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

4 Wineries in one day is too much of a good thing..


It’s not that I object to visiting Wineries – I’ve been to dozens. It’s just doing 4 in one day really wipes you out. Even if you only sip small amounts of the wine – and carefully spit as much as possible, the mental effort is telling.

So I was a bit concerned that today we were doing 4 wineries – and that we had to get from the lovely Tuscan Villa Guest House in Fishhoek to the first winery in Stellenbosch by 10:00 AM. But we gave it our best. Things went great at the start – we drove past the beach towns on the Indian Ocean side of False Bay, and up to the major road that cuts Eastward along the water. Everything would have been fine – except that the major highway was closed to Eastward traffic. No worries – we’ll just follow the detour.

Except the detour takes us right though the center of the Khayelitsha Township.

Ok – I’m not worried. We just won’t stop.

Of course that’s easier said then done. Folks treat the road running thru the township as a walking path – so they cross anywhere they like, and cars have to stop or run over them. But because we’re travelling slowly – I get a chance to see what early morning at the edges of the Township look like, and it’s interesting. The dozens and dozens of guys who run the grills are setting up for the day. They drag 1/2 steel drums that sit on wooden legs out to the side of the road and fill them with either charcoal or wood. Then a grate sits on top and they grill their meat – from the looks I got – it’s mostly chicken, with some other cuts. And it honestly smells wonderful. I’m curious as to the prices – or for that matter – why they do this. We decide that it’s hot and stuffy inside the tiny houses – and cooking out on the street makes cooking a social adventure – plus keeps the house cooler. And if you can manage to sell some – even better.

The key point here is that the number of folks doing this is staggering. I spotted probably several hundred in just our short drive on just that one road. And I’m guessing there are hundreds more doing the same on all the other roads thru the township.

I also learned a new term – there are townships – legal areas for folks to live, provided with what we might think of as the minimum infrastructure needed – roads, basic sewer, running water (although it might be a single faucet for several homes to share), and electricity. Again – several homes might be sharing a single electric ‘box’, mainly because one ‘plot’ might be shared by 4 different family homes. But still – infrastructure exists. Then there are the informal homelands. These are not provided with any infrastructure by the government – no water, no sewer, no electricity, no garbage removal. At best, there might be port-a-potties. The problem – they are as ‘permanent’ as the townships. Luckily, we are driving thru a legal township, so there is infrastructure including stop signs and cross walks.

We eventually clear the township without any problems (it huge, remember), other then getting a bit hungry, and continue to head North East. Our goal is the wine making area of Stellenbosch.

There are literally dozens and dozens of wineries in this single area, by one account over 150 of them – and the hill sides are covered with grape vines, both bush type and trellised. Squeezed among the vines are the manor houses and wine making facilities. The ones called Estates use only the grapes grown in their own vineyards to make their wines. The other wineries will buy grapes from smaller producers, refining them on site to make their wine.

The 4 wineries we visit are Beyerskloof, Kanu, Mulderbosch, and Overgaauw. The first was probably the best of the bunch – not only was the wine great, but we could easily get it shipped to our address in the states. Winner! Kanu was utterly forgettable – not great wine, not a wonderful manor house – absolutely nothing to recommend it. We hit Mulderbosch in time for lunch – and ordered a pizza for me and a charcuterie plate for Victor – they served us enough food for 4 people, we couldn’t finish even half of either portion. This has been an ongoing issue here in South Africa – frequently the portions are completely unexpected – and we end up with way too much leftovers. The wine tasting itself was ok – but not great. Last, and probably the nicest in terms of personal service was Overgaauw. The gal that gave us the tasting was the sister of the current owner – who is the fourth generation of his family to run the winery. Her wedding pictures were featured in several places around the tasting room. We absolutely loved both the wines and the history of the winery. And we actually walked out with a bottle of their port. Oh, was it yummy.

