Sunday, 30 April 2017

A week in Durban: Cocktails, coffee & bunny chows

Having spent over half of our year long trip in South Africa, it was becoming quite the excuse-ridden explanation on why exactly we hadn't got our ass' to Durban yet so, with the clock ticking, it was finally time.


Admittedly, our time in Durban started both sweatily and stressfully. After spending five days in Johannesburg, it was time to say another farewell and board the bus, with a particular sad (and soggy) Wimpy's bag in tow, ready and set for a six hour long journey to Durban. Having set off an hour late with no explanation, I feel like whoever is up there looking down upon us was either getting us prepared for what would turn out to be a hellish few hours or were simply punishing us for our sins of a past like because oh boy, it didn't get better.

Whizzing down small, narrow roads and steaming past lorries, trucks and pretty much any vehicle you could wish to list, the coach driver was in a real hurry to get to the destination quickly...or die, either or, take your pick. As the hours passed, the driver really had no qualms about road safety and apparently, didn't understand the idea of a large group of people in a confined space in a hot country because he also, in his bid to become the most hated man on the route from Johannesburg to Durban, turned the air conditioning off.

Just turned it off, no reason why, just thought 'hey, I'm a little cool and quite a large imbecile so...let's just turn it off for the crack'. I kid you not, as people were squabbling with their loved ones over who drank the last drop of water, a mother actually held her child up in the air, like Simba off the Lion King, to the pitiful air coming out of the ceiling as the father shouted down the aisle 'please give us some cold air, we're dying back here'.

I like to think I'm the most dramatic person around but unfortunately, this guy beat me. Kudos.

We all made it, hot but alive, to Durban and so of course, we can now relax, get to the hostel and enjoy, right? Mmmm, maybe for normal, organised people but what Rosie and I like to do is just add in a pinch of stress so of course, our phone has almost no data to book an Uber and we realise that neither of us even thought to find out the address of the hostel.

Imagine being us.

As the megabytes dwindled quickly, I bashed in the hostel name on Uber and begged for a Toyota to come and save us but of course, I'd stupidly allowed the app to guess my location instead of typing it in and just as I realised...my data ran out. Just fabulous.

Next step? We jump in an outrageously overpriced taxi, repeat the name of the hostel a few times and apologise for the stupidity of not knowing the address and sigh with relief when the driver knew exactly where we wanted to go. Yay! Woo! Score!

The relief was sighed until he stopped the car outside of the embassy and turned round expecting payment.

*Cue British people in a sticky situation*

'...Sorry, hi there, so sorry, sorry, but this is, sorry the embassy? Sorry, but we actually said Curiocity? You know, sorry, the hostel, called Curiocity? It's a, erm, big pink building, sorry...'

*crickets*

'You don't want to go to the embassy?'

'Hi sorry, no sorry, not the embassy, sorry.'

The three of us all look at each other for a few moments, unsure of our next steps until the driver (who I'm sure at this point wonders why he agreed to take these two idiots anywhere) decides to drive us to his friend parked up on the next street to see if he has a clue where this mystical place is.

We sit and wait for a few minutes as he chats to his friend outside the vehicle and suddenly, he jumps back in, screeching with laughter, exclaiming that of course he knows where that building is, why didn't we just say?

Moments later, the pink building is in sight and I've honestly never been happier to see bricks and mortar in my life. As we pay and tip the driver, all of us laughing because apparently this is what happens when deliriousness sets in, we grab our bags and practically run into the hostel...

And so our Durban adventures begin...


WHERE WE STAYED



If you've happened to read my Johannesburg posts, you will know that we love staying at Curiocity Backpackers and so when last year we found out they were expanding to Durban, we knew we had to go and check it out.

Curiocity Durban is a sleek and chic 'poshtel' which has the look and feel of a luxurious hotel without the painful price tag. With a calm, relaxed atmosphere, it's the perfect place to chill out after a day of exploring the city or sunbathing on the beach, particularly with it's fabulous central location.



In terms of the hostel itself, the facilities are perhaps some of the best I've stayed in on this entire year long trip, with incredible showers, modern kitchen appliances and both charging stations and lamps next to each bed. The bar is sleek and stylish and whilst it certainly has a different vibe to that of its' Joburg sibling, it's certainly putting Durban on the backpacking map.



