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On the 16th December last year, I did a post called “Tell me about Malta”. You  can find it here if you missed it: https://chevvy8.com/2016/12/19/tell-me-about-malta

I’m happy to say that while it was still a wish at the time to travel to Malta, the airline tickets are paid for, the accommodation is booked and we’ll be making that dream come true in December this year.

But the dream grew beyond Malta. I’ve never been to Italy and since we live in the Southern hemisphere, celebrating a Winter Christmas has its allure. Of course I’m well aware that we will not be caught in the bustle of tourists and with weather being as unpredictable as it is these days, we should be prepared for a very different picture to the one above and below:

The Basilica of San Marco, St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy

It is more likely that we’ll see more pictures like these below:

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Venice in Winter 1

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So today I am interested to hear from those who have visited Venice in Winter. Tell me about Winter in Venice. What can we expect? What are the best things to do in Winter and how should we best prepare for cold and rainy weather. We’ll be staying within walking distance of the city and close to St. Mark’s Basilica.

I look forward to your comments  about the “City of Water”, The City of Masks”, The City of Bridges, “The City of Canals” in the comments section and of course, you can look forward to a post on this trip when we get back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first encounter with London was in 2006 en route to my home following a magical week in New York. I arrived in London on a Saturday Morning with about 10 hours to spare. Passing through Heathrow on my way to New York had been a harrowing experience given the rush to catch my connecting flight, the vast sprawl of the airport and unfriendly airport staff. I was determined to enjoy my trip back and I did.New York 067_1024

Something which is probably taken for granted in developed countries is that of commuting on a tube. I was fascinated by the whole culture around trains when I first passed through London in 2006 – an experience which is still relatively new in my country where many of us still  use private vehicles or other modes of public transport and get stuck in traffic for hours. I loved the convenience and speed of the tube and the leisure to read or listen to music if you were travelling a distance. I was amazed at the sounds of a diversity of nationalities, races, languages and accents around me, convinced that most people on the train were from other countries. At the same time, it concerned me that many people were plugged into their ear/headphones and tuned out to everyone around them. As a visitor, I found this quite alienating.

Nevertheless, gazing out of the window and watching scenes go by, I caught a whiff of nostalgia. Coming from a former British colony, I was reminded of scenes from books I had read in my first grade from the Bobbies on the beat to the smoking terracotta chimney tops, I was taken back to the innocence and naivety of childhood.

It was the strangest thing to emerge from the underground and find myself here at Piccadilly – one of the streets dating back to medieval times.

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The first site to catch my eye was a big Virgin store spanning about 4 floors of music and other electronic goods. With the digitisation of music, the store is no longer there but at that time, for a music lover like me, I could have spent the whole day there.The music that was belting out on high volume in the store was that of Mercan Dede, a Turkish musician who was en vogue at the time. Of course, I bought the CD and here is one of my favorite songs, the song that was playing as I walked into the store:

After stopping nearby for a wholesome English Breakfast, my next stop was a Waterstone bookstore. It offered six floors of a book lover’s dream. I always loved the smell of new books but the kindle and audiobooks have long since changed my reading habits. Still, at the time, I walked out happily with my stash of books.

My next venture was to get a ticket for the hop on and off buses and take in a bit of sightseeing:

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I loved the beautiful  gothic architecture and artwork of West Minister Abbey. This is the place where many monarchs have been crowned and married.

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Having just left the yellow cabs in New York, it was interesting to find this contrast of the black cab:

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I guess from a very early age I knew about Big Ben and The London Bridge from our fairytales so it was good to check out the real thing:

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Alongside Big Ben is the British Parliament below:

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The River Thames has been Muse to a number of famous poets. So I loved trying to imagine what those bards imagined as I passed beneath the famous London Bridge that has survived a number misfortunes to still tell the tale.

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23993_1024 Situated on the River Thames is the Coca Cola London eye which stands 40 m high. Below, is a close-up of the individual capsule that makes up the wheel :

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Hyde Park which comprises 350 acres of lush green space looked like a worthwhile destination to visit more leisurely.