Wine tastings done, we drive on to our hotel in Stellenbosch. And what a charming village it is. Part University Town, part tourist Mecca for wine tasting, it’s lively, open, and easy to wander. Our hotel, the Olde Werf (Old farm yard) was a recent complete renovation – the entrance way was an older manor house, but once past that you are in a completely modern facility – including heavy glass panels in the floors allowing light to filter down from the sky lights to all the walk ways. The Glassed in Elevator shaft is also a statement piece, as is the area around the infinity style swimming pool. In our room, the bathroom is part of the bedroom – so much so that one wall of the glassed in shower forms a part of the wall of the bedroom. Not great for privacy while showering, but we’re all friends.

Huge floor to ceiling double sided mirrors formed dividing walls between the sink and the bed area. With a floor to ceiling curtain pulled to one side, but available to close off the bathroom.

If I’ve done a bad job of describing the room – it’s because it’s rather hard to describe – but very ‘designer’. The bad news – the walls are incredibly thin. We can hear the folks on either side of us, not distinctly, but clear enough to be annoying. Hopefully they will quiet down after dinner.

It was suggested by the gal at Overgaauw that for dinner we try the ‘Wine House’ – which turns out to be spelled Wijnhaus. It offers wines by the sample size (for about 50 cents a glass), by the glass (for maybe $5), and by the bottle (for around $20). Wine here in SA is inexpensive, readily available, and delicious. It is also abundant. Folks start drinking wine at noon – and we are not sure when (or if) they ever stop. For dinner we order what we think are reasonable options, but both main courses turn out to be huge. Victor’s Chicken Schnitzel consists of two huge pieces – and my 4 Lamp chops are ample for me – Victor is on his own to finish – and he can’t. But it was delicious.

We meander down the busy street – filled with cafes bustling with students enjoying the warm evening, and head back to our hotel. Once there, we say hi to the doorman, parking valet, and security guard – all standing at the front door. We also greet the two night clerks at the front desk before climbing the stairs to our room. I also spot at least one other employee at the bar serving late night drinks and coffee. Staff levels in SA are very high by North American Standards – which is a good thing I guess – given the level of unemployment.

The best news – our neighbours are also exhausted – so all is quiet.

Signing off in hopes of a good nights rest – The Soup Lady

Wine, Whales and Penguins – All on the way to the Cape of Good Hope


Our journey continues with a lovely breakfast at the Cape Heritage Inn (oh, I do love this place), fond good-bye’s from our hosts, and our first attempt at driving on the Left in South Africa.

Unlike St. Croix, which is also drives on the Left, but with normal US cars – these cars have been built for drive on the Left. That means that the driver’s seat is on the right, and the controls for simple things like windshield washers and turn signals are reversed. Victor struggles manfully with the controls – while I attempt to navigate us out of Cape Town.

Our first destination is a Winery called Groot Constantia. It’s the home of Grand Constance – world famous for being Napoleon’s wine of choice while he was on St. Helena. Naturally – we have to try some. It’s quite yummy, and the personalized tour of the wine making facility, while not new news, is still very interesting. Our wine tasting paired the wines with chocolates that had been custom made to match – yummy.

All of this takes quite a bit of time – so we decide to eat lunch at the Vineyard, and we share a traditional African meal, Bobotie. It’s a ground meat pie, topped with a fried egg, and served with yellow rice that’s been flavoured with raisins. It is huge and delicious – and very filling. We relax (perhaps a bit longer than we should), and eventually head out ever Southward.

Our next stop is Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town. It’s home to over 2,000 Penguins – who have been living, fishing, mating and having babies in this rock strewn bit of South Africa since 1982 when 2 breeding pairs first arrived. The Penguins are everywhere – they live in depressions under the African shrubs that dot the hillside, and they splash around in the waters of the Indian Ocean that lap the shore. Because of all the huge rocks, the waters here are just rough enough to bring in the fish, but not so rough as to make it hard for the Penguins to get in and out. It’s a perfect place – and they clearly love it.

Part of South African’s National Park System – there’s a fee to enter, but it’s clean, well kept, and well – full of Penguins. It was great.

We take lots of pictures – my favourite shows a tiny baby staring directly into my camera from under his mother’s protective wing, and then head on South.

Every Southward we go – past adorable towns, beautiful beaches, and African Scrubland. We arrive at the entrance to the “Cape of Good Hope National Park”, and pay our $13.50 Canadian each to go in. A bit steep – but clearly this is a place for tourists – and South Africa knows a tourist trap when they see one. If you went to Cape Town – wouldn’t you go to the Cape of Good Hope?

