in almost a year.  Besides these, I really enjoyed Copenhagen and solo travel.

Highlights: Kronberg and Rosenburg castles, The Lock Bridge Nyhavn, ginger shots, Ride a bike around town, vegan eating, Freetown, The Queen Mary statue and background, canal tour, People waiting for the traffic lights even when there are no cars in sight, Karlsberg beer, Mermaids

Year 2 Rewind

**Written on May 25, 2018**

It’s hard to believe I just completed my second year of teaching abroad.   My original contract term is satisfied and outside of student loans I am completely without debt in the U.S.  I still owe Qatar some money so I’ll be there at least another year but I have accomplished a big goal of mine and it feels AMAZING! As I am typing away I am trying to distract myself from the turbulence of this plane ride.  The plane that will prayerfully take me to the first stop of my summer vacation.  (More on that later)

So how was year two?  Let’s take a look in the rear view:

This year was sort of low-key.  It was the first time hubby and I were empty nesters so we spent a lot of time indoors.  We worked out and even took an Arabic course together. His support is without words.  I can’t recall one meal that I cooked, one load that I washed, one room that I cleaned.   He never complained about my bitching and whining when I came home from work.  Me coming home with my stories was his favorite part of his day, at least he pretended it was anyway.  He has not been able to find work but that has not stopped him from searching and applying constantly.  I am hopeful that something will come through soon or we may have to re-evaluate our situation.

I only took one trip this school year but it was a big one.  Cape town was absolutely beautiful and fun.  You can click here to read all about my travels there.  I may not have taken many trips, but I did take multiple vacations.

Work relationships were difficult this year.  I started to write a whole paragraph on this but no.  The school year is over for me and I will not dwell on the past.  I need to start next year with a new plan.  If any of you guys reading have tips for coping with team members that you don’t particularly mesh with, I’m all ears… As far as my students go, they turned out to be an okay group of kids.  There were some doozies but I really enjoyed teaching them.   I found ways to teach what I believe in my heart they needed to learn along with the required curriculum and it worked out.  If I can’t teach my students so that we can see progress, what’s the point?  I’m enjoying teaching the PYP framework too.  It’s new for me but PYP along with some time to teach foundational skills is pretty damn good.  PYP exposes students to subjects and skills that will help them to develop background knowledge that they may otherwise be lacking.  I’m looking forward to our school becoming PYP Accredited so that I can add it to my CV.   Next year, we are also supposed to be moving to a brand new school building with top of the line amenities.   That gives me something to look forward to.

This year was filled with confidence boosters on a personal level.  I did photo shoots, interviews, was a subject of college assignments, and even modeled, all while bald.  Most of these events were to bring awareness to Alopecia.  I felt like I was doing my part to help other women with alopecia feel comfortable or to at least let them know that they are not alone.  My alopecia group grew to over 100 members.  In a small way, I am doing something to help the world.

Something else that I am proud of this year, is that I was able to eliminate my high cholesterol without medicine.  With the right diet and exercise, you really can be healthy.  (If you need tips on this let me know)  But unfortunately, I am vitamin D deficient now.   This came as a surprise to me being as though I live in the dessert.  But it makes sense because it is often so hot, that we stay indoors out of the sun and when we are outdoors, we are required to dress modestly and cover our shoulders and knees.  And the only way to truly fix this, is sun exposure and or Vitamin D supplements.  So now I have to take a pill a week for 8 weeks but the good thing is, it’s summer and I’m out of the desert.  Time to get some sun! (This is something to consider if you are thinking of moving to the Middle East)

So what about the next school year?  I will be in Qatar.  I am taking it year by year.   I am moving, again, to a new apartment, to be closer to the new school and to have more expendable money.  I have moved every year that I’ve been in Qatar.  That’s funny to me.  It’s kind of like my life, if something doesn’t fit my needs, I move on.   I have decided that starting now, I will try to be in the ‘NOW’!  I want to enjoy the moment, not always looking for tomorrow.  If I can find some joy in every moment, I believe I will be a better person.

Don’t forget to leave your suggestions in the comment section, on ways to cope with a team that you don’t mesh with.

 

Vegan Eating in Cape Town

My group of 6 that I traveled to Cape Town with included 2 vegetarians, 3 carnivores and me, a veganere (yeah I just made that up) who sometimes cheats with seafood.  Finding places to eat where we all could enjoy our meals may seem tiresome but we made it work.  In this post, I will highlight a few places where we ate, some vegan, some mixed, and my review of them.

