Osaka Castle and the Museum of History – Must See Sights in Osaka


Our research had showed us that there were lots of interesting things to do in Osaka – and our first task was to decided what to do on what days. As seniors – shopping wasn’t on the list, and we were pretty Shrine’d, Garden’d and Temple’s out after Kyoto. It’s a good think that Osaka is best known for it’s museums, eh? (After the bars and nightlife – but that’s for other travellers – we are museum buffs!)

The list of must see museums here was long and intriguing, but two major Art Museums were closed during our entire visit. Something about having to put in new exhibits. But that left lots of other choices – and we made a list, considered closing days to avoid, and limiting ourselves to just 2 a day. At our speed, more stops would never happen.

Bottom line – Sunday our plan was to hit the two biggest hits in Osaka – the not to be ignored Osaka Castle, and the outstanding Osaka Museum of History nearby. Then Monday, when most museums are closed, we decided to go for the Largest Aquarium in Japan, Tuesday would be the Science Museum and the Museum of Housing, and then on Wednesday we’d do the serious stuff – the Osaka Museum of Human Rights, and the Osaka International Peace Memorial.

Nice solid planning – always an excellent way to start.

After spending some time deciphering the subway map, and deciding if the 600 Yen all day pass was a good investment (it wasn’t) – we headed out for the Osaka Museum of History.

This museum is huge, excellent, informative, has an English Language Guide, and was completely enchanting. I’d rate it an absolute must see.

For kids there were stamp desks positioned around the museum, the idea being to keep the kids interested by keeping them searching for specific items and being rewarded with the appropriate stamp. And this so worked! We were entranced to see how keen even the youngest were to get their books properly stamped.

The first floor of the museum is actually the 10th floor of this huge modern building. It is devoted to a full sized recreation of the oldest Ceremonial Hall in Japan – dating from around 800 AD. The space is very dark, filled with mannequins dressed in traditional robes, and with a movie projected on the dark screens. Then the movie ends, and the windows are automatically opened to reveal the view of Osaka. And right below us is the actual location of the Ceremonial Hall – identified only in 1959 and saved by community action from development. So stunning.

The route spirals downward from floor to floor – past full sized street views of Osaka, animated by a Noh character that moves from screen to screen, explaining as he goes what you should be looking for. Many of the images are 3D cut-outs of scenes from Art of the time period portrayed, other images were intensely accurate scale miniatures with amazing detail. Cats and Kids chasing rats (apparently this was reported in visitor notes from the time), housewives putting out wash on roof terraces designed for the purpose, Imperial messengers on important business, shopkeepers selling their wares – the stunning detail is definitely a characteristic of Japanese model building, and it was bewitching.

The bottom floor of the museum is a full scale replica of Osaka shortly before WWII, and was offering a free ‘wear a Kimono’ event that day. So we dressed up – and gleefully took pictures of ourselves looking lovely.

Once out of the History Museum, we headed over to the Osaka Castle – and were immediately plunged into mob central. Where the Museum of History had a pleasant vibe, the Osaka Castle is a must see on everyone’s agenda – and it was crowded. We had to wait our turn to see each section of the exhibits, and this was a problem because it entailed a great deal of standing and waiting.

Old knees aren’t fond of standing and waiting.

But the exhibits themselves were utterly fascinating. They tell, in intense detail, the history of the original builder of Osaka Castle – and the 2nd great unifier of Japan – Toyotomi Hideyoshi of the Osaka Castle, and of his fights with the man most consider the primary Shogun of Japan – Tokugawa Ieyasu. One entire floor is devoted to a detailed analysis of the famous Screen Painting – The Summer Battle of Osaka Castle. If you are interested in the Edo Era, or find information about the Shogunate period from 1600 to 1868, this is the place.

We are not incredibly interested in this period, but the intensity of the displays made it impossible to ignore them. I’d rate Osaka Castle a Must See.

We dragged ourselves out of the castle, overwhelmed and completely exhausted – and a long subway ride from home. To make matters worse – while the streets were deserted, the subway was packed! Rush hour in Osaka – oh that’s perfect timing.

But we managed to not get lost, and still stay friends. Dinner, a quick chat with our fellow travellers, and bed. Tomorrow is bound to be another long long day.

Signing off to dream of Samurai Soldiers – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Moving on – we hit Osaka


I admit to being emotionally hard hit by leaving Kyoto. I definitely didn’t want to go – and yet we had to move on. I shall miss our lovely lodgings, the wonderful kitchen and common area, the ease of getting around, and the sheer abundance of Shrines and Temples to admire.

But all good things have an end – it’s the way of the universe – so move on we did.

Our trip from Kyoto to Osaka was about the price of a long subway ride – and just about as easy to organize. These cities are really sister cities, and it’s hard to say from the train where one ends, and the other begins. All of which means that we were in Osaka before we really had a chance to say we’d been travelling.

But while Osaka may be only minutes away from Kyoto – it’s a world away in feel! This isn’t our cozy upscale residential neighbourhood with it’s lovely grocery shops, fancy and not so fancy restaurants, and ladies out cleaning their door steps. This is a working class place – and it shows.

Our new lodgings are a shared ‘home’ – literally one room wide, and 4 stories tall with a super narrow, super steep staircase running thru the center.

There is a common kitchen, a common ‘bath’ room for bathing and showering, and two toilets for 3 bedrooms. In many ways, it closely resembles our lodgings in Tokyo in that our hosts do not actually live here. However, unlike our host in Tokyo who frankly ignored us during the 9 days we stayed in her place, Ken and Mark have gone over the top to make us feel welcome.

Our adventure here started upon arriving at Exit 3 of the Hanazoncho Station. We’d gotten delayed leaving Kyoto- more traffic then we’d thought there would be, we’d missed the earlier train, and then we’d gotten turned around on the Osaka Subway. All of which meant that our 12:00 estimated time of arrival became more like 1:00 PM.