The well maintained road winds along the top of the ridge – with the Light House at the tippy top of the final peak – Cape Point – clearly visible in front of us. When we arrive at the base we realize there are two options for going up to the Light House – climb a zillion steps, or take the tram. We decide to do neither – Victor has plans for later today, and wants to see and get gone. So we turn around, and head to the lower road that runs along the shore. Here we end up at the actual Cape of Good Hope – and reward ourselves with a bit of a walk, a bit of a stare into the ocean – and a photograph! The waves that roll in are unhindered in their journey North from Antarctica and are huge. They crash onto the rocks at our feet – then fall back into the ocean for another try. It’s beautiful. We spot Ostriches that have made this scrubland their homes – and they are apparently raising a family based on the number of what I think are Ostrich chicks at their feet. We also spot Baboons who have decided that the tourists here are easy pickings. They aren’t the least bit concerned about us – unless we happen to have some food. They climb on cars – try to get into car windows, even test the door handles. Wily beasts…

We now head back towards Noordhoek, where there is a Food Market on Thursday evenings. The idea – grab food from a stall, and enjoy sunset! Sounds good – so we head North. We pass folks doing a bit of whale watching in the Indian Ocean (I can see the spouting of the whale as we drive past) and somewhat surprisingly – a shanty town.

Housing in this part of the Cape has been quite a bit better -so the sudden appearance of the shanties is a bit of a surprise. It’s the one and only we’ve seen since we left Cape Town. In general this part of South Africa is less barricaded and blocked in – which feels better to our western sensitives.

And after a few wrong turns, and some GPS confusion, finally find ourselves at the Market. This is a hugely popular local event – the food is reasonable, and the view spectacular tonight – not a cloud in the sky.

We check out the offerings – there are about 2 dozen stalls, set up with cooking facilities and serving Pork Belly, Fish and Chips, Pork Steaks, Greek Food, Vegetarian options, BBQ Pork Belly Sandwiches, even Tuna Steak. So many choices, and all priced at around $8. I opt for the Pork Belly with cooked yams, Victor gets the BBQ Pork Belly Sandwich, and then goes back for the Tuna Steak. He also gets a bottle of white wine, and we relax on a picnic table to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean. Peaceful and so lovely.

After dinner, We carefully drive on to our lodging for tonight. We’re staying at the highly rated Tuscan Villa Guest House in Fishhoek, and it’s worth it’s rating. Our double sized room features another of these huge bathrooms – with a large shower and huge freestanding tub. We’re warned yet again about the water crisis – and asked not to use the tub. Well – we weren’t planning on it – so you are ok. Our charming hostess explains that the fines for ‘over use’ of water are extremely high, and she’s being forced to use the shower at her son’s place to avoid having the guest house deemed an over consumer. That kind of thing is really hard to control too. We promise to be careful, and she wishes us good night.

We remove the fresh lavender stalks that have been carefully laid on our towels, our pillows, and the bath mat, and settle down for the night.

Tomorrow we are heading North to the wine tasting district of Stellenbosch.

Signing off out of total exhaustion – The Soup Lady

Fiery Furnace – Must Do Hike at Arches NP


(OMG – another unpublished post just sitting in my draft folder. Well – better now then never I say)

Read about Arches – and you’ll read about Fiery Furnace – a 3 hour adventure hike into the fins, canyons, and crevases that are the Fiery Furnace. You can take the ranger lead version (which we did) by either signing up 90 days in advance – and paying your $15 – or you can take a chance on the ranger led version having space when you arrive. There are also numerous privately led hikes into the Fiery Furnance – smaller groups of folks led by qualified guides for lots more $$.

I knew when we’d be at Arches – and I knew we wanted to do this hike – so I opted for the Ranger led version – and signed up the requiste 90 days ahead. So worth it!

