Annchen

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Ireland in Five Acts

Act One: Castles

We found ourselves climbing steep, impossibly windy staircases, leading into rooms recalling times and places familiar to us only because of made-up stories about dragons, kings, princesses, old heavy books and magi that we used to believe. We followed the stairs until we reached the very top of Bunratty castle, the Irish flag flying over the greys and greens that made up the distant landscape below; its colossal, dark stone facade betraying the cracked glass, fragile lanterns crafted from the horns of antelope, and decaying wood of hulking chests occupying the spaces in between the walls that are plastered white through-out.

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Act Two: Psalms

127v1: Except the Lord build the house | their labour is but lost who build it

Denied access to its interior wealth, we roam the meticulously manicured garden of Adare Manor, watching the rushing force of the flooded river convulse together from the high arch of the bridge, and being watched, in turn, by those condemned to live an unchanging life cast in stone and covered in roots reaching for the sky.

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Act Three: Dublin

First we found ourselves pretending to be sober, quieting each other in a BBQ joint, slurping free soft serve.

Then we found ourselves sobered both by those who created the countless discourses that make up our lives, and those whose lives are contingent on the kindness of others and ‘the generosity of the church’, we are told; both frozen to exist in a perpetual state of authority on the one hand, and charity, on the other.

It feels like the smell of books bound in leather and cotton with gold letter-pressed words and long walks in rainy parks.

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Act Four: The End of the Earth

We parked