This would not have been an issue, except that again I had no internet. So I had no way to let Mark (who was patiently waiting for us outside of exit 3) know that we’d been delayed. Every time I thought I got a WIFI signal – I’d madly try to email him – and I’d check for messages from him. But were our messages getting thru? I couldn’t tell for sure!

Finally I received one that said – use the WIFI at MacDonalds. So when we finally got to exit 3 – we left the station and found the MacDonalds. Unfortunately, my iphone and their internet security features didn’t jib – I couldn’t get on line! Panic.

I decide to leave the Intrepid Traveler to watch our suitcases in MacDonalds, while I left to search the surrounding area. Up and down staircases, in and out of the subway station – I could find neither hide nor hair of a single gentleman looking like he was looking for 2 lost tourists. And since we were the only Westerners in sight – I know if Mark were here – he’d spot us.

What to do?

What to do?

Looking above street level, I spotted a sign for ‘World Gym’. Hmm, wouldn’t a gym offer WIFI? I climb the narrow staircase (is this a pattern in Osaka?) and sure enough – there’s a gym – looks and smells like gyms everywhere. So I put on my best lost lady look, and a big smile – and beg for WIFI. The kind young clerk immediately understands what I’m gesturing about – but he doesn’t know the password. Two very quick phone calls later – and his friend must have told him to look on the wall of the gym. Sure enough – there’s a sign – in English – with the password!

Success! I reach Mark, he comes to find us – and we’re in our new digs.

What follows then is a first for us. Mark gives us a detailed and incredibly rule oriented tour of his place. We are not allowed to cook, but we can microwave and toast. We can use the fridge, but we must label everything ‘Nara’ – our room name. Our room is a Japanese style space on the third floor, so we must make our own futon beds. The front door has 2 locks – we must turn them the right ways. Windows must be shut when we leave, AC must be off, lights must be off.

After the house rules have been shared, Mark becomes much friendlier. We chat for over 2 hours on a host of different topics, including the new Emperor and the future of his dynasty. Mark spent several years in London studying and his English is impeccable. Clearly being a host is his retirement job – and he takes it seriously.

We decide to shop for a cheap dinner from the nearby grocery store – forgetting that this is a working class neighbourhood and like most working class areas – the grocery stores are more focused on cheap rather than good food. The options aren’t wonderful.

We do try a Takoyaki – a very traditional and very well known Osaka delicacy. It’s done in a dry fried cooking manner on a specially shaped grill. The balls are puffy, made from octopus bits and flour, and served topped with mayonnaise and Bonita flakes. I ate two and thought that’s enough of that, but the Intrepid traveler is made of sterner stuff and finished the portion!

So back to Ken & Mark’s for dinner and bed. Tomorrow is another day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

BHAG* Achieved!


Back when I started this blog – back when my husband suggested calling myself Montreal Madame… I set myself a BHAG.

In MBA terms – a BHAG is a *Big Hairy Assed Goal – and it represents something that you really would like to achieve – but think is well outside the realm of possibility.

So I decided getting 500 followers would be my BHAG – And I wanted to get it done by January 2020.

Well guess what – I made it MONTHS early! i actually have officially 504 followers – so the follower that put me over could be one of 4 champions – and I love them all!

So Thank you follower #1 – and #100 and #201 and #350 and #500 to #504… Thank you all in fact!

Couldn’t have done it without you.

For my next BHAG – I’m thinking 1000 Followers by January 2022. That’s a lot in a very short time considering how long it’s taken to make 500 – but I’ve got my fingers crossed and my ‘Muttering’ Boots on!

Signing off – Content for the moment – and celebrating in Japan with a glass of very lousy but I don’t care red wine… The Soup Lady

A Find of a place to Stay in Kyoto


We are in love with our lodgings in Kyoto.

Seriously – this place is awesome. I found it on Air BnB – and my husband will be relieved to know I didn’t have to meet the owner under a bridge at midnight to get the key.

The Gottingen (strange name – I know) is really more of a very tiny hotel than a real Air BnB lodging. But despite that, it’s adorable. The host is a lovely gentleman named Peng – who while not the owner, is effectively here 24/7. I’m hoping he gets some time off, but I’ve never known him not to be either at the front desk, or available thru the intercom.

The Gottingen is located in a very residential area of Kyoto (we love being in residential areas) to the West of the Kyoto Imperial Palace and just North of Nijo Castle. Even better it’s right near 3 grocery stores – one huge, one medium sized, and the third is a more fruit based smaller store. There are restaurants within easy strolling distance, and we are right on a long thin walking pathway along what used to be a river running thru the city.

And there are 4 different bus routes that go almost past our door – so you can really get almost anywhere you want to in Kyoto without much walking. I’m a very happy camper.

Our room is on the ground floor – so no dragging our carry-on’s up a flight (or two) of stairs, and our room has 2 twin beds and a sleep sofa. It even features it’s own bathroom – no sharing.

The bathroom has actually two spaces. A toilet and sink space (yes – one of those bidet toilets that the Japanese love so much), and a ‘bath’ space.

The ‘bath’ space is actually a shower and a bath tub combined, in the old Japanese style. The shower head swivels out so you can shower standing on the self-draining floor, or swivels in so you can use it in the bath tub. The tub is one of these short deep jobs, so you can in fact get in a soak if needed.

There is a lovely kitchen area right at the front door, so while we are preparing our meals we are also greeting our fellow travellers. There have been several Chinese groups coming and going while we have been here – since we are just 2 hours from Shanghai, it’s an easy 2 day, 1 night trip. But the guests that we tend to chat up, and who are staying longer in Kyoto are the westerners. There’s a couple with their 2 year old son from Germany, two Polish Women, and a couple from Italy. I think the newest arrivals are Spanish- it’s hard to say for sure since they just nodded as they walked quickly by on the their way out for dinner.

