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Winter Break Conclusion

After taking a LONG time to post all of the parts to this amazing trip, the posts are coming to an end so I can move onto my next trips.

As you have read, this was an amazing trip.  It was busy, but that is how I tend to like it. Everyone that spends a good deal of their life traveling struggles with the distinction of being a traveller or a tourist.  I am no different and spent some time thinking about this conundrum on this trip. The conclusion that I came to is that I am a traveller and a tourist, and am okay as both. I will not, nor will anyone, see everything in this world. There is something to be said about spending a lot of time in one place, really getting to know its heart and soul. This was not that kind of trip.  Instead, I saw as much as I could in the time, getting a taste of the place, a better understanding of what goes on in Southern Africa as well as a part of Europe that I have not spent that much time. I do not know these places, and probably never will, but I do know that I want to return to see more of them, to feel the African sun on my face and to taste the flavors that the culture has created.

This trip was full of luxury that I was able to experience through the amount of travel I have done over the last few years. Thousands of frequent flyer miles and an understanding of the rules of these programs got me a business class ticket for almost nothing, at least that I paid specifically for this trip.  Hotels were covered the same way and allowed me to experience a great level of service at a fraction of the cost that most guests pay. That is not to say that I didn’t spend much money, just that I was able to spend it on great experiences and a few pieces of artwork that will allow me to have a reminder of this trip for many years to come. This is not to brag, but instead to say how accessible an experience like this is for anyone to experience. If you are interested in finding out exactly how, please email me or comment below and I will do the best I can to give you the information to make a trip like this possible for you. I have found that the most difficult thing to find is not money to cover the trip, but instead the time off to see the world.

Each place I visited offered something unique, something amazing. The wildlife in Botswana, the food, wine and sights in South Africa. In Zambia and Zimbabwe the spectacular majesty of Victoria Falls is not found anywhere else in the world, which made the thrill of rafting the river and flying over the falls in my first helicopter ride that much more unique. In Turkey, the culture and devotion of the muslim people combine with it’s unique place between the East and West to offer amazing sights and amazing food. This was followed up with an amazing time seeing Budapest, which offered amazing sights that were reminiscent of others in the West, but completely their own. Each of these places combined to make an amazing trip, one that will go down as one of my favorites that I have taken up until now.

Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Two
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
South Africa’s Food
Cape Town
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Hungary
Conclusion

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Hungary

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Hungary is off the beaten track in Europe. Budapest, For a major capital with amazing sights, it is not thought of in quite the same way Paris, Rome or London is.  This means that for less money and dealing with fewer crowds, you can experience impressive sights, that, at least to me, rank as some of the most beautiful in the world.

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Budapest straddles the Danube River, dividing the city in two. Linked by a number of impressive bridges, including the iconic Chain Bridge, the two sides Buda and Pest offer plenty to fill your days, but offer subtle differences. Upon arrival, you will naturally find yourself congregating near the river, where each bank is lined with impressive architecture. On the Buda side yours eyes are drawn to the Royal Palace, while the Pest side showcases Parliament.

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Budapest at New Year’s is a busy, festive time of year with an overlap between the Christmas markets and the normal New Year’s excitement.  It also means that a fair amount is closed down during the days I stayed there.  That said, the city offers plenty to do; quality museums, a walkable area close to the river and plenty of great dining options.  When you think of fine cuisine, Hungarian probably does not enter your mind, but the meals I had were excellent.  The staples, meat and potatoes are the base of most meals but still with some variety. Meat is cooked in many different ways and complemented with potatoes and side dishes like goulash.  In addition to the meat, the Viennese coffeehouse culture is also alive and well, highlighted by the impressive New York Cafe.

All in all I found Budapest to be an amazing, but surprising city.  One that I had been recommended to visit, but perhaps hesitant to commit to.  It is worth the time and effort, however, and makes a much less expensive destination than better known capitals in Western Europe.  While I only had three days there, the architecture and city as a whole would give you far more than that to explore.  The food and wine complement the sights and make for an inviting destination a short flight from the other, more expensive, European capital cities.