If, like me, you're living a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget, Curiocity Durban is definitely the place for you.

The braai nights are also fabulous!

WHERE WE ATE
Durban is renowned for it's culinary wonders, and in particular its Indian cuisine and oh boy, people are not lying when they tell you how fabulous it is. At first, I was a little dubious at how much, in reality, I would really even begin to fancy a curry in such hot and humid temperatures but let me tell you, I somehow managed to pull through and pretty much eat one a day, if not more, so fear not, it is possible...



We ate A LOT of great food in Durban, like a lot, so I'm not going to bore you with the details of every single one (although that sounds like my idea of heaven but whatever) so I'll just indulge in a few highlights.

Of course, because we were on a strict budget, we somehow ended up at the number one rated restaurant...in the city...of Durban. Mali's Indian Restaurant is an unassuming and quaint little place and to say it's the top rated restaurant in the whole city, it's staggeringly affordable with main meals from as little as R70. The staff are so knowledgeable (my friend has a nut allergy and they were great about everything) and the food is in-bloody-credible - get the butter chicken and please do not hesitate to holla at me when you've devoured it and fallen in love.



Speaking of chicken, if you really aren't fancying a curry, Afro's Chicken is the best place to be for daytime lunching. Whether you're a strips and fries kinda person or feeling like your body is a temple with a chicken salad, you can't be disappointed this place, particularly when looking out onto the stunning seafront.



It may seek like all we seemingly did in Durban was eat, drink and then eat a little more, and you may be somewhat correct however after almost a week in Durban, I hadn't tried one single bunny chow and if you know, you know - it is not at all possible to leave this city without trying one. A bunny chow is basically a hollowed out load of bread with your curry dish of choice filled inside and yes, it is as delicious as it sounds. Accompanied with an ice cold beer, House of Curries really did a grand job with my first ever one and I highly recommend a trip.

WHERE WE DRANK
Durban is not the easiest city to navigate around when finding the best places to eat, drink and socialise however there are some pretty amazing bars and restaurants outside and if there's anything Rosie and I know what to source, it's alcohol.


There really is only one place to head for sundowners and that is Moyo Ushaka, a bar with floor to ceiling windows situated at the end of the pier. Drinking Cosmopolitans whilst watching the sun set over the city is a pretty perfect set up, and for the Sex & the City lovers out there, one sure make you feel like part of the sassy gang.

For a classy night of fizz and jazz in a bar rich in ambience, you must head to The Chairman in the city centre. To enter, there is a R150 charge per person however this is then used to pay for any drinks or food you buy so really, it's just what you'll spend throughout the night and it's so worth it. The environment is stunning, the vibe is really chilled and the service is absolutely world class - get dressed up and go!



As coffee addicts, we searched high and low in this city for a cup of the good stuff and after scrolling and scrolling, we found nothing... until we were walking aimlessly along a street in Morningside and happened upon Antique Cafe. Set back from the street in a quiet, leafy setting, this little, vintage cafe offers great quality coffee in an environment perfect for catching up with friends, working through your emails or grabbing a quick snack.

Whilst Durban didn't treat us particularly well with the weather, it's safe to say our tummies left the city extremely happily. It's perhaps not a city I'd rush back too however next time I visit, I would definitely hire a car as some of the gems of the Eastern Cape can only be found with your own wheels...


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Thursday, 20 April 2017

Travelling with your best friend (& how to bloody do it!)

Around three years ago, I started my first ever 'proper' job at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle; I can still feel the nerves I had as I walked to the office that morning, the sweaty palms as I introduced myself at reception, the tip tapping of my foot as I was told to have a seat as one of the managers came to get me. I was sat next to another girl, and as we both swiftly got to our feet as the manager greeted us, I realised that she was also starting alongside me too, as a Media and Communications Assistant.


Two weeks on...we'd barely spoken. I was painfully quiet, a little awkward and felt, quite frankly, completely out of my depth with the entire thing. With little to no experience in PR, simply a love of writing, rather than it being a trained skill and a significant lack of self belief, the whole situation was quite...a lot and just getting through each day without completely f**king up was my main priority, never mind making friends.