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Join me next week for my next edition based on later visits to London. Thank you for reading along and your comments are welcome.

For those who tell you that Cancun is a piece of paradise, believe them – it’s true. It is indeed awesome when you have an excuse to work amidst such scenic beauty. As usual though, I only got a glimpse of the pleasure since my colleague and I were attending a conference there. I guess there is no need to complain if you almost sit on the beach while having breakfast every morning. Who would feel like working after this though?

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Cancun is certainly paradise for beach lovers and sun worshippers. I find its fine white beach sands and its translucent blue waters very alluring and very exotic compared with our own rolling surfing waves. Cancun is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and thrill-seekers. Add to the scene this sunrise:

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And a stroll on the beach:

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We stayed at the beautiful Moon Palace. One of the great surprises for me was to find that my room had a Spa bath in the centre of the room. I had the perfect mood music to accompany such luxury.

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Less than two hours from Cancun is the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve, a protected, unspoiled  natural wonderland. It also has one of the world’s largest coral reefs, and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System which is located in the Caribbean waters off the shores of the Yucan Peninsula.

I love historical sites and would have loved to see the old Mayan ruins but time did not allow. Here is a picture of  Chichén Itzá. It is a world-famous complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the 6.5-sq.-km. ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. Graphic stone carvings survive at structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls.

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The little time we had, we spent shopping for music (not complaining about that) and visiting the local market which sold beautiful Mexican cotton shirts.

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I’d say this is another honeymoon destination, not one I could easily afford if I had to pay for it. Still, I always believe that there is no harm in dreaming. In the meanwhile, I think Chris Rea’s “On the Beach” is an apt conclusion. Thank you for reading and dreaming with me.

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During the 1920s and 1930s Shanghai became known as “The Paris of the East, the New York of the West”.[18]Shanghai was made a special city in 1927. From 1930 the city’s industrial and financial power  mushroomed. Transitioning from the old Shanghai which is almost non existent now, initial architectural style was modeled on British and American design.

This is what the modern day  Shanghai skyline looks like :

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I visited Shanghai in 2010 shortly after the end of their 2010 Expo and the picture below is among the first that I took.

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I stayed at the beautiful Pudong Shangri-la Hotel. As a Business Tourist, it’s great to have a comfortable stay as depicted in the great room I had – well set up both for comfort, relaxation and working.083_1024

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The view from my window looked out on the Yangtze river and everyday was a reminder that I was at the centre of an economic hub and “high” density living.Here are some views from my room:

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Of course it was great that there was a shopping mall just across the road from the hotel and yes, I spent much of my available time there. Shanghai carries all the famous international brands (many being manufactured here) but I also found brands that I was unfamiliar with and to this day, some of these remain my most prized possessions.

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One of my favourite purchases was a beautiful Chinese tea set. This started a whole new practice of collecting a range of fragrant herbal teas some of which open up as flowers. I have found a that it is an almost spiritual experience to sip tea brewed in pretty cast iron tea pots and I have select friends that understand that spiritual experience of enjoying good conversation while inhaling the fragrance  and sipping from those beautiful little cups of tea.

I am in fact reminded of this quote:drink-your-tea-slowly

Shanghai has no shortage of really tall buildings each competing to be taller than the other:

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I was lucky enough to attend a special dinner on the 89th floor of the building below. We were served a 20 course meal ( small portions of delicacies though I had no idea what I was eating) There was a floor above us where a party was in full swing and of course I found my way there (by accident haha!)

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I recall as we left the building late that night ( a Thursday night) – watching disco lights flashing from the top floor of another dizzingly tall building and wondering how those people managed to party so late on a weekday.

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On a walk to the Yangtze river on a Saturday afternoon, I remember watching an old lady painstakingly sweeping up dirt off the streets and the picture above illustrates how clean the city is despite the density. One drawback of such density and economic activity is the pollution. It took a number of days for me to get clearer pictures. Still I enjoyed my stay and would happily return.

Thank you for reading and join me in Hong Kong next week.