Before I get into to these reviews, I need to first recommend an app my girlfriend put me on on to: Happy Cow.  Make sure to download this app when you are traveling to find local vegan spots and restaurants that offer vegan and vegetarian options.  It will come in handy.  Although, I had done some research on some places to eat vegan in Cape Town, the app proved extremely helpful to finding spots that were close to wherever I was located.  Okay, on to the good stuff.

Restaurant: Hungry Herbivore– it is a bit unfair to start with this one because in my opinion it is the best but it was also the first restaurant we visited in Cape Town.   We went for an early dinner.

Location: They have two locations.  We visited the one located at 11 Orphan Street.

Ambiance: It’s a intimate restaurant with table and bar seating.

Service: The service is good.  Servers bring you menus and explain them while also offering their preferences.

Food (click food to see the menu): Amazing.  Go more than once and try everything.  Personally I recommend the fries, loaded or regular, Oh Sweet Kim Burger, french toast and The Cleanse- fresh juice (best green drink I ever had).  My only regret is that I was too full for dessert.

Hearts: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Restaurant: Royale Eatery– a burger joint that offers carnivore, vegetarian and vegan options.  We went for lunch while shopping on Long Street.

Location: 273 Long Street

Ambiance: Inside has a diner feel with booths and regular seating.

Service: The service was good but my husband ordered a salad and it took the longest.  Our waitress was nice and when we told her we ate at the Hungry Herbivore, her face cringed.  I guess they are in competition for the best vegan burgers.  Sorry Royale Eatery, the Hungry Herbivore has you beat.

Food: The food was good.  I must compliment them on their extensive menu and variety of burgers.

Hearts: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Hungover or not, we've got your Saturday covered. Our kitchen opens at 12 noon so come through for a burger feast!

Restaurant: The Old Biscuit Mill. While this is not really a restaurant it is more of a collection of restaurants.  It gets honorable mention because all of us were able to get good food here and it is not to be missed on your trip to Cape Town.

Location: 375 Albert Road, Woodstock Cape Town

Ambiance: It is outside but with tent coverings and stores to go into, you can escape the heat.  There is live music and wonderful people everywhere.  There are clothing and art shops.  There is food for everyone as well as drinks.

Service: Well it’s pretty crowded but we never waited in line for more than 10 minutes to get anything.

Food: There is all kinds of food, from bison to sushi.  I enjoyed a vegan edo wrap which was very delicious and some Sangria which was also so delicious I went back for seconds.  I purchased some vegan desserts to take back to our Airbnb but they were not good.  I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, so I could tell you not to go there.

Hearts: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (The distasteful vegan dessert made me take away a heart but the Old Biscuit Mill really deserves 5)

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Restaurant: Tasha’s– contemporary, urban, boutique café.  Everyone that I spoke to prior to going to Cape Town talked about this Butternut Squash Salad that I just had to get at Tashas.

Location: Several locations around the world, from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi.  We visited the one at the Shop 7117, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town.

Ambiance: Warm and welcoming with flower pots hanging from the ceiling and plants around.  You can sit inside or out.

Service: The service was slow at first but then it picked up.

Food: Of course I had the Butternut Squash salad.  That’s the featured image above.  The salad did not disappoint.  I’ve never tasted butternut squash semi charred, sweet and delicate.  It was a nice addend to a salad.   I also had some beer-battered cauliflower which was yummy.  I would definitely return to Tasha’s for more.

Hearts: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Restaurant: We went to Jarryds, Espresso Bar and Eatery.  A restaurant that boast a commitment to sourcing locally produced and seasonal produce.

Location: 90 Regent Rd, Sea Point, Cape Town

Ambiance: The restaurant reminded me of a train station stop, glass encased and airy, tall vaulted ceilings and seating for large groups.

Service: The service was great with several people attending to us.

Food: I was disappointed that the only true vegan item on the menu for breakfast that I wanted to order was no longer available- The Vegan ‘Nice’ Cream Slice.  Instead I ordered The Summer Quinoa Breakfast bowl without the poached egg.  The breakfast bowl was great and my husband’s potatoes were too.  Everyone enjoyed their meal and wished we had come sooner because we were leaving Cape Town that day.