I’d orginally thought it would be Sophie – my husband – and myself. So I got 3 tickets. But my husband got scared by the description – they certainly don’t make this hike sound like a walk in the park – and he opted out. The good news – the description didn’t scare 9 year old Sophie one bit – and my friend Kit decided to join in! So the 3 of us rose early, ate a quick breakfast and headed out. One ranger – and 30 hikers made up our group. The composition was interesting – easily a majority of the hikers were from across the seas – Holland, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand – and of course France. Ok – we speak french, so it’s easy for us to spot folks from France – but even so – I’m thinking that if I did a visitor head count – I’d find that folks from France out-number visitors for all other countries – including the US! And I’m begining to feel like the token Canadians. I can count the Canadians I’ve met on one hand – minus 3 fingers!

But as usual – I digress.

We start the hike with a ranger check list – Welcome to the Park, Protect and Preserve, Bring and Drink Lots and Lots of Water, No leaving trash, No grafetti. We are at altitude – say something if you feel dizzy, see stars, get grumpy!

The first sign of dehydration is often grumpiness – some people have been dehydrated their whole lives…

Ranger Sue does a quick shoe check – yup, we all read the warnings and we are wearing proper shoes for the hike – and off we go.

A weather note – we are seriously lucky today. It’s cooled down a bit after last nights rain – it’s a decidedly moderate 90 – and there’s a bit of cloud cover. Should be great in the fins.

Sophie bounces to the front of the line – along with all the other younger folks on the hike. She’s the youngest – but not the smallest – so she feels like she fits right in – and she and the other kids set the pace behind the ranger.

The old folks – and that would be me – at 68 I’m the oldest on this hike – bring up the rear guard. The good news – there are 3 gentlemen in the group that take turns helping Kit and I navigate the steeper, deeper, narrower, more challenging portions. We scramble up stone faces, slide on our butts down rock slides stopping ourselves against carefully positioned stones – do a duck walk across a carvass – and wiggle our way thru some seriously narrow slits. It’s a hoot! I’m loving this! The beauty is simply astounding, when I take a moment to enjoy it! Fortunately, Ranger Sue is very aware of the old folks struggling in the back – and sends the kids off to explore a crawl thru arch while we get a chance to catch up with the crowd.

Once inside the fins, there are no obvious trail markers – although Ranger Sue clearly knows where she is going. And we pass at least 2 ‘private’ tours – headed in other directions thru the narrow canyons, winding stone faces, and arches that make up the Fiery Furnace.

Along the way – Ranger Sue takes time to talk a bit about the geology of the land – but mostly we are concerned with not falling, not slipping, not hurting ourselves!

When we arrive at a ‘room’ that Ranger Sue calls “Hidden Arch”, we take a breather, learn about the juniper, which apparently ‘self prunes’ to keep the healthy portions alive – and do a very cute exercise.

Ranger Sue says that there are 4 reasons folks come to Arches – To make Memories, To have an Adventure, from an Eco perspective, and for the Beauty. She asks us to divide up into those 4 groups – and probably not surprisingly – I’m in the Adventure group with all the younger folks! In thinking about it – it’s not really ‘Adventure’ that got me here – it’s the challenge. Can I still do this – and more importantly – for how much longer.

Challenge aside – this has been a wonderful 3 hours – I’ve decided that I’m still young enough to handle at least this much scrambling, wiggling, and rock climbing – and still have a smile on my face.

We get back to what passes as civilization in Arches – a pit toilet, a parking lot, and a sign showing information about the trail – and say thank you to Ranger Sue.

On to our next challenge – signing off for now – The Soup Lady

Glasgow – not so great – but I’m glad I visited


In thinking back on it – There was no way that Glasgow was going to compete with Edinburgh. Our new friends from last night had told us that we were going from ‘culture’ to ‘clutter’ – and they were of course correct.

Our Glasgow Air BnB is at best adaquate – and totally loses when compared to the palace that is Isaac’s and Derek’s pad in Edinburgh. It’s a tiny 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat in a forgetable building above a store that sells wall paper in an industrial part of Glasgow. The living/dining/kitchen space is tiny, and the only table is hogged by our host Neil’s computer. To add insult to injury, he’s ironing when we arrive – so there’s his laundry everywhere. I’ll give him credit for asking what food to buy for our breakfast, but he’s also clear that we are on our own. He works evenings into the night, and won’t be up in the morning. He also has no maps to give us, and can’t even make suggestions on places to visit. Still, he welcomes us warmly, and that’s a good start.