One day though, a new task was set upon us, as well as a new location, so in a small office just myself and the other 'new girl', I finally had to talk. She'll admit herself that for the first, I'm going to say, three days she did the majority of the talking and I nodded along and politely made painfully awkward small talk until, you guessed it, we went for a cocktail or three one night...and a friendship blossomed.

Two years later, and quite literally, to the exact day we sat together silently waiting on our first day, we met at Manchester Airport and flew off to Cape Town together, waving goodbye to the UK for a year. At the time, I thought nothing of it but now looking back, that decision to go travelling as a pair was a risk, and one that could have put our whole friendship in jeopardy.

You always hear the stories about friends who go travelling together and then a few years on, haven't spoken since a bust up midst trip, the stories about raging arguments that see travelling duos storm off in opposite flight paths and even the stories where despite nothing going particularly wrong on the trip, the friendship needs distance and time, and people are never as close again.

Honestly, the first time I thought about this was perhaps with a week to go when the nerves had set in and I was questioning everything. 'Holidays can change a friendship, never mind travelling' was perhaps in the top 10 things I heard leading up to the trip but... We'd been to Nice for 5 days last year and we didn't want to come home and I mean perhaps that had something to do with the hot sun and the incredible wine and the delicious foods but, still, we really weren't even close to running out of things to talk about so SURELY, this would be fine.


Maybe it's luck but maybe it's intuition because after 11 months, I can report that we are still talking every damn microsecond of the day, we are still finding each other absoLUTEly hilarious and unbelievably, we still aren't sick of each other. That's not to say there haven't been bumps in the road, because it would perhaps be utterly abnormal for there not to have been for this length of time but with the amount of tricky situations we've gotten into, it's safe to say we're still the best of best of friends.

We both get SO many questions about how the bloody hell we do it as we've travelled around, or how we 'found someone' to go travelling with and whilst it's pretty difficult to answer these questions because...we just did it, I thought I'd put together a few tips and tricks on how to not only survive travelling with your friend, but LOVE it too...

Let's get started!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Meet in the middle
You might be great friends but you are always going to be different in some aspect of how you live your life so try to meet in the middle. For example, I get to the airport 136 hours before the check in desk opens and still get stressed about missing the flight whereas Rosie can rock up an hour before take off and sit in the bar until the last call.. It's about thinking about the other person's habits, considering those as well as your own and meeting in the middle. (I now only book the Uber 30 minutes before is necessary to do so and she lets me drag her to the gate as soon as it's announced that it's open... Balance.)

Be honest
Chances are, you're going to annoy each other and sometimes you won't even know you're doing it. If you're good enough friends to go travelling together, you're comfortable enough with each other to just be frank and honest so instead of letting the little niggles become huge problems, communicate. There's a high probability that the other person won't even realise what they're doing is getting to you so just have a little chat, nothing formal or full on, but just let the person know how you're feeling (hint: a good friend isn't going to bite your head off for being honest).

Respect each other's space
Travelling can be intense sometimes, and when in transit, pretty stressful. For the most part, you are around new people a lot of the time and whilst this is one of the best aspects of travelling, it can be get a little draining. Everyone needs their own space and time to chill out on their own, or even with someone that isn't you and that is okay. It doesn't mean you aren't friends or that you hate each other, you're just being human beings.

Laugh…a lot

This is going to be a pretty fabulous trip and you’re so lucky to have found someone who you can make all these amazing memories with so ENJOY it. When you’re 85 years old and sat together with a bottle of something strong, looking back on this incredible time will be an absolute hoot so make the most of it, push each other to try things they haven't done before and revel in the freedom that you both have. LAUGH at each other, with each other, at yourself, at situations that occur - just let go and enjoy.


Don’t turn on each other in tricky situations

Whether you get stranded in the dark on top of a hill after watching the sunset and have to hitchhike home (never happened), your airport transfer doesn't show up or you’re driving around in the dark trying to find your hostel with a guy who cant understand your accent, don’t argue with each other. Whilst it might be stressful and sometimes a little scary, chances are that you’re both feeling that way and things always work out in the end. The most important thing to do is to not start arguing with each other because whilst it’s easy to shift the blame onto the one you’re closest too, these things happen whilst you’re travelling so don’t fret, try to prepare for these situations by being organised (11 months and still flying to the wrong airport though so says me) and have a laugh about it over a glass of wine once you’re safe and all is well.