We get fresh towels every other day (a pleasure compared to our lodging in Tokyo where we never got fresh towels during our entire 9 day stay), and the place is spotlessly clean.

So – great host, clean space, lots of room (no dresser – but I don’t think the Japanese do dressers), our own bathroom, and a lovely quiet location with folks walking by on their way home – what more could we ask for!

Oh yes – and it’s within our modest budget – just $60 a night total, or $30 per person.

We are happy campers.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady

Edo-Tokyo Museum – A Must See!


We’ve seen hundreds of Museums – seriously – hundreds. So if we love a museum – you have to realize we’re comparing it to some of the best in the world.

And the Edo-Tokyo Museum literally blew our socks off. This is an amazing museum, no matter what your age, your language, your interest level. It is simply stunning.

From the outside, you are already impressed. The first two floors of the massive structure are just the ticket hall, an auditorium, the shops, restaurants, and a special exhibit space. You take an elevator to the 3rd floor – and you are on a massive open air terrace – with the rest of the museum hanging 3 floors above you, supported by just 3 massive pillars.

Stunning.

To reach the permanent exhibit space, you can either take the boring elevator up, or ride an open air escalator up 3 floors to the beginning of the museum proper on the 6th floor.

The interior is simply breath-taking. Directly ahead of you is a vast open space – crossed by a massive wooden bridge 25 meters long. This is a full size model of the original Nipponbashi bridge, but 1/2 the original length. The bridge crosses over the open space – over a full size Noh Theatre on one side and a scaled version of Tokyo from about the thirties to fifties on the other. There are full size rickshaws, bicycles, and similar objects for kids to climb on and be photographed on.

Once across the bridge, there are 3 scale miniatures of sections of Tokyo during the Edo Period. All are done in absolute detail, with incredible precision. Impressive without the explanation, but we had asked for one of the Free (our favourite price point) English guides, and she walked us thru the most interesting parts of the models. I’ve already mentioned the detail – but with her explanation, it was easy to see even more. The rocks holding the roofs down for example, or the tenement housing hidden off the main streets and paid for as an act of charity by the wealthy were just two of the interesting sites to see.

They provide binoculars to help kids (or adults with fading vision) get a closer look at the going ons. The section highlighted is near the famous bridge – which during the Edo Period was a fish market.

Drawings from the period – of which there are lots and lots – spend oodles of time detailing the life of the commoner folk since drawing pictures of the higher court officials including the Shogun and the Imperial Princesses was a crime ending in beheading. So there is ample source material to choose from when doing detailed studies of common life, and the designers of the museum have gone to great lengths to be as accurate as possible.

Another section of the museum is devoted to life in the aforementioned tenements – fascinating. There’s information on the omnipresent fire-brigades – a necessity in Tokyo of the period. The fireman were all tattooed- done so that they could be identified if they were killed in the line of duty. And they carried tall poles with horse hide strips that could be spun to keep sparks off the head fire fighters. They had small water buckets – but the primary way of fighting fires was simply to pull down the houses – carefully in the direction that would not incite more flames.

Another section was full of period correct street vendors. That was where we learned that sushi was 5 times larger in those days – and that 2 pieces of sushi was an entire meal. We also learned that almost all Japanese in those days were Buddhist’s – and thus vegan with the exception of fish. The lack of calcium in the diet for over 250 years goes a long way towards explaining the small size and the hunched backs we’ve seen here in Tokyo. Our guide explained that the Meiji Government recognized the problem, and changing the average diet was for them and the Governments after them an important priority.

A small section was devoted to the Noh Theatre – where our guide explained the logic behind the white painted faces. In the days of candle light, it was hard to see faces distinctly – and the Geisha relied on their faces to entertain. So painting them white made them stand out in a room – and the white faces of the actors performed a similar function on the stages of the time.

One more tidbit I want to share before signing off. There was an interactive display with a pole and two buckets for kids and adults to try lifting. Our guide asked us what we thought was inside the buckets. We suggested water – but she said – no – something much much more valuable – human waste. Yup, it turns out that in Edo times, human waste – particularly the waste from wealthy people was used as top quality fertilizer, and the farmers paid dearly for the privilege of taking your waste from your home. So folks would race home if they had to go – keeping the streets clean and putting money in their pockets. Who knew?

So – if you take a day off from shopping in Tokyo and want to do something really informative and interesting – check out the Edo-Tokyo Museum. I think you’ll thank me for the suggestion.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Malta – Who knew they do Regency here?


Let’s be even more specific – who knew that Napoleon had been to Malta? I mean Malta is all about the Knights of Malta – wealthy beyond measure, guardians of the pilgrims to the Holy Land, heroes of the Crusades. But Napoleon – in Malta?

Well – he was definitely here. There seems to be some debate about just how long he was here ( I was told 3 days, and just passed a sign that said 7 days) – but there is little question that he came, he said ‘give up’, and the Knights simply said – ‘Ok’. No guns were fired, the French simply occupied Malta and that was that. It only lasted about two years however – and then it went back into British control – which continued until Maltese Independence in 1964.

But that’s .hardly the point. The point is that we are here in Malta as Regency re-enactors. Our goal is to have fun, and show off our best Regency dresses, suits and uniforms of course.

I’m staying in the very fancy Phoenicia Hotel, just at the main entrance to old town Valletta. The hotel is very nice – and fairly expensive. But we have a lovely room and a large bathroom that features Grohe faucets. I must say I like the size and the towel warming rack – but I’m not a fan of the shower. They have taken a tub, removed the faucet part that fills the tub, and added a dual function shower. So there’s a wand and a standard shower head, no tub filling faucet. It’s ok, but not like the EB Hotel. And the water pressure is definitely lacking. I’ve been told that there is precious little fresh water on Malta – perhaps that explains the wimpy shower.