Afterwards, we met Jarryd and he was sorry about the breakfast item.  He assured me that next time, I could request to speak with the chef or himself and they would make accommodations to suit my preference.

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Hearts: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (normally I would take a heart due to not having what I wanted but because everything else was so good and they were so nice, 5 hearts)

We visited other restaurants but I didn’t feel like they deserved to be discussed in detail.  I really wish we had an authentic African dining experience.  We visited an Ethiopian restaurant, Addis in Cape, but I was disappointed as outside of salads there wasn’t any options for me.  Cape Town is a real gamey eating city, so carnivores will love it and can experience something new and different.  We vegans have a little bit of a tougher time as usual.

 

I Climbed Table Mountain

It was 7:00 a.m.; the sun was rising and there were no clouds in sight.  We picked the perfect day to climb Table Mountain.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  One of my travel buddies had done some research and said he found the perfect route for us to hike up the mountain.  He said it would take approximately 2-3 hours.  There is no way climbing a mountain is going to take that long, I thought.  We had also read that people had been robbed on the trail so we left our cameras in the car and didn’t take anything of value with us.  Since we planned to take the Aerial Cableway back down, we drove up to its entrance and parked.  I dressed in some work out clothes, jacket, sunglasses and sneakers and with a water bottle in one hand and my phone in the other we began our trek.

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We took the Platteklip Gorge route.  There were plenty of people also hiking on this day that we saw at the beginning and throughout the hike.   The trail is not straight.  It has turns and twist, rocks and boulders and a constant uphill incline.  At some points I could walk straight up and down and at others I had to crawl on all fours.  Some of the trail has small fences on either side, but much of the trail does not.  I had to stop several times throughout to catch my breath as it can be quite exhausting.  Your mind can also play tricks on you which could lead to a panic attack for some.   I had to force myself to continue looking forward to ward off a panic attack of my own.  It is definitely not for the faint of heart.    I was doing good until I asked one of our friends how much further we had to go, and he said “we are about halfway there”.   I couldn’t believe that we only traveled halfway up the mountain.  It had been at least an hour or more.  I knew for sure we were almost there.  I regretted asking because at that very moment knowing as far as I’d come, I wanted to turn back.  Then some people were coming down the mountain and we sparked a conversation with some.  One gentleman was on his 100th hike.  He said he was with the charity group.   He was no spring chicken and if he could do it, so could I.  Well maybe not 100 times but I could definitely do it, just this once.  I pushed forward and up, sweating, panting and self-motivating.  I took in the sites of Cape Town below my feet.  I started to enjoy the journey and the scenery and stopped focusing on the end.

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That was until I saw something unfamiliar, big and brown in my peripheral.  I yelled and ran with new energy.  I ran passed my friends and up some boulders until it was out of my sight.  Later my friend told me that it was a rock hyrax.  (a small furry diurnal animal belonging to the Provavidae family, more commonly known as a dassie. Although it resembles a small rabbit, the dassie is actually a hoofed mammal related to the elephant. It has a short, furry body with short hoofed legs and a small tail-  https://www.tablemountain.net/blog/entry/table-mountain-for-nature-lovers)  At the time, I didn’t know what it was; I just knew I wanted no parts of it.  I think it gave me the boost I needed.

A short while later, a coupled passed us and I asked the women if she could let out a small yelp when she got to the top, so I could hear how much further we had to go.  Sensing we were nearing the top, I began to move faster.  Then some relief was upon us, cool rocks and water dripping from them.  I pressed my revealed skin on the cool, wet rocks and sat in the shade for a short while, gazing upon the trek behind me, down the mountain and through the gorge.  We had come a long way!

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A few minutes later I heard the yelp in the near distance.  A few winding paths later, we made it to the top!  We had climbed Table Mountain.  It took us 2.5 hours.  Our two other friends said they had been waiting for us for over an hour.  Picture my eyes rolling.

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It really is like a table at the top of the mountain.  You can walk around and see Cape Town from all angles, tiny houses below, trees and the sea.  I can only imagine what the scene looks like at sunset.