Prepare to share…everything 
Yep, I don’t just mean the odd dress or pair of shoes and I don't even mean just the experiences, I mean everything. Clothes, make-up, emotions, illness, the lot - as long as it’s not men we’re all good, hey.

Let things go 
If you’re planning on travelling for a length of time, as good a pair of friends as you may be, you are going to snap at each other. We always take things out on the person we are closest too so sometimes so you’ve just got to buckle up, let them snap, take a few minutes out and go back to normal because 1) you’re going to do the exact same too sometimes and 2) it’s completely normal as a human being to do so. There is absolutely no point in taking those little snappy moments to heart because neither of you will mean it and if anything, it’s actually a testament to how strong a friendship you have that you can bicker and five minutes later be crying with laughter and/or tagging each other in memes.

Get ready for the weirdness
Perhaps this one is just for the psychos out there (where my homies at) but get ready for an abundance of weird inside jokes and songs and...noises that other people are just not going to understand. I don't know if it's the deliriousness of spending a lot of time in an aircraft, the quantity of alcohol consumed finally going to our heads or simply, two people who are a little weird coming together and embracing it. Who knows, but get ready...!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At the end of the day, what will be, will be and even if you are the greatest of friends, you simply might not be compatible to travel together…and that’s okay. You can be friends with people and have complete opposite habits which may make travelling together for a long time beyond impossible for each other - that doesn't mean the friendship is over.

For those of you wanting to travel with a friend, those currently planning your trip or those who are on the trip itself right now and just needing a little advice; my main, main, main thing I would say to do is COMMUNICATE. You HAVE to talk to each other, you HAVE to be honest, you HAVE to voice how you feel because otherwise it is not going to work. There have been times on this trip that after a few hours or days, one of us has mentioned something, not necessarily about each other, but about how they’re generally feeling whether it be about a place or about homesickness, and more often than not the other person has felt the exact same. What a relief it is and what a comfort it feels, when you finally pluck up the courage to be honest with both yourself, and your travel companion and they feel the same way. This person becomes the one you lean on whilst you're away from your other loved ones so let them in, let yourself lean on them and be there for the other too when they need it the most.



There have also been times where my friend and I haven't agreed, so what do we do? Walk off? Not talk for days on end? Nope, we’ve sat there and talked it out and even if it hasn't been the most simple of conversations, in the end, we leave that conversation laughing again, happy again and that’s the most important thing.

Travelling with a friend is one of the most amazing things you can do, and I feel so privileged and so lucky to have been able to share all of these amazing experiences with one of, if not my favourite, person in the world. One of the best parts about this trip has been the ability to share all these experiences and make these memories with someone and the few teeny tiny bumps in the road simply pale into significance in comparison to the amazing, amazing times we've had. I can tell story after story to family and to other friends about the things we've gotten up to on this and the things we've seen but in reality, there is only person who is going to truly know what I mean, truly know that story, truly understand and at the end of the day, that really is something to appreciate and treasure for the rest of my life.

Phewwwww, that was a long post! Have you travelled with a friend before? Are you planning too? Let me know in the comments your experiences - I'd love to hear your stories!

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Friday, 7 April 2017

Returning to Johannesburg

It’s funny to think that this time last year, whilst counting down the days until I stepped on a plane, looking back one last time at the UK for the next 12 months  that it wasn’t even slightly in my consciousness that I’d be setting foot in the city of Johannesburg.

‘Nooo, you don't want to even think about going there’, they’d say. ‘It’s really dirty and terribly dangerous, just fly in and fly straight out.'

‘Oh really’, I’d say, ‘Have you been?’

‘Well no but, that’s what people have told me so…you’d better stay away.’

11 months on and I’ve just left my favourite city in South Africa for the second time and oh boy, Joburg, you were just as vibrant as I remembered.


After feeling somewhat sluggish towards the end of March in Cape Town (perhaps a mix of pre-coming home dread and post-birthday celebrations), we jumped at the chance to venture on a 'holiday within a holiday', stopping off in Johannesburg, Durban and a handful of places along the Garden Route.

With of course, absolutely no planning whatsoever because if there's anything you might have learnt over the past 11 months about the way Rosie and I travel you know we like to make things particularly exciting difficult for ourselves, we started by boarding the plane...and landing at the completely wrong airport. Incredibly, this was only realised by the pair of us after we look at the 'fare estimate' on Uber and recoiled in horror so violently that the phone was almost nothing more than shattered glass on the tiled flooring.