Our Weekend activities are to include a wine tasting lecture, a promenade thru town, a Garden visit, a tour of a Regency period home, a private tour of a local monastery, a dance workshop, a ball, and an afternoon tea dance. Sounds like fun to me! And of course all of this is to be done in period clothes.

Packing to come here was a nightmare, as I’m sure you can imagine. I need at least 2 dresses for Saturday (one for the ball, one for the day time activities), plus a day dress for Friday and a different day dress for Sunday. I need shoes, fans, gloves, head decor, my re-enacting glasses, and for cold weather wear – a Spenser and a shawl. Men, particularly men in uniform, have it so much easier. Which is why Victor is opting to come as a civilian – that way he can change clothes 4 times as well!

Our goal is get all of our re-enacting clothes into one big suitcase – using our carry-on suitcases for non-re-enacting clothes. And surprise, surprise – we actually manage to do this. Victor’s jackets, pants, vests and shirts take up most of the room, I use stuff bags to hold my rolled up gowns. I’ll just put them in the bathroom with the shower on hot and full blast to steam the wrinkles out.

And my plan totally works. I manage to get 4 dresses, 3 head ornaments, 1 black turban style hat, my dancing shoes, 4 reticules (small bags a lady carried to hold necessities during Regency times), and 4 pairs of white gloves into 3 stuff bags. And we manage to get those stuff bags into the one suitcase!

My dress on Friday is rather simple. A plain blue dress with my brand new and very beautiful green and gold Spenser (a short jacket with long sleeves) over it. I’m warm and comfortable, and I look good. Perfect. The wine tasting and lecture was interestingly done – but I can’t say that the wine blew me away. Malta is too dry and too warm year round to allow for really good grapes to grow here. And the winery we visited insisted on using only grapes grown on Malta for their wines. I’ll pass. And their ‘cellar’ is up a spiral staircase. That is definitely odd.

After the wine tasting, we have ‘free’ time – which I choose to spend visiting the Co-Cathedral of St. John – headquarters of the Knights of Malta. And it is wonderful. My senior price includes an audio guide – and I patiently listen to every thing it has to say. The Church is magnificent – but the highlight is the Chapel of the Novices – where hang the art work of one of those novices – the famous artist Caravaggio. After killing a man in a dual in Italy, Caravaggio fled to Malta and became a Knight of St. John. While a novice, he painted two massive paintings, both of which now hang in the Chapel. He was later expelled from the order – apparently he killed another man in a dual – he had a very bad temper – but the order kept the paintings.

And they are stunners. Gloriously beautiful and well worth the price of admission to the Church. I loved them – and spent almost 20 minutes admiring them. He was such a master of light and dark, of the theatre of painting. Sigh.

But I must return to the Regency world – so I leave the church and head back to the hotel.

Later in the day we have a dance practice that doesn’t go that well. It’s in the under-Croft of another church in Valletta, and it’s hard floor, hard walls, and arches make it impossible to hear the caller. She tried to use a sound system, but the feedback was very annoying. But we solider on, and do almost 30 short dances – just enough of each one to gain at least a tiny bit of motor memory.

I’m surprised that she doesn’t think to demonstrate the dance before calling it. We’re mostly experienced dancers – and watching folks do the dance one is just about to do is often enough to enable us to do the dance for ourselves. After two very terrible teaching efforts – she realizes that with this many people (we’re easily over 60) speaking so many different languages (I counted Italian, French, Russian, Maltese, Accented English (British/American/Canadian), and Spanish for sure), showing is faster than talking. So she smartly switches to demonstration mode, and the teaching goes much faster.

Unlike our practice sessions at home, we are learning a lot of dances – and then ‘dancing’ them for a fairly short time before starting the next one. I thought it was great fun – Victor found the feedback pretty annoying.

There’s a break in the middle for some much needed lemonade and biscuits, then back to the grind stone to learn the last dances before we head out for dinner.

The Weekend Price is all included (except breakfast), so as a group of around 60 we walk to our dinner restaurant. It’s on the top floor of an old old building, well located overlooking the Grand Harbour of Valletta.

Like traditional hotels everywhere – there’s an elevator – sort of. But it’s slow and small. And there are 60 of us. I quickly do the math and decide that walking up 5 floors is going to be a lot faster than waiting for that elevator. And so it proves. I arrive in time to grab a table – outside but away from the wind – and Victor and I are quickly jointed by the Canadian Contingent – Sebastian and Elena, Peter and Miyoko. Several other dancers join us – and we make a jolly, if a bit cold, party! Bottles of wine later, we retire to our separate dwellings in Valletta, tired but happy. Tomorrow is going to be a very full, very busy day.

Signing off to prepare for a day of dancing, sight-seeing, and Regency fun – The Soup Lady

The Angel and The Sparrow – Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf


I didn’t know that Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf were friends. Hey – I didn’t even know that Marlene Dietrich was a famous singer as well as a famous movie star. But you could pave the way to heaven with all the things I don’t know – so I guess this isn’t exactly a revelation.

Anyway – The Angel and The Sparrow being presented right now at the Segal Center is an absolutely wonderful piece of Theatre. It was originally written in German, and according to the billing – we were watching an English premiere. I’m guessing probably the Canadian premiere – but regardless – it was a most enjoyable way to spend an evening.

The musical play features 20 songs, including Edith Piaf’s most beloved songs – Padam, Padam, La vie en Rose, Milord, and Non, Je ne regrette rien. The Marlene Dietrich character in addition to acting the Ice Princess and delivering with great effect her many one liners – also performs some of her best known songs, including rather surprisingly – Where have all the flowers gone.