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We grabbed some food from the restaurant and took in the sites before buying our tickets for the aerial cableway to ride back down.  There was a delay because some crazy person decided to light a few fires on the mountain and they spread rather quickly, due to the dry climate.  We could see smoke and fire from the top and had to wait until the fire fighters brought in water via helicopters to get the fires under control before they would allow the cable cars to run again.  Eventually we were able to ride down, right passed the fires.  It was kind of unnerving to know the mountain we had just climbed was now burning.  Thankfully, no injuries were reported and the culprit was caught.   The ride down on the cable car was quick and I was happy that we climbed the mountain up because although the view from the top of Table Mountain is quite beautiful, it fails in comparison to the excitement of the journey of the climb up the mountain.

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Would I hike it again?  When I was asked this question right after we came down, I said NO, rather quickly.  But if you ask me that question now…I’d say YES!  It was worth it.  I can honestly say, I climbed the infamous Table Mountain!

Side notes: Despite the stories of robberies on the mountain, we never felt unsafe.  There were always plenty of people on the trail.  Bring some cash or a credit card to purchase snacks and drinks at the top of the mountain.  Stay hydrated by carrying and drinking plenty of water.  Wear comfortable footwear with grips.  Bring sunglasses.  Don’t forget your camera.  Tell Mr. Hyrax I said hello.  If you’re thinking about climbing Table Mountain, Do It!

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Is it Better to be Beautiful or Confident

I’m 5’2, 40 years old, 140 lbs, brown skin, and bald. 

No, I do not think I’m beautiful,

but what I lack in physical attractiveness,

I make up for in behavioral confidence. 

I may not be your cup of tea,

but for some men and even women,

I have something that attracts them to me. 

I keep my head high, as if I’m holding up a crown,

because there is always someone waiting for you to fall on the ground.

I walk like I’m a model,

5’9, slender and tall

but I’m really 5’2, 40 years old, 140 lbs, brown skin and bald!

Kennesha Bell

Modeling will never be my career but I’ve always dreamed of doing it, so when a few weeks ago an associate posted in the BSOQ group that a designer was looking for some models for an upcoming fashion show, I said why not.  I entered my information, sent my measurements and a full body shot.  And some weeks later, I was going for my first fitting.  A day later, my second fitting.  And two days ago, I modeled in the the South African Freedom Day – Nelson Mandela Centenary Celebration at the Ritz Carlton Doha.  The Designers were South African brand Urban Zulu and Qatar-based Nigerian Designer Romeo Ekene Paul from Romeo Paul.  It was so much fun!  I walked out amongst the crowd like I had been modeling all my life, like I had hair down to my ass, like I was American’s Top Model, like I was the most beautiful creature created and the crowd loved it!  I received so many compliments afterwards and honestly if I never model again, it will be okay because how many people can say, they’re living out their dreams.

WELL I AM!

Check out some photos from the fashion show.

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Here are some pictures of some of the other models:

I’d love to hear from you…What are your thoughts, is it better to be beautiful or confident?

How I Spent 7 Days in Cape Town, South Africa

I don’t really know when or why South Africa made it to my Top 5 List of Places to Visit but now that’d I’ve been, I can’t tell you how happy I am that it was.  I’m not in the habit of visiting the same place twice, that is except for Jamaica, but I do plan to return to Cape-Town.   After spending a week there, my desire to see Africa has increased tremendously.  I want to see more of this continent, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria.  I would love for my next move to be some place in Africa.

At first I was a little apprehensive about visiting Cape Town while the city was in the middle of a water crisis but everything we read said go anyway, so we did.  We were a group of 6 so we needed a comfortable place to stay that would give everyone their own space.  We booked an Airbnb and an eight passenger van.  We planned to do most of the driving ourselves even though it was on the opposite side of the street and none of us had ever driven on that side before.  We figured it would be all part of the adventure.  Most of the planning of our itinerary we did in advance.  We were ready and excited!!!

Yeah a lot like this!!

Before our flight, I exchanged money at the airport.  The official currency for Cape Town is the South African Rand.  Unfortunately, the kiosk was out of South African Rand so the next best thing, according to the CSR, was to exchange for Euros.  One ZAR is equal to about 0.067 Euros, or 0.083 USD.  I also took my credit/debit cards.