A little curious as to where the flipping FLIP we had flown into, we headed to the Information Desk because of course, we could just hop on a bus or a train and be in the city centre in no time, right?

'Where is it that you would like to go, Miss', the receptionist asks.

'Just into the city centre please, we're staying in Maboneng', Rosie replies.

'Oh, you want to go to Johannesburg?', the lady asks, with a slightly confused look on her face.

Cue the question: Where the hell are we?

Memo to all fellow idiots out there: Lanseria International Airport is not Johannesburg Domestic Airport, sounds similar though, I know....

After an hour long trip in an Uber (please let's not dwell on the cost), we arrived back in Maboneng, the place where our love affair with Johannesburg all began and oh boy, it was just so good to be back.

WHERE WE STAYED

Source 


The Maboneng Precinct is an area of the inner city of Johannesburg which, over the past few years, has been developed and become a vibrant, exciting and creative area for both residents and tourists. With the main aim to 'revolutionise a significant portion of Joburg's inner city, affordable property has been sold/rented out to those from all walks of life and has created a creative hub of restaurants, bars, shops, accommodation and attractive public space.

Maboneng is one of the places which, if you immerse yourself in, will release those inspirational juices and let your ideas roam free.  It's creative and modern, exciting and friendly, arty and edgy - it's brimming with entrepreneurs, hustling 24/7 to get sh*t done and make it work. It's basically a place that ignites the spark within you to push forward with those remnants of ideas and possibilities that could be or should be, your future passion and business. It's a place that makes it seem possible when for so long it's seemed utterly impossible.





Of course, because we know a damn good thing when we see one, we stayed once again at Curiocity Backpackers and it just never disappoints. I wrote in much more detail how amazing this place really is here but basically if you're looking for a place to stay with passionate and friendly staff, a fun vibe and fabulous facilities, this place is where you need to be. For real.

WHERE WE ATE






Whilst we were there, we ate at some pretty fabulous places, mainly within the precinct, including Blackanese, which offer sushi with an African twist, Pata Pata, serving South African food including really fabulous meats and my personal favourite, Soul Souvlaki which cooks up incredible Greek food as well as perfect iced coffees at very affordable prices. As you probably know, I could go on and on...and on about food so I'm telling myself that I have to stop writing about the delicious Meze platter and the juicy Springbok burgers and the open sandwich with avocado, feta and sundried tomatoes and move on.

Ugh, the sushi.

Okay, moving on.

WHERE WE WENT


Source
If you hadn't already guessed, I'm kind of head over heels in love with Maboneng and I promise I did leave the precinct, including heading over to Bramfontein for nights out and cocktails and all that jazz but we finally managed to see the sunset at 12 Decades Rooftop Bar (where Curiocity have recently opened their sleek 'Curiopads'), a fab spot for those fancying a drink or 3 on a chilled out Sunday afternoon.

As we were here for such a short amount of time last year, this time around we made absolutely sure that we headed to the Apartheid Museum, which is safe to say, easily the most incredible and thought provoking museum I've ever been too. As you arrive and pay the entrance fee, you are handed a randomly selected ticket which decides whether you are to enter the museum through the 'Whites Only' gate or the 'Non-Whites' gate. It is impossible to imagine what living through that time must have been like however it is such an effective, engaging and thought provoking way to begin a visitors experience at the centre and one that I'll never forget.

There is also currently an incredible temporary exhibition celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela,  presenting his childhood, his personal life and just how pivotal a person he was to South Africa's epic struggle against Apartheid. For me, one of the most startling aspects when walking around this museum is realising just how new this history is - when reading about the events that occurred, it's almost unbelievable just how little time there has been since this time, thankfully, came to an end and whilst I can only speak as a visitor who loves this country so much, it's a testament to the people how far this incredible place has come already. If you are heading to Johannesburg anytime soon, make this place a priority - you won't regret it.

They say 'time flies when you're having fun' and that phrase couldn't ring more true for the ticking clock in Joburg. After a glass of red wine and a couple of puffs of sheesha too many, it was time to hit the road, sadly say goodbye and venture on to Durban (via a shocker of a bus journey), but more on that soon...


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