Our room is basic – a bed, a window, a tiny desk, and the best part – an en-suite bathroom. That and the location near the city center are the best parts of Neil’s place. Oh well – this is our 6th Air BnB in 30 days – I guess one had to be 4 star. And after Isaac and Derek’s place – I’m not sure what would be needed to be 5 star.

Surprisingly – Neil tells us that he’s fully booked – and the income from Air BnB pays his rent. Hmm.

Anyway – we make our selves comfy. After he leaves for work, we move the computer off the dining table, fold away the ironing board, and basically create a space we can at least enjoy dinner in! We walk up to a nearby grocery store, get the makings of a nice dinner – and decide to tour Glasgow in the morning. We’re done for today.

The next morning – our one and only day in Glasgow – we opt to start by finding me a place for coffee – and then decide to check out the Cathedral. After that – well – we’ll go from there.

Unlike all of our other locations, this one is mostly industrial and shopping – so no upscale coffee shop to be seen. We hike up hill towards the Cathedral, going thru the ‘university’ section – I’m thinking there is bound to be coffee for the students. And I’m right – there it is! A cute coffee shop, with take-away latte. Color me happy.

The tour of the Cathedral is wonderful. The guide (where do they find these people) is super knowledgable, and very easy to listen to, and the history is very neat. Our fellow tourists are a german choir – and at one point they ask to test the acoustics. Lovely – totally lovely.

We then walk across to the St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. Seriously – St. Mungo’s of Harry Potter Fame. St. Mungo was a real guy – and he’s the patron saint of Glasgow. The Museum is well worth a visit. There’s a fairly large section devoted to different religions, comparing how various religions treat the same ‘life’ events – birth, death, marriage, coming of age, etc. It’s fascinating. They do lump some religions into big groups – Jewish and Christian are just two groups, there’s no effort to distinquish between variances in these groups, and probably justifably. There is a lot more difference between Christian and Sikh say.

We then stroll thru the University Campus, and wend our way towards downtown Glasgow. We check out the bronze of the Young Queen Victoria in George’s Square, admire some of the truly incredible building designs – and we grind to a total stop to admire one building that features an absolutely huge abstract metal peacock running the entire city block. Naturally, we also visit the Lighthouse – Glasgow’s center for Architecture.

Soon enough, we’re back at our overly cozy pad for dinner, relaxing, and bed. Tomorrow we begin the long – and since I’m writing this after the fact – thankfully uneventful trip back home.

So ends our 31 days in the UK.

We visited at least 28 museums, stayed in 6 Air BnB’s, visited 7 cities (London, Oxford, Birmingham, Morecambe, York, Edinburgh, and Glasgow), met some amazingly interesting people, ate glorious meals, learned a lot of history, rode the tube, took the train, traveled on buses and even managed one uber taxi.

And we did it all UNDER our $3000 Canadian per person including all travel budget.

The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady rock another trip!

Signing off until the next time there’s something to report – The Soup Lady and her sidekick – The Intrepid Traveler.

Arches National Park – August 2016


Several LONG years ago I made a bucket list of all the things that I’d like to do before I die – or become so old and out of shape that I could no longer do stuff. One of my top items was visit all the US National Parks. In a motor Home. Camping. Taking my time to see them if not thoughly, at least as well as I could.

I know – so many problems with this as a bucket list item. First – time! These trips can’t be short – in and out – visits. By definition, if you have a motor home – you are a snail. And lots of the parks make it hard to drive around them in a house on wheels.

2nd – while many of the parks are located quite close together – they aren’t that close. So it not only takes time to see one park – it takes time to get from one park to the next.

And there were problems I hadn’t counted on. The first time we made an attempt to do this – we failed pretty badly. Which really is the subject of a blog all on its own. But this time – we did a lot better.