With only one daily, nonstop, 10 hour flight from Doha to Cape Town, leaving at 1:55 a.m., I swallowed two Tylenol PM’s and slept half the flight away.  I was hoping to have a row to myself; I mean how many people travel to Cape Town on a Friday morning anyway, well enough to fill up an Airbus to my surprise.  About 10 minutes into the flight, I was really missing first class. (To read about my experiences in first class click here)

Cape Town is only an hour behind Doha, so we arrived around 11:00 a.m.  We did not require a visa and going through immigration was quick and painless.  I exchanged my EURO’s for ZAR with no problem at the airport and was able to access the local currency through the ATM.  Since we weren’t staying at a hotel, I knew that having cash on hand would be best.  We walked over to Bidvest, our car rental agency, via an underground walkway and picked up our van.

Afterwards we followed Google Maps (I highly recommend downloading this app before you travel), and admired the new scenery on our way to our temporary home.  Btw, the place was perfect.  It was located within a 10 minute drive to the V&A Waterfront, just below Table Mountain and Signal hill, and within 5 minutes of Bo-Kaap.  The townhouse had 3 bedrooms, each with their own en-suites, a balcony with a good view of the city, a fully-equipped kitchen, a rooftop pool and patio (although we couldn’t use the pool due to the water shortage), windows that people could get a glimpse of you showering through, and oh btw, we had a tree in our house.  You heard me right, a tree.  Take a look at this video.

Andrew, our host, was great.  Here is a link to the Airbnb we stayed  and use my link to get $40 in travel credit when you book your next stay using Airbnb.

Arrival day:

We settled into our place, found a vegan place to eat (The Hungry Herbivore) and drove around to check out our neighborhood.  I’ll tell you about the vegan eating scene in Cape Town in a later post. [check back for that one]

Day 1 Shopping Saturday:

Everyone that we knew from South Africa recommended me check out this place called the Old Biscuit Mill or the Neighborgoods market which is only open on Saturday, thus the title of the day.  This is a place not to be missed.  Good for: trying different foods and drinks, people-watching, listening to live entertainment, shopping (although the products are a little on the expensive side for the goods).  The food we ate was delicious except for the vegan dessert but the sangria made up for it.

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Afterwards, we made our way to LongMarket Street.  This was a better place to shop in my opinion.  It was like a huge flea market down town with a mix of stalls with hand-made products and regular stores.  The GreenMarket Square is the best place for tourist shopping of souvenirs.  You will find jewelry, clothing, african material, magnets, art, hand bags, and all sorts of knick knacks.  I purchased an ankara dress for 250 zar (20 usd) compared to the 650 zar (54 usd) I spent on an ankara skirt at the Old Biscuit Mill.  Both of which were a really good price but you get the point.   If you’ve ever been to a port of call off of a cruise ship in the Caribbean island, you can get some sense of what this market square is like but with a little less hasseling.  Be sure to negotiate your prices.  [I was able to negotiate a piece of art down to 50%] But a couple of us gave the seller our business in turn.

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Running low on energy and our allotment of the day’s spending, we walked around Long street and found a spot to eat (Royale Eatery), a burger spot with vegan and vegetarian options.  In the shopping center you had to pay 2 Rand to use the bathroom. If you are going to Cape Town, it would be best to carry some of their change in case you need to use the WC (wash closet), some wipes or tissue in case there isn’t any and some hand sanitizer as some of the faucets were turned off to conserve water.

Day 2 Safari Sunday:

Our day started with a drive to Bo-Kaap.  (Click here to learn all about Bo-Kaap)  It’s a beautiful area filled with colorful houses in the creases of Signal Hill.  If you are ever in South Africa, be sure to walk through this area and take many pictures like I did.

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Then we went to Signal Hill. Well we didn’t actually go to the very top of it but we went pretty close.  Here is one of the spots with the best views of Cape Town.  Take a look for yourself.

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If I’m ever in Cape Town again, I will return to Signal Hill and go to the top at night or in the early morning to watch the sunrise over this picturesque city.  Simply breathtaking.

Since there were no decent safari options close to Cape Town, we opted for a Game reserve.  Let me tell you what the difference is between a Safari and a Game Reserve.  A safari is a experience where you can view wild animals in their natural habitat without fences.  A game reserve is privately owned and operated.  In this instance, the owners know exactly what animals are on the property and work to make the environment suitable for them.  (Basically a wider scale zoo)  But we weren’t going to Africa without seeing some animals.  Had I done proper research, I might have opted to go to Johannesburg instead.  Nah, I probably still wouldn’t gone to Cape Town.