In keeping with the theme of love and romance for this month, I thought I’d showcase  Mauritius which is a favourite destination for honeymooners. Since this was a business trip for me, I’ll have to paint the picture of romance as I see it. I appreciate that the notion of romance will mean different things for different people.Personally, my favourite romantic destination is still Paris. However,there are other reasons to punt Mauritius as one of the favourite destination for lovers.

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Mauritius which was a  once a French colony followed by British rule, gained its independence from Britain in 1968.Situated 1200 miles south east of Africa in the Indian ocean, it is considered part of Africa. It has a subtropical climate and a population of under 2 million people. While sugar cane farming has been the cornerstone of the economy, real estate and tourism have rapidly risen. The beautiful beaches and sea related sports such as snorkelling among the coral reefs would be among key attractions for visitors.

Now if you are a honeymooner, your hotel room will be an important feature of your stay so I thought I’d share some views of my room (sigh) The balconies have views of the ocean and palm trees.

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And when you’re looking to take a long soak in the bath tub, watching a bit of television or listening to a music channel or taking a shower together, the bathroom is pretty neat.

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If you would like to take midnight walks through enchanting pathways, take a dip in the pool, swim in the ocean or take long strolls on the shore, there’s romance for you.

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If you’d like to sip cocktails as you lounge around or eat your dinner on the deck while you look out at the ocean and see it majestically change hue and ambience as the sun sets, take a look for yourself.

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For some evening entertainment, watch the Sega dancers do their courting dances to the rhythm of African drums as you are served a cocktail menu on a freshly swept beach. For me that fire burning on the shore was just another feature to symbolise the passion of the night.

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And when you come up for air from the romantic rendezvous, if you are a diver or snorkeller, here is what you could see of the coral reefs.

The native language of Mauritius is Creole. English and French are the other main languages spoken. I always associate my visit to Mauritius with the beautiful music of  Viktor Lazlo – great mood-setting music.  Enjoy the trip and thank you for  viewing,reading and listening.

For those of you who follow my travel posts, it’s important to note that more often than not, I’m a Business tourist. This means limited time and grabbing snapshots of experiences, especially those which are different from my home country. Among my favourite past times is, shopping, capturing a bit of history and architectural designs , visiting significant landmarks,tasting local cuisine and observing similarities or differences between countries.

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The picture above is taken in Hauptbahnhof, Europaplatz – a very long street that leads to the central train station in Berlin. Of course my main stop that late afternoon was at the Galleries Lafayette, a department store where the main attraction for me was the ample floorspace of music. This was in 2011 when CDs were still en vogue. I just loved the fact that most music was digitally loaded and with a press of a button you could load up and listen to your favourite CD or track. Of course I also loved the cozy ambience created by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong beaming  from the overhead speakers. I remember losing track of time so that I had to walk in the dark, guessing my way back to the hotel to join my colleagues for dinner. Though I felt safe walking on my own in the dark, I’d suggest being more cautious these days.

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Seeing a tram and riding one in Berlin was a new experience for me. Trams were phased out in our country in the early 80s.

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The picture above reminds me of how much we walked in Germany. And if you are tired of walking, you can grab a bicycle parked on various accessible sites and cycle to your next destination. We’re still in the early days of integrating our transport system so that it works for all road users and reduces car traffic congestion. To be honest, it was tiring for many of us to hop on and off trains, trams,buses and walk so much. Heck, I haven’t ridden a bicycle for many years and wasn’t about to take chances in a foreign country.

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One of our visits was to the “red brick” Berlin city hall. The neo-Renaissance building with rounded arches was built along with three courtyards in 1861. Below is a snapshot of some of the beautiful decorative stained glass windows and the entrance staircase to floors above.

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Taken from the rooftop of the Berlin city hall is the picture below of one of the largest protestant churches in Berlin, the Berlin Cathedral, otherwise referred to as the Berliner Dom.

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More views of the Cathedral and surroundings below:

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Interesting Architecture in Berlin

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These buildings in Potsdamer Platz are located at the center of where the Berlin Wall  once stood. A brick line cuts through the square indicating where the wall used to stand. Our reason for visiting was also  to do some shopping. We soon realised that Germans take their Sundays very seriously as a day of rest – another learning for us where our own shops are open everyday of the week.