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The Hungarian wine culture goes back for centuries, but remains less celebrated than France or Italy.  As a results, bargains are found everywhere, with exceptional wines going for a fraction of the cost of their Western European counterparts.  Walk into any grocery store and you will find an excellent bottle of Pinot Noir for under $10.  Know what you are looking for and you can find stunning bargains.  There are great wine bars and wine shops found throughout Budapest and the rest of the country.  There are also a few wine producing regions within a few hour train journey of Budapest.  I took a day to explore one of these, Eger.

The city itself is a quintessential small European town, with most of the commerce and life centered around the central town square. I arrived on New Year’s Day and unfortunately most of the city was closed for the holiday so I didn’t get to experience as much of this quaint city as I had hoped.  I did get to taste some of the wine that the region produces, including the iconic Bull’s Blood.  Everything I had was excellent and was on par with the other wines I had on this trip.

Hungary is worth a visit, not just for the charms of Budapest, but also for what the rest of the country has to offer.  It is a diverse place, that has held up well over the years.  The costs are lower than in many other places in Europe, but the sights are just as impressive.

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Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Tw0
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
South Africa’s Food
Cape Town
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Hungary
Conclusion

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Istanbul

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Istanbul is one of the most atmospheric cities in the world, a place where you can just be.  There are the famous sights that are worth a visit, the palaces, the Hagia Sophia, the impressive Mosques, the Grand Bazaar and the Bosphorus, but there is so much more to Istanbul than these.  The food, the people, the city; each combines to create a place where you can just be, that feels different, right and amazing all at the same time.  A place where you can get lost in the back alleys before stumbling on a view of the Strait, or at the doorstep of an architecturally amazing mosque or into a kebab shop that makes the best food in the world.  It is all found in Istanbul.

Sitting at a cafe in Istanbul, the call to prayer echoes out across the streets at dark.  It is still bright, but the sun has fallen below the horizon, sending Muslims in the direction of the mosques to partake in one of the tenants of their faith. While officially secular, Turkey is a deeply Muslim country.  Regardless of your religious affiliation, all but the most dogmatic have to be moved by the ritual of all religion, the devotion that followers have to their creed.

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It is scenes like this that complement the tourist track; the sights and history that draws so many visitors to Istanbul and makes the city so unique.  Once you have checked off the major sites in Istanbul, it is time to explore, to walk around and soak up the atmosphere of the city.  The food remains a mainstay, but there is so much else to discover.  For so much of its history, Istanbul (or Constantinople or any of the numerous other names it has gone by), the city was a trendsetter, the leading city in the world.  This is a title that they are slowly reclaiming.  Today, Turkey is a bridge between the west and the Muslim world, both geographically and ideologically.  It is bidding to host the Olympics and is a rising power in many other areas.  This includes art, where Turkish artists have gained more and more prestige.  Many local works are featured at the world class Modern Art Museum.  While there, make sure you take the time to eat at the restaurant that, in addition to a great menu, features some amazing views over the Bosphorus towards the old city.

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Istanbul is a city that you will not get to know in a few days, or perhaps even a life.  It’s legacy is so long, so convoluted that the time you spend there gives you just a taste.  It is a city that feels new, feels exciting which is amazing given the history that surrounds you at every step.  There is so much more excitement here than in Rome.

My time was short on this trip, but it was a great reminder just why I like Istanbul so much.  The food was just as amazing, the people as friendly and the sights as amazing as I remembered.

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Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Two
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
South Africa’s Food
Cape Town
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Hungary
Conclusion

Wine in South Africa

In the Western Cape, a short drive from Cape Town, vineyards and wine regions are everywhere.  Constantia sits opposite Table Mountain from Cape Town, with the vineyards crawling down the backside of the Mountain.  A bit further out, Stellenbosch is just as stunning, with the vineyards making their way, one after another, from the Stellenbosch Mountains to the coast.  Venturing further east, on the other side of the mountains lies Franschoek, the culinary capital of the area and home stunning vineyards that seem to never end.  Slightly further out, over yet another mountain range, you have Hermanus, famous for the whales that breach every year in sight of the coast.  If you follow the winding route  320 to the Hemel an Aarde Valley you get to maybe the most spectacular setting of all, with the vineyards hugging the sides of the valley, looking out towards the Indian Ocean. These spectacular areas make up my favorite place in the world, the Cape Winelands.