First – we allocated 3 weeks to just 5 parks. Already – this is a good move. 21 days, 5 parks – 4 days per park. Discount the travelling time – still 3 days per park. Should work, right. Well – here I am on day 7 – having done 3 parks – and I can tell you – you need more time. You need time to STOP. Don’t underestimate the need to stop. I’m wiped out – and as gross as this sounds – I’m really glad I’m in a non-primative campground with water, electricity, shade – and time to just write and think.

2nd – and this is huge – we not only rented a motor home – we rented a car! Yes it means that we are driving 2 vehicles between the parks – but that’s why they have books on tape, right. The advantages are huge. You want to go out for dinner – take the car. You want to drive the rim roads – narrow and winding as they always are in a National Park – leave the motor home safely parked at the visitors center – take the car! Huge advantage.

3rd – we knew that organization was key. You can’t do this and leave stuff here one minute and there the next. You will never, ever find it. Things need to have assigned places – and that’s where they will live for 3 weeks. Trust me – misplace your glasses – and you’ll be sorry for days!

So – on to Arches.

Important things to note – it’s August, it’s hot. And it rains. Don’t let them fool you – 100 degrees is hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. And you are going to need to drink water before you need to drink water. That’s the real challenge with walking Arches. You don’t feel thirsty – so you think – later. Then when you do feel thirsty – it’s a bit late.

As one guide quipped – the first sign of dehydration is grumpiness – Some people have been dehydrated most of their lives…

Another note – in August, in Arches – it’s crowded. Really mobbed. So avoid the major hikes, the major views, the major ‘highlights’. They are no fun shared with 500 of your best friends. The memorable moments here have been the ones we’ve done in our small group.

Best unknown hike – Brokern Arch and Tapesty Arch. Easy walks from the Devils Garden Campground – lots of parking – and no people! And no rules. You can climb up under the arch, take photos without limits – and probably not see another person. The begining of the hike is easy – if you don’t mind deep sand. You follow cairns (rock piles) from bend to bend until suddenly the arch appears out of nowhere. There are options for the return – you can retrace your steps – or you can opt for the more difficult and longer hike back thru the arch. We didn’t realize that the 2nd part would be longer and harder – but it was well worth doing – we scrambled thru fins of tall rock walls, climbed up stone steps, and generally were alone with the lizards. Such fun.

Best known hike – Fiery Furnace. You have to either sign up for the ranger led version months earlier – or pay a fortune to be guided thru the ‘Furnace’ by a commercial (but much more private) guide. It’s not a hike for the casual hiker – but it is fun! We learned to duck walk – one foot on either side of a carvass – to use both hands and feet to naviagate narrow passes – and had the option of doing a crawl thru. It was a hoot. And glorious beyond belief. If you have the time, have no fear of heights, and are in good shape – take a chance – take this hike. Oh – one more caution – you’ll need to be relatively thin. There are two narrow sections that just won’t work for wider folks – and you absolutely need good hiking shoes with grippy soles. And a hat, water, and suntan lotion.

Best ranger talk – We went to 2 of the ranger talks – and the best one was a total surprise. Called the Voices of Arches – it was a history of the 4 guys that did the most to protect and perserve Arches as a National Park that could be visited by thousands of folks in a single day. Well presented, and so interesting. Loved it.

Where to stay? We spent 3 nights in the National Park Campground right in the Park – 45 minutes driving distance from the Visitor Center. It was a relatively primitive campsite – no electricity or water hook-up, but it did have lovely flush toilets a short walk away, a picnic table, and magnificant views. One evening – the only clear one we’ve had so far – my 9 year old grand daughter and I just sat outside and admired the sky. The Milky Way arched over our heads, we could easily spot the jet liners criss-crossing out section of the world on their way to somewhere else – and we even saw several falling stars. This evening was well worth the price of admission. The red rocks were behind us, around us – and so close that you could reach out and touch them from the picnic table. That’s breakfast deluxe in my world. Sophie climbed and explored, and watched the lizard family next door go about their business of raising the kids. Rabbit sightings and Mule deer sighting were other highlights. Well worth the lack of showers, although the lack of AC was a challenge. It’s hot hot hot until the sun goes down, and it doesn’t really cool off till after midnight. And then of course it gets cold. But still – it was awesome.

So – one down – so many more to go!

Signing off to visit another National Park – The Soup Lady