But the singing is only part of what made this evening a delight. The story line follows the life-lines of these two incredible woman, who it turns out – were friends. They meet in New York, where Marlene, already a star, befriends Edith who has come to the US to break into the American music scene.

In the play, they become lovers – although a quick ‘google’ revels that this wasn’t actually known to be a fact. But it is a fact that they were friends, that Marlene participated in Edith’s wedding, that they had a major falling out, and that perhaps they patched it up shortly before Edith Piaf’s untimely death at 47.

Of the two singers – clearly Louise Pitre as Edith Piaf wins the day. The play follows Edith’s spiral down, and Louise clearly plays this up for all it is worth. The highlight at the end – her rendition of “Non, je ne regrette rien” in a hospital gown with the Cross necklace given her by Marlene Dietrich hanging dramatically from her neck is a show stopper. It is also a heart stopper! There were few dry eyes in the house – and the standing ovation was clearly deserved, and not because folks were ready to leave.

Walking out to folks humming bits and pieces of various Edith’s songs was a charming way to end a memorable evening.

I’m reminded once again how fortunate I am to live in a city where great theatre happens.

Signing off to the tune of Milord…

The Soup Lady

Founder’s Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve


A frequent question on the ‘net’ is which Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth is the best – and while I can’t vouch for any of the others, I can tell you that the Shamwari Reserve was amazing.

But I’m ahead of my tail – which is not an unusual position.

We start the day in the absolute lap of luxury that is the Conrad Pezula. For the first time in our trip – I’d rather not leave. In fact – I’m even thinking of buying real estate. It’s only the discomfort of the South African reality that keeps me from chatting up a real estate agent. I just can’t get my head around the constant locked access points, focus on security, and the fences. There is a very obvious lack of respect and even comfort between colours and classes that just makes my skin itch. But that’s the topic of another blog.

Today we must drive to Founder’s Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve, and we’ve done the GPS thing to find out how long it will take to drive to Port Elizabeth and counted backwards. We must leave by 9:00 to make it there in time for lunch and the afternoon game drive.

Breakfast turns out to be more of an adventure than I’d planned on. I wanted to eat on our balcony – sitting in the sun and enjoying the stunning view. To do that – I must make coffee. And there’s a single serve coffee machine in the room. Perfect. Until I try to figure out how it works.

I’m old, but not stupid – and the thing stumps me. It just won’t turn on. Yes, I checked that it was plugged in, and yes I checked that the plug was on. No action. So I call the front desk. They tell me there’s a switch on the machine, hidden in the back. I try that – nope. It isn’t going to turn on. And worse – out of the 4 coffee packets they have given me – I’ve used up two. One in the first attempt – a second in the next attempt.

They will send someone. Who within seconds is there – with another machine. He checks our machine, agrees that it is not turning on, and plugs in the newer machine. It turns on – (green light on the front), and we thank him.

Try 3. I put in the coffee thingy – put the mug under the spout, and push the green light. The machine gurgles and burps and starts producing coffee. And doesn’t Stop! I fill my mug, and I’m on the 2nd mug when I turn the machine off and give up. I’m calling the office – again.

Seconds later another young man appears at our door – who shows us that to stop the machine from producing coffee you must push the button on the front when the light turns red… It offers you options you see – the first time it turns red, that’s a single espresso. The 2nd time – espresso Double, and the third time – Americano!

Problem – in learning how to use the machine – I’ve used up all the little single serve coffee things they have given us. So another trip from the front desk to give us a few more pouches of coffee.

I’m sure there is someone at the Conrad Pezula who is giving up on making any money on our stay! We have definitely kept their staff occupied.

Breakfast done (whew) – we call the front desk (yet again) for luggage pickup, Victor hikes up to the office while I continue to drink my lovely coffee enjoying my fabulous view and try to work up the courage to actually leave. But I have no choice – the bellman with the golf cart arrives, takes our luggage out to the cart and offers me a drive up the hill. We absolutely must leave.

When I come back to South Africa – perhaps in another life time – this is the place I want to stay!

We drive down the Head, and head East along the N2. This is a ‘major’ road that winds along all the Garden Route – but in this section it is just one lane in each direction, with large shoulders they use to create space for cars to pass on the right. Remember – drive on the left! At the sides of the road at first are what I’d call middle class housing, but it quickly becomes either township or informal settlements with the corresponding piles of garbage. Question to self – why is everything so clean except the areas near the townships and informal settlements?

Eventually even that bit of housing disappears and we are driving thru fields of grain, some irrigated, some not. There are also herds of cows and sheep to see, and the occasional horse farm. It’s not the most exciting driving – although the view of Plettenberg Bay is stunning. These are some of the finest beaches in South Africa, but we are on a mission – we must get to Port Elizabeth.

The road is often actually 3 lanes – achieved not by widening the road, but by changing the location of the paint. So imagine two lanes with large shoulders. To get three lanes – you get rid of the shoulders on each side – and either make the no passing line on the far right of the 2nd lane (we have two lanes heading east), or to the far left of the 2nd lane (we have one very narrow lane heading east – they have two lanes heading west). It’s actually pretty neat, although my husband thinks they should make the passing lanes appear only on the uphill sections – he can’t pass the heavy trucks on the down hill portions, they gain too much speed.

Speaking of speed – the limit here is 120 km/hr. And no one goes 120, except us and the occasional truck. So we are pretty consistently the passed, not the passer.

After about 2 hours of this, we decide to enter into the GPS the actual address of our destination – and discover to our alarm that it isn’t in Port Elizabeth – it’s an hour NORTH! Oh, no. We’d calculated our trip based on getting to the reserve in time for lunch – and now we are definitely going to be an hour off.

Mad checking of paper work later – we realize that lunch doesn’t even start till 2:00 PM – and the game drive is at 3:30. We should just make it – but there’s no time to waddle. Not like we’ve been going slowly – but we try to pick up the pace a bit.