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All things being equal, this is where I would spend all of my days, sipping the amazing wines produced here, soaking up the sun and just reflecting on the amazing vistas.  It is a place that any wine lover, food love, art lover, beauty seeking person should visit.  Yes, it is far, but it is spectacular.  A place as stunning as anywhere else in the world.

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There are enough vineyards within a few hours drive of Cape Town to fill weeks of your time.  I had done a fair amount of research in the time leading up to my trip but was unable to make it to half of what I had hoped.  Even still, I made it to over twenty vineyards, falling in love once again with the wines and geography of the area.

My favorites of the trip were Constantia Uitsig, Southern Right, Creation, Ataraxia and Grand Provence, though I am pretty sure you will be able to find at least one wine you will like anywhere you taste in South Africa.  Constantia Uitsig remains a home to my favorite wines in South Africa, the place I have started my tastings at on each of my trips to South Africa.  Their Semillon is a standout, but is far from their only fantastic wine.  The staff at their tasting room is extremely friendly and knowledgeable, making the visit a great way to start off your tastings. These wines are unfortunately hard to find, as the majority are sold on site and to a few distributors in Europe.  While I think every wine drinker should have the chance to experience Constantia Uitsig, you will have to take advantage of any time you come across a bottle.

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The entire Constantia region has some great finds, and is the closest region to downtown Cape Town.  Other favorites are the famous Vin de Constance at Klein Constantia, a dessert wine that Napoleon enjoyed and reborn as a great wine that typically receives some of South Africa’s highest ratings. Right next to Constantia Uitsig is Steenberg Vineyards, home to one of the most stunning tasting rooms in the area and the fantastic restaurant, Bistro 1682. I have eaten here twice and both time it was fantastic.

Venturing a bit further out from Cape Town, you come across Stellenbosch and Franschoek.  This is home to one of the most famous South African Universities and one of the original homes of viticulture in South Africa.  The wineries I tasted here were good, but outside of Grand Provence there were no standouts. Grand Provence is a vacation all in itself. With a tasting room, restaurant, bed and breakfast as well as an art gallery, all set in the Franschoek Valley.  The stunning setting also features some amazing wines.  When you visit, make sure to take the time to browse the art gallery for some interesting works by many leading South African artists. After spending a few hours there, I wanted to buy the whole place and live the life of a wine maker, restaurant owner and art collector.  The good life for sure.

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Finally, the third region I visited was the Hemel-en-Aarde valley near Hermanus.  This is more of a day trip than an afternoon stop, but still worth it if you have the time in Cape Town. Hermanus is traditionally better known for whale watching, but is fast becoming known for the wine produced here, including Hamilton Russell, one of the best known winemakers in South Africa.  The wines were excellent, but the real highlight was the tasting rooms. My three favorites were Atraxia, Creation and Southern Right, all for different reasons.

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To get to Creation you follow a long winding dirt road through the vineyards before arriving at the tasting room, which is also home to a restaurant with gorgeous views over the valley. As you make your way through the valley, Atraxia is a must visit. The tasting room is sparse, but just about perfectly located, an idyllic location set high atop a ridge. Southern Right is part of the Hamilton Russell family of vineyards and features great Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc examples as well as delicious Olive Oil.  The staff here was very friendly, helping make the visit even more enjoyable.

These are my favorites in the Cape Winelands, but far from the only gems.  Part of the allure of wine regions is the ability to stumble upon a new favorite. The region complements the well made wine with stunning views, making an ideal wine vacation…if only it were not so far away.  Nevertheless, it is well worth the time and distance, not just for the wine, but for everything that Cape Town has to offer.

Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Two
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
South Africa’s Food
Cape Town
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Hungary
Conclusion

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Eating my way around Cape Town

I travel to experience a place, and no way is more important to me than to experience the food.  To eat in a country is the best way to understand the life of a place, to grasp what makes a country unique.  Good restaurants can be found all over the world, with major cuisines being found in just about ever major city.  I have eaten Mexican at a Japanese ski resort town, Italian and French food just about everywhere and these days you are never far from a hamburger but I prefer the local food, or at least restaurants that specialize in local dishes.

South African cuisine matches the somewhat convoluted history of the country, a mix of flavors and traditions.  The waves of immigrants to South Africa have left their mark; with Indian, Chinese and Dutch staples finding their way into South African dishes. The gems that make up the backbone of local cuisine, the foods that are made at home and that form the framework for the national cuisine include the tradition of the braii, grilled meats that are delicious regardless of the setting.

The restaurant options are numerous and of the ones I have experienced, delicious.  Highlights include delicious braii (barbecue), fresh seafood, upmarket modern fare, interesting small plates, Indian and fantastic coffee.  The two best experiences I had, however, were at the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, a neighborhood successfully going though a revitalization and Haas Collective, a coffeshop/art co-op in the heart of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

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The Test Kitchen is generally regarded as one of the best restaurants in Africa, and rightfully so.  I had only a few dishes, but this was easily my favorite meal on this trip.  Each plate came out with a wealth of color and flavors, leading some diners to criticize Chef Luke Dale Roberts, but I found each dish to be excellent.  My main course, pork cooked a few different ways was especially delicious and remains one of my favorite dishes.  I would have liked to do the full tasting menu which whole table must order, unfortunately, my dining companions had had a huge breakfast and were not prepared to tackle the multi course tasting menu just a few hours after breakfast.  It leaves me something to look forward to on my next visit.  If you are hoping to dine at the Test Kitchen, make sure you contact them a few months in advance.  Reservations are pretty hard to come by, almost impossible with short notice.

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Haas Collective marked another memorable hangout in Cape Town. The collective has a very limited menu, but do what they have incredibly well. I had a Flat White (think latte or macchiato) that was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had. This is one of those impossibly cool places, featuring waiters in top hats, art on every wall and surface and mismatched furniture that just works. If you are in Bo-Kaap make sure you make your way to Hass for great coffee and delicious baked goods. Leave a little time to poke around the gallery to complete a perfect morning stop before heading out to make the most of your day in Cape Town.

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These were the two most memorable meals, but far from all of the delicious food I had while in Cape Town.  While South African cuisine does not spring to mind as quickly as say Italian, Cape Town is a city blessed with a wealth of options, many of which are world class. If you get the chance to visit, take the time to seek out reservations at some of the top restaurants in town, but leave a few days open to pop into one of the many restaurants throughout the city.  You never know what you will find, but it will almost always be a delicious meal with interesting flavors and ingredients.

Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Two
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
Cape Town
South Africa’s Food
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Hungary
Conclusion

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Cape Town

Cape Town is one of my favorite cities in the world, something I have written about in the past here and here.  The climate is ideal, kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter by its prime location next to the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.  To complement the ideal climate, Table Mountain forms a backdrop for Cape Town that makes it one of the most stunning cities found anywhere in the world.

Cape Town’s history is as complex as the rest of South Africa, with often tumultuous periods countering its stunning natural assets. Don’t get me wrong, Cape Town is not “Africa”.  It has African traits and shares the issues and history of Africa, but Cape Town is not what you think of first when you think of Africa.

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Today it is home to numerous different cultures, with mansions found minutes away from townships.  It is where Nelson Mandela spent most of his time in jail and is where District 6 can be found, the place where over 70,000 residents were forcibly removed from there homes during the height of the Apartheid era in the 1970′s.  Since the end of Apartheid, Cape Town has developed into a world class destination, home to excellent dining and the arrival (revival?) of craftsmen and markets that highlight the diversity of people and talents to be found in the Cape.