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So, instead of shopping, we joined the locals in watching a paraplegic cycling  race.

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Of course we had ample opportunity to test German cuisine and feasting on this kind of food helps to see why you need to walk a lot in Germany.

Thank you for reading and join me next week as I cover a trip to China.

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I had just completed reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Douglas Kennedy. The book, The Moment, is a haunting Romance  set “amidst the stunningly atmospheric portrait of Berlin in the final dark days before the Wall came down” (extract from book summary)

So it was serendipity when I was invited on a Business trip to Berlin about 5 years ago. I couldn’t wait to walk the streets of this piece of dramatic history, trying to capture all I had imagined while reading my novel . Join me  as I walk you through some of the streets of Berlin, my experiences and observations. I must state up front that I loved modern day Berlin and we all had a great time especially  since we visited in Summer.

 

This street leads to Check Point Charlie which was the name given by Western Allies to the main crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991).This was the wall which controlled emigration between East and West Berlin and controlled and separated many families and friends.

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Many years later, it’s part of a tourist adventure to pose for a photograph at this entrance which was once the source of pain and hardship for many.

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Below is a sample of passports combined in a collage  which I discovered in a shop along this street. It symbolises the control and passport to life in those bitter-cold years.

img_3723_1024 For some, the Berlin Wall was one of the most abominable structures ever built.Over its 28 years of existence, it was decorated with political slogans,paintings, declarations of love and served as a form of protest. Below is a remnant of the wall. Such remnants became a collector’s item after the fall of the Wall in 1989.

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The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument in Berlin and one of the best-known landmarks of Germany. A beautiful sight when lit up at night , the gate  was initially designed to showcase freedom and triumph. Though still a great attraction, the Brandenburg Gate became intimately entwined with times of intense turbulence including it’s significance in the cold war and the Berlin Wall.

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In place of the old Berlin Wall, a memorial wall was established  to depict the history of the wall and what it stood for. I watched on that Saturday afternoon as  someone cried uncontrollably while reading the stories on that wall – over 20 years after its fall.

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Fortunately, change eventually comes and I like to think that the picture below, on the other side of the memorial wall, represents a picture of the modern day liberty and fun in the sun in Berlin. I stopped here to enjoy a delicious Currywurst roll, soak up the sun and admire this makeshift piece of beach heaven and haven.

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Not too far away, I found this colourful block of buildings, though near to Checkpoint Charlie, far removed from the grey hardship and bleak history of what  was once East Berlin.

img_3736_1024 I love stories with good endings. Join me next week for more street walking in Berlin.Thank you for reading and you are welcome to comment.

 

 

 

New York 069Oh how I have a yearning to go travelling again and  I’m putting it out there among the stars – Hear me now! Anyway, to placate myself, I thought I’d revise a post I did on my trip to New York. This is taking me back a few years but the memory is still fresh in my mind. I find it interesting how taxis typify a place. So I just loved the sight of these yellow cabs.

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I had taken a flight from London to New York and this was my first experience of shifting timezones. Though I had already travelled over 16 hours, arriving in New York with the clock turned back by 6 hours, I was thrilled that I could hop on and off these taxis and pack in as many shopping hours as I could before our conference started. Yes it was at the Waldorf – I couldn’t afford to stay there otherwise.

It’s funny how we all assume that all Americans have been to New York – there are 52 states in the U.S. so there’s a great chance that many Americans have never been to New York. Similarly, I found shop assistants who were so thrilled to meet me and ask me if I knew what’s his face from Nigeria or  the Congo – there are 54 countries in Africa and I’ve only been to 4 of them. Heck, even in my own country, many people live their whole lives never having been to another city or province – we have 9 provinces.

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The first opportunity, I got, I snuck out during a break in our sessions and whizzed down Fifth avenue to get the best view of New York from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

It’s a very fast ride to get you to the top of the Empire State building which, much like the Eiffel Tower, gives you a 360 degree view of the city.