The outskirts of Port Elizabeth appear – first informal settlements, then townships, then middle class housing and finally the city itself. It’s a huge port – I count over a dozen giant container ships at anchor in the bay – and I would imagine there are some actually in the port, but it’s not visible from the N2. Which has become a 4 lane highway at this point – and the roadway switches from concrete to asphalt. My husband says that the driving is easier on asphalt – I don’t know or care – I just want this road trip to end.

As we steam pass a gas station – I say – there’s a gas station – but my husband is focused – we are getting to the reserve on time.

Suddenly I see an Elephant on my left! Wow – it’s an Elephant!. We are driving past the Addo National Elephant Park – and the next stop will be the Shamwari Reserve. I’m getting excited.

Meanwhile the N2 is down to 1 lane in each direction again, and the side roads are not all paved. We’ve left Port Elizabeth (and what passes as civilization) far behind.

It is at this moment that my husband checks the gas gauge. We are at 1/4 tank – and we need to find a gas station. I keep my eyes peeled – but we are far from anything that even looks like a town. Hopefully there will be a gas station near the lodge.

The instructions say – take the unpaved road at Sidbery and follow the signs. We do as told, and find our selves facing a formidable wrought iron gate. Oh dear – what did we do wrong? We stop to try to figure things out when a guard appears to ask us – where are you heading? We tell him Founder’s Lodge – and he’s immediately reassuring. You are fine, you are right, this is the right place. You have arrived!

Whew.

It turns out that the Founder’s Lodge is inside the reserve, and we’ve arrived at a back door. The gate is there to keep the animals in – and given the number of Elephants, Rinos, Lions, etc that we will see – I totally get it.

Our welcome at the Lodge is lovely – Susie, the manager, greets us with cold towels and a drink of our choice, and quickly ushers us into lunch. We ask about gas – and are assured that they will get a spare tank with 10 gallons or so for us tomorrow. Meanwhile, they will park the car – we need to go into lunch.

There are only 6 rooms in the lodge, a total of 12 guests. We are divided into two groups, each with our own Ranger who will take care of our every need from dawn to bed time. One group are 3 couples who came together from the Cape Town area, our group is composed of two couples from Port Elizabeth, and us.

Our Ranger is Freddie – and he’s a charmer. He joins us at lunch to explain that the game drive will start at 3:30 – right outside the front door of the lodge, and we should dress warmly – we won’t be back till after sunset. He also asks what drinks we’d prefer for ‘Sundowners’ – I opt for water. I’m just not that big a party kinda gal!

Our quick tour of the Lodge is, as the welcome made us expect, impressive. Our room has a wall of glass facing out onto the private reserve of the Founder – independent of but adjacent to the Shamwari Reserve. Using the concept of an infinity pool, the garden appears to continue smoothly to the watering hole for the animals of the Reserve about 150 meters away. But actually there’s a wall with electric fencing separating us from the animals – at least the animals who would be daunted by a wall. Fortunately, there are no predators in our private reserve – so while the baboons and monkeys might be an issue – the larger vegetarians are happy to stay on their side of the fence.

Onto our quick tour of the Lodge (it’s lovely), and then onto our ‘Safari’ vehicles to start our first game drive.

These are very upscale vehicles indeed. Modified Toyota Land Cruisers – there three rows of two leather seats, so each person has an unimpeded view to the side and because the seats are raised one above the other, to the front as well. There is room for a driver and a spotter – but Freddie will be serving as both for us.

Turns out that all vehicles in the park are exactly the same design, color and style. That makes it very easy to spot any unauthorized vehicles – and Freddie starts our tour by telling us that the Shamwari Reserve has had no poaching incidents in the past 15 years. They have 24/7 anti-poaching teams – and they are armed and serious. You do not touch our animals. Kruger Park, on the other hand has had over 300 incidents this year – and while the numbers are down from 2016, any Rino poaching is bad. Folks involved with the animals are working hard to educate people on the absolute uselessness of killing Rino’s for their horns – they are made of exactly the same material as our fingernails – but folks seems to love to ignore the truth. It’s sad.

He also warns us to keep our hands inside the vehicle – the shape of the vehicle is known to the animals and they won’t bother us, but if you break the shape by sticking an arm out – you will alarm the animals. He also warns us to not make loud noises – or to call to the animals. They will in fact turn away if we do that – so we’ll get the opposite of what we’d like as far as pictures go.

And we head off. For our first drive, Freddie decides to head North – into the wilder, less traveled part of the Park. There are tracks carved thru the bush that keep the vehicles off the slow growing vegetation, yet allow access to almost all parts of the huge park. The rules for the drivers are simple – stay out of sight of other vehicles, but stay in contact by radio in case someone spots something exciting. And stay on the cleared tracks. There are parts of the park where you can drive off road, but generally that’s done either to go around a wash-out, to allow another vehicle to pass, or to get closer to a Cat. All other game is to be observed from the already tracked ‘trails’ in order to avoid disturbing them – or killing vegetation.

As we drive along, I’m impressed by the beauty of the place – despite knowing that there is a fence all around us – the place feels wild and free, and a lot greener than I remember either the parks in Kenya or Botswana. There are fairly large trees growing in the sections where the Bushman’s River winds thru the park, and the open ‘grass lands’ seem to go on forever. And game abounds. Zebras with colts, Springbok’s, Kudu, etc are everywhere to be seen. Freddie spots an Elephant across a valley from us, and heads in that direction. He’s a solitary Bull – and he is huge. Mildly chomping away at the tops of Acacia Trees, he ambles along, at times ahead of us, at times in back. He takes a quick right and heads up a steep hill – and Freddie tries to follow on the trail. Suddenly the Elephant is in front of us – right in the road. We can’t pass him, and he’s headed straight into the sun. Lousy photos – cool view! Finally Freddie takes a chance and at a widening in the trail, drives carefully behind the Elephant to put us ahead of him with the sun at our back. We take lots of very good photos – and then the radio bursts into life – they have spotted a Cheetah. So we leave our elephant to head in that direction.