Anyway, we booked a sunset Game Drive with Aquila Private Game Reserve in advance. (to learn more about Aquila, click on the name).  Aquila was a very scenic 2 hour drive away.  My eyes were glued to the window or my camera lens the entire drive.  We drove past farms, and settlements (you can read about the settlements by clicking here, I don’t know much about them and honestly the sight of them made me sad so I’m not going to touch that subject), over and through mountains and towns.  I enjoyed seeing many colors and various landforms contrary to my current home.  Aquila is not only a Game Reserve, it also a resort that you can stay on.  There is a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, single cabins on a hill and hotel rooms.

A tour guide carried us and a small group in a 4X4 safari vehicle through the fences to see the animals.  We saw hippos, an ostrich, antelopes, elephants, wildebeast, giraffes and oryx.  We made a pit stop during the reserve and enjoyed libations.  Lastly, we pulled up to a large fence and saw a lion inside and thought that would be the end of it, but then we pulled into that fence and watched as the tour guide got out of the vehicle and locked the other fence behind us.  For a second, I thought being fed to lions would be a horrible way to go.  But then he told us, as long as we stay inside the vehicle, the lions sees us as one but the moment one of us gets out, we are considered fair gain.  As we drove through the huge area, we saw several more lions.   They seemed to put on a show, as they meandered around and sat near us basking in the sunset, then one started howling.  Show off!!!  We left the ‘lions den’ after some time and continued through the reserve.  We spotted rhinos and their babies and zebras too.   As the sun went down on our day, we proceeded home.  Of the Big Five, we only missed the leopard and cape buffalo but it was a fun time.  Enjoy this slide show.

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Here’s my friend Leo showing off.

Since I’ve never been to a real safari, I don’t really have anything to compare Aquila Game Reserve to.  But what I will say is, I’m not returning back to Africa without visiting one.

Day 3 Mandela Monday:

Monday was reserved to visit Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and prison where Nelson Mandela and many other men were incarcerated for political offenses.  This is another must see while in Cape Town. We booked our tickets at www.robben-island.org.za.  We took a ferry 30 minutes out from Cape Town and arrived on the island.  Our first stop was the Prison, where a former prisoner gave us a tour and recount of some of the events that transpired there.  He was very passionate and informative.  I don’t know if I could go back and work in the same place that imprisoned me for year.  He not only works there but also lives on the island as do many other former prisoners.  Our tour included a visit to the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned as well.  Afterwards, we had a rushed tour of the island.  Our ferry was late from the jump to transport us to the island then our tour bus was late picking us up to take us on the rest of the tour.  But listening to this man talk made the trip worth it, but I would have really liked more time on the island.  I recommend taking one of the early morning tours of the island versus the 1 or 3 p.m. ones.

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The Crew

Coincidently, on our way back from Robben island we received a news alert that Winnie Mandela had passed away that same day.  RIP Winnie.

Day 4 Trekken Tuesday:

A visit to Cape Town is incomplete without going to Table Mountain. But not only did I  ‘go’ to Table Mountain, I CLIMBED IT, All The Way To The Top.  And it is way too big and important to just get a piece of this blog post.  It needs it’s own post.  So sorry wonderful followers, you will have to check back for that one.  BTW, that’s me and my friend Britney taking a rest halfway through the climb, in the featured image at the top.

After trekken Table Mountain, and a quick wardrobe change, we went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.  Britney, our flower enthusiast, really wanted to go.  She makes it her business to visit botanical gardens when she travels and now she has made me a convert.  When I was younger, my family and I used to go to the annual flower show in Philadelphia but that was the extent of my knowledge.  But a botanical garden is on a higher level.  I even found a flower named after my sister, Ericka. This is another must do while in Cape Town.

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Enjoying the view 

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Here is the famous Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway- enjoy the slide show

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Next up was Chapman’s Peak, a scenic drive on the side of a mountain.  You pay a small toll before you start the drive.  We had to pay 45 Rand because we were were driving a van.  The route is also patrolled.  Vehicles drive from both directions as well as bikes and motorcycles.  Don’t fall asleep on this road or you probably won’t wake up.  It’s a little unnerving but Britney’s husband Quahn handled it with ease while Britney closed her eyes at several points during the drive.  Neither of us wanted to take that same route back home.

We rode Chapman’s Peak, then through Simons Town, a maritime naval town, to Boulders Beach, a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders.  It is here where the African colony of penguins live.  Unfortunately, we went to the website which said the beach would close at 6, we arrived at 5 and were told it was closed.  Sad faces.  I’m seeing a pattern that arriving early for sights in Cape Town is best.  Thankfully, a few rebellious penguins were around the area and I was able to get a few photos of them.