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With such tall buildings and high density living, it is no wonder that this is considered to be the city that never sleeps.During the night, the sounds keep coming at you, the yawning and creaking of the tall buildings, the constant beep of the cabs, the rumble of elevators, the constant whistles of the doormen at all hours of the night, the garbage removal trucks cleaning the city at night- I was fascinated by it all.

 

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Between the buildings you can see bits of central park below.

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I have a tryst with a friend to meet up one day on the banks of the Hudson River based on a dream she had.

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The Rockerfeller Centre

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I remember watching the lady in the black coat spinning in the centre of the Ice Rink and she looked like  my idea of freedom.

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Walking down Fifth Avenue, I found myself standing next to Danny de Vito at the traffic light, for those who remember him – a famous movie star in his day.

The other attraction for me was visiting a Starbucks and watching the coffee culture of New York. The notion of “doing coffee” is still relatively new in these parts. Our very first Star Bucks  franchise was opened last year and caused quite a stir.

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I also loved how well dressed everyone was and seeing someone in real life dressed in a Wall Street suit  walking with a cup of coffee and hot dog off the street vendor was an experience very different from our own. In my city  our business districts are decentralised and we entertain and shop in localised shopping malls.

I still long to visit Times Square to see the new year in.

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The highlight for a colleague and I, was getting tickets to the famous Blue Note  Jazz club in Greenwich village which has played host to many famous Jazz musicians since it opened in 1981. It was also a novel experience to find ourselves sharing a table with strangers from four different continents and having fun with our collective awkwardness.

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Of course one week of visiting this great city in my spare time was not enough to paint a complete picture so there has to be a next time. Someone told me that you could lose your heart in New York city so beware! 😀

I guess, this video covers what I couldn’t.

thumb_img_5479_1024Last year at the beginning of 2016,our family did a road trip of 1600 kilometres to the coastal area of the Western Cape. The road trip itself is an amazing experience as you pass through the changing landscapes of four provinces including corn farmlands, the almost desert-like, but beautiful Karoo, then the beautiful lush winelands, mountains and beaches of the Cape.

With less time and money and the stresses of 2016, we decided to go for the Bush experience this year -2017. A week away from busy city life and just 200 kilometres away from home takes you into the haven of a Bushveld experience in the Limpopo province which is also famous for its natural hot spring baths.

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This view from the balcony of our chalet is home to all manner of creatures, most notably the Big Five including the Lion, Elephant,Leopard,Rhinoceros and Buffalo. Besides many species of birds and other wild animals, the Mabalingwe Reserve is also home to a number of snakes which personally, I wouldn’t want to meet on any day – these include the Black Mamba, the Mozambican spitting cobra and the Puff adder.

But my own enjoyment of the Bushveld is its immaculate silence. As soon as we stood on the balcony, the Bush seemed to demand that we honour its silence. It is an initial shock to the system to suddenly feel abandoned by the normal sounds of traffic,sirens and everyday household sounds of appliances and electronics.

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Of course this is not to say that the Bush does not have noise of its own.There are all manner of insects buzzing and competing to be heard, there’s the random squawking of bigger birds and the choir of many others. Still, these sounds do not compare with urban living.

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Within a few hours, burdens fall off your shoulders and you become part of the magnificence of creation as  you succumb to the tranquility that invites you to surrender to reflective thinking or no thinking at all. Sip on your cocktail, beer or whiskey, savour the crisp warm evening as you eat your meal off the outdoor braai (barbeque) and look up at the myriad stars in the pitch black night skies.

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One of the highlights for me, was joining an early morning drive to watch the Lions being fed. While the other animals roam around freely, the Lions and black spotted Hyenas are kept behind enclosures for obvious reasons.thumb_img_6214_1024

I guess there’s no getting away from male dominance when I watched King Lion have his own big share of meat while Mother Lion shared hers with her cubs. He swaggeredd off to have a drink of water and then resumed his lazy dominion of the territory.

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Much as I’ve seen the Giraffe many times, I’m still amazed at the proportions of this animal.

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If its a rekindling of your soul or the kind of rest you need where time moves unobtrusively and the surround sounds of nature cocoon you from the concerns of the outside world, a Bushveld experience is highly recommended.

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