The Cheetah is just sitting on the ground behind a bush – casually watching us watching him. So beautiful, and so peaceful. We also spotted a sleeping lion – there is little as boring of course. Well satisfied with our game drive, we stop at the top of a look out for a much needed ‘pee’ break and Sundowners. What an amazing landscape.

There are about 10 Lodges in the Shamwari Game reserve, most much larger than ours – and we have driven past several. I think ours is just perfect – but it’s nice to know there are options if we want to return.

I’m thinking that what really matters is the quality of your guide and his (her) ability to position the vehicle so that picture taking opportunities are the best. That often means knowing not only where the animals are – but to guess where they will be going – and keeping track of where the sun is since we can’t shoot into it. And since you are supposed to stay on the tracks – being on the right track at the right position at the right moment is an art!

Back at the Lodge, the vehicle circles around to the Boma – a raised area with a fire lit to welcome us home. The staff is lined up to greet us – and hand us warm drinks.

Sigh – I’ve gone to heaven and it’s in South Africa.

Signing off to ready myself for ”The Founder’s Dinner” – The Soup Lady

Whales – By George – I found Whales!


We wake to another beautiful day in South Africa – blue sky, blue sea, cool breezes. I’m finding it a bit cold, and since today we are going out on a Whale Boat Excursion – I choose to over-dress. I’m wearing almost everything I brought that’s warm – and thinking I wish I had more!

Yesterday I forgot to mention the odd thing. When we drove back from JJ’s Grill, we were stopped just below the entrance to the Conrad Pezula. There was a swing barrier and a guard checking your reason for going past his post. The odd thing – I didn’t see a guard gate when we drove up in the afternoon – nor when we drove back down for dinner. It’s a pop-up guard gate – only visible at night. Different, right?

Back to today – We enjoy the elaborate buffet breakfast provided by the hotel, and then wind our way back down to Knysna. This time we look – nope, no guard gate. But onto our adventure. Whale Odyssey takes small boats out into the ocean to see the whales 4 times a day – and it leaves from Thesen Island, a paradise of lovely shops, cute restaurants, and adorable housing located across a causeway from the main town of Knysna. The folks at the hotel have recommended a restaurant for lunch – the Ile de Pain – I’m guessing French influence here? The sparkling cleanness of Thesen Island is very impressive – it’s a lovely enclave, without a guard gate. First one I’ve seen in all our travels. But based on the ‘odd’ thing last night, I’m guessing that a gate appears on the cross way after dark. And access to the ‘residential’ part of the island is barricaded by a huge metal gate and a swing bridge. So sure you can get on the island – but don’t get near our houses…

Our Whaling trip starts at the Odyssey Shop where we join up with our fellow whale boaters – there are 12 of us, and we are given life preservers and basic instructions – primarily follow the Captain’s Instructions.

Our Captain takes us to our boat – it’s tiny, but with super powerful outboard engines. We’ll find out soon enough how necessary those are. We take our seats in rows of 3 or 4 – and soon cast off. Because we’re old, slow, and polite – we’re last to board. So I’m sitting on the end seat on one row, Victor on the end seat of a different row. Turns out to be great seats though!

The Captain tells us that when he stops the boat – we are free to move around as we wish – and there are plenty of grab rails to make sure we don’t have a problem going over board. But when he says – SIT Down Now – we are to take the first available seat and SIT. That means he’s going to be doing something that will rock the boat – or he sees something that will rock the boat.

He makes sure we are all clear on this point, that no one is feeling ill from being on a boat – and with a “Yes Sir” – we are all ready to go.

Our trip takes us thru the Lagoon, and between the Heads and out to sea. The trip thru the Heads is truly neat. The Captain slows the boat to a crawl and watches the waves coming in thru the narrow neck. When he sees several smooth rollers in a row – he guns the engine and off we go. We shoot thru the neck and up and over the rollers. These waves are so large that often at the top, the engines are out of the water completely!

There is a Whale Spotter positioned high up on the Eastern Head – and he’s radioing instructions to the Captain. He manoeuvres the boat away from land and towards the East – moving towards the position described by the spotter. All of a sudden he says – this is too good to miss – and turns the boat sharply towards the South. We are quickly among a pod of around 200 Normal Dolphins – who think the arrival of a boat is great fun. They jump and splash and swim around and in front of us – around and around we go among the Dolphins – snapping away madly. The Captain says they are fishing, and rounding up a bait ball – but they still take time to play with us. You just know this will be the highlight – how often have you ever seen a pod of 200 dolphins at play?

The spotter radios down that he has seen a whale – and off we go among the huge waves towards the designated location. And when I say huge – I mean these are large waves. They tower over the boat – but since they aren’t breaking this far away from shore, we just roll. Up and over – or along a trough, the ride is actually fairly smooth given the size of the waves and boat. Lucky I guess – I spoke to other folks who took a boat out on Tuesday, the day we got blown off the Penguin tour, and the boat just made it out from the neck before the Captain announced – this is too rough, and they headed right back into the harbour.

We find the whales that the spotter had seen – and it’s underwhelming. I’m sorry – yes, they are huge – yes, there are 4 of them – but all we can see from our low vantage point 50 meters away is a broad back floating inches above the surface of the water. They aren’t even really blowing – I was expecting towering heights of water, but no – little puffs – and that’s it.

The first pair opt to dive – and they are gone. A second pair appear a bit further off – we move towards them, but like the first pair, they are busy doing their thing, and not really showing off for the tourists. Did someone forget to send the fax?

We piddle around in this area hoping for something more thrilling, and then head back. Whale ride over.