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To end our day, we went to the Waterfront to enjoy a seafood dinner.  It was the most expensive meal we had during our stay and while it was good, it wasn’t worth the price.  We ate at the Harbour house.  We figure the location had something to do with the price, and we were spoiled with the cheap prices of eating thus far.  Check back for a post on how this shady vegan faired during her stay in Cape Town.

Day 5 Wino Wednesday:

Apparently, according to Vogue, Cape town is “home to some of the most prestigious wineries on the planet” (www.vogue.com) so of course we wanted to see for ourselves.  We scheduled 3 wine tours in one day.  We would drive in a big circle.

Our first stop was Chamonix located in  Franschhoek.  Its a small farm and winery and the most expensive of our three tours. (100 Rand pp)  We tried 6 wines and didn’t like any of them.  We sat on wooden benches infested with some sort of green baby bugs.  Then we walked through the wine cellar and out to the vineyard.  It was pretty but unimpressive.

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Stop #2 was Babylonstoren. It is a Cape Dutch farm that also has wine tastings.  You walk through the farmland to get to a glass encasement which is where the tasting takes place. We also taste tested 6 wines here and did not like any of them either.  However, the place is beautiful and the vibe nice.  We didn’t get any food but the service was on point.  We needed to taste quickly so that we could make it to our last stop and the waitress was on it.  This place was much cheaper than Chamonix, (we paid 35 Rand pp) and better.  They have a farm, hotel, spa and restaurant.  Our experiences were gradually improving.

Our last stop on Winery Wednesday was to Waterford Estate.  This winery was by far the best of the 3.  We pulled up and were like “WOW! Now this is more like it.”  We had two tastings scheduled here: regular tasting of 6 wines and then a chocolate pairing tasting with an additional 6 wines.  We actually got to taste 14 wines and on the 14th tasting, we found a wine we liked.  It was sweet and very tasty and the chocolate that went with it was delicious too.  We paid for some bread with balsamic because by then we were famished and the ‘wine’ needed some food.  Even the bread was great!  Our waiter was an infectious young lad that entertained us.  We walked around the vineyard for a little while and met a family that lived in Cape Town.  They invited us to their beach house and if we had met them earlier on our trip, we would have taken them up on their offer.

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Our day ended with half of us finding some vegan food and the other half finding some chicken and a resounding toast and other debauchery on the rooftop enjoying the night view.

Day 6 Thrill Seeking Thursday or Bust:

Is a trip complete without indulging in something thrill-seeking? What is your opinion on this?  Well, our Thrill Seeking Thursday was a Bust.  With all of our planning, we never locked in an actual event and our quest to find thrills was unsuccessful, that is of course outside of Table Mountain (check back for the full story on that).  I wanted to take a gyroflight but wasn’t sure if I’d actually have the heart to do it.  We all wanted to do ATV’s or Tree Canopies or both but when we drove to a place that offered it, over an hour away, no one was there.  So instead of doing nothing, we headed back down to Long street for more shopping.

Day 7 Farewell Friday:

On our last day, we packed up, said goodbye to our Cape Town home and got some breakfast.  This was an unusually long post, I know, but thanks for sticking in there with me.  Hands down, the worst part of vacation is leaving and returning to everyday life.  Perhaps one day, vacation and everyday life will be one.  That is my goal!

In all, I had an amazing time in Cape Town and traveled with a very fun group.  I see a second trip to Africa in my very near future.

Here is a list of things I wanted to do but missed: Visit Philadelphia-Town in South Africa, that many South Africans don’t even know exist.  I wanted to go just so I could say I was home in Philadelphia but really I wouldn’t have been.  Drive to Cape Agulhas- the geographic southern tip of the African continent and the beginning of the dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  Visit Cape of Good Hope- rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula. A common misconception is that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa.  Relax at Camps Bay Beach.  Drive over Bloukrans bridge.  Eat at Willoughby’s.  There is a lot you can see and do in 7 days in Cape Town but you will also miss things.  Until next time…

I would love to hear from you.  Have you ever traveled to Cape Town or any part of Africa? What was your experience like?

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I absolutely love this picture that I took on the way to Boulders Beach