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Cape Town is a great place to visit regardless of the time of year, but over the Christmas holidays it was especially fantastic.  Spending Christmas in the heat is something that takes a bit of getting used to.  Instead of being largely a family holiday, it seemed like all of Cape Town was out and about on Christmas.  Beyond a few restaurants, not much was open, but this did not keep the citizens from flocking to the beach and waterfront.  The lack of snow and family made for an unusual celebration, but I got to spend it with friends, eating outside, drinking some amazing wine…not too bad.

Just like last trip, my time in Cape Town was spent getting out into the surrounding regions.  I made it down to the Cape of Good Hope again, explored and tasted at more wineries in Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Hermanus and spent plenty of time taking in the dining scene around Cape Town.  In addition to all of this and more, you can also spend weeks seeing everything in Cape Town.  Highlights include the waterfront, the Pan-African market, Bo-Kaap neighborhood, the neighborhoods market, numerous festivals and of course Table Mountain.

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The weather in Cape Town is somewhat unpredictable, so if you find yourself there on a clear day seize the opportunity and head up Table Mountain.  You could wander for hours up there, taking in the vistas in every direction.  There are a few ways to hike up, but if time is an issue elect to take the table car up.  Expect to wait for a while on a clear day, but this will save a long walk and allow for other activities on the day.

Cape Town is a great destination with tons to do.  While the stories about the danger in South Africa should not be disregarded, this is not the Cape Town (or South Africa) that I have experienced.  The people I have come across are friendly and kind, eager to share the place they call home.  I would love to move there and hope to some day, but for now, I will have to survive on my memories.

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Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Two
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
Cape Town
South Africa’s Food
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Budapest
Eger
Travel
Conclusion

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Victoria Falls

23 million gallons of water tumble over Victoria Falls every minutes, sending up a mist that can be seen and felt for miles, making the area right near the fall a permanent rainforest. Twice the width of Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls stretches for over a mile along the Zambia and Zimbabwe border.

It is simply spectacular.

As you walk along the edge of the falls, getting soaked by the constant spray you get a glimpse of the power of the falls. The spray is omnipresent, soaking your clothes and your camera, but made bearable by the rainbows it creates over the falls. I visited the falls from the Zimbabwe side, though they are visible from either Zambia or Zimbabwe.  In Zambia, it is even possible to swim in the Devil’s Pool, perched precariously inches from the edge of the falls.Though swimming is a major part of my life, my fear of heights ensured that this would not be on my list of to-do’s at Victoria Falls.

What I did do, however, is the more traditional viewing from the side via the extensive walking paths as well as from above on a short but dramatic 15 minutes helicopter flight over the falls. The walking path takes you right to the edge, sometimes without much of a barrier separating you from the gorge.  It is a test for the acrophobic among us. The flight had the potential to bring about the fear as well, but was so spectacular that I didn’t have time to worry about that. The flight path is a quick figure eight over the falls, ensuring that all passengers get a view for the about same amount of time. While 15 minutes is short, it did not feel that way as the dramatic scene unfolded beneath us. The falls are very impressive from the paths, but from above, you get a true sense of the scale, of the amount of water pouring over the ledge and just how far away the spray can be seen.

Victoria Falls is a deserving member of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World list.  There are numerous impressive falls found throughout the earth, but of the ones I have seen Victoria Falls tops the list.  It is more expansive than Niagara Falls, even though less water tumbles over, shorter than the tallest falls but still impresses.  It is a sight worth visiting, and worth the trip extension from anywhere in Southern Africa.

Introduction
Johannesburg
Botswana
Safari Photo Gallery Part One, Day One
Safari Photo Gallery Part Two, Day Two
Safari Photo Gallery Part Three, Day Three
African Landscapes
Rafting
Victoria Falls
South Africa’s Food
Cape Town
Cape Winelands
Istanbul
Budapest
Eger
Travel
Conclusion