As I said – the Dolphins were definitely the highlight – and they were amazing. So I’m pleased – and I buy a sweatshirt to prove that I was here at 34 degrees South Latitude! Bonus, it’s warm and cozy. And as stated many times this trip – it’s been a lot cooler than I’d thought it would be (90 degree days dropping to 70 degree days… seriously confusing to this old body).

We eat lunch as planned at the Ile de Pain – and it’s wonderful. I opt for a flat bread with olives (they grow olives in this area) and it is delightful. A bit overly generous with the olive oil, but that’s been a theme here in South Africa – if you’ve got it in abundance – flaunt it! And apparently Olive Oil is on that list.

It’s back to the Palace for a Spa Treatment. I know – totally outrageously extravagant – but oh so relaxing. My husband has a hot stone massage which he rates as one of the two best he’s ever had. I had a lovely Swedish massage – and enjoy every minute. After the massages, they put us on massaging water beds for 15 minutes of ‘cool’ down. Totally extravagant and completely delightful.

Dinner is at the Anchorage – a tiny (6-7 tables, tops) sea food restaurant in downtown (can you call part of a 7 block city – downtown) that boast super high ratings and great reviews. And it totally deserves them both. Our waiter – Benjamin – is a riot. He clearly loves his job, his restaurant, and his food – and delights in making sure we pick the best options of the bunch. He and my husband get into a bit of a discussion on the subject of dessert – and not surprisingly, Benjamin wins. His suggestion of a milky chocolate concoction that is unique to the Anchorage is a clear winner. For the main course – I try the Prawns. Everyone has been raving about the Prawns here on the Whale Coast – and I’m finally convinced to give them a chance. It’s a bit like eating tiny lobsters – lots of finger work involved, and your reward is really just the sweet tail parts! Prawns, by the by, are what we would call Shrimp – but these are the giant size versions. Almost 5” long, they are about 50% head and legs – just 50% tail.

Victor gets Angel fish. This is surely not the same fish we call Angel Fish in the Caribbean – it’s a fairly large filet of a very delicious white fish. So good food and delightful service. Perfect.

Back to the Conrad Pezula and yes – the gate has re-appeared. Our fire is lit, and after enjoying the view, the stars, the absolutely giant full moon, we settle in for the night.

Tomorrow is a long driving day. I do look forward to those. (Not). But it can’t be helped. We must get to Port Elizabeth for the last few days of our trip along the Garden Route.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

We Shoot – We Score!


Our plan for today is simple – we leave Stellenbosch, head just 30 minutes down the road to another town renown for it’s Wineries – Franschhoek – and do some more taste tests.

The winery Victor has chosen for us to visit is another larger one – Boschendal. And we’ve pre-arranged our wine tours. Victor discovered that by pre-arranging, you get much better hosts – and frequently a private tour. And Boschendal is no exception. The great-grandson of the original founder of the winery (now employed here by the current owner) is our host – and he regales us with tons of information about not only the wines, but also the Hugenaut history of this area of South AFrica. His name is Francois – but of course he speaks no French. That is long gone, but the naming tradition continues. Interesting.

Today is Sunday – and on Sunday everyone that has a bike uses it in this area. We pass rider after rider on our way to the winery – and not surprisingly – are surrounded by riders and their families who have made the estate their picnic ground. In a word – it’s mobbed. But our tour is private – so there!

Naturally – they have organized how to ship wine to the states – so two cases later, we head on to lunch (extremely forgettable meal at Fyndraai), and drive into Franschhoek. We are greeted at our newest lodging – Le Quartier Francais – with the news that we have been upgraded to a suite – and we are the first guests in this newly renovated space. And it is best described as huge and fancy! The art around the lodging is outstanding, the art in our suite makes one gasp – and the entire room is so huge I have to take pictures. The living room area has a fireplace (which they offer to light should it get cool), and the bathroom features not only the mandatory huge free standing bathtub (but please don’t use it – we are having a water crisis) and double sinks – it has a heated floor! Curiously to me, the toilet and the shower are both glass enclosed rooms. Odd – private but not so private if you get my drift.

It’s rather early in the day – so we opt to wander the one Main Street of Franschhoek and look for a book store. The first one we find is called the Treasure Box, and it’s a used book store run by an elderly lady. The door to the shop has a metal fence across the front – and a note to ‘ring bell and pull the gate’. We do so, and when we ask why the protection – she admits that she was robbed at gun point and decided not again. She also lets us know that her husband died suddenly (5 years ago), and she still has never discovered all the codes he used on the internet things – like bank accounts and wifi passwords.

Oh.

We buy a cook book from her – which she lets us know does NOT contain any recipe she would cook – it’s about Africian, not Afrikaner cuisine, and we head back out to explore. The rest of the village is composed of either tourist traps or stores for locals like 3 different grocery stores and a pharmacy. Despite the warning from the gal at the Treasure Box – we find that the village feels quite safe.

Our hotel was the site of a world famous restaurant for many years – but it closed in June (the chef wanted more time with her family) but the newly opened replacement is La Petite Colombe. The tasting menu looks very interesting, and by our standards is not terribly expensive, so we opt to give it a try.

An excellent choice as it turns out. The 12 course meal is well prepared, well served – and very interesting. I thought only one of the dishes wasn’t an absolutely standout – which is probably a record. My favourite courses were the “meet the chef” which had us up at a ‘chef’s table’ in front of the kitchen enjoying a soup made with expertly seasoned freshly made noodles, and a quail egg, the Asian style tuna that was yummy to the last dribble, and BBQ quail and lobster tail combo that hit all the right notes.

My husband of course had the wine tasting with his meal – I opted for sparkling water and a few sips here and there.

A wonderful meal to go with a wonderful suite and a wonderful day.

Signing off because bed is definitely beckoning- The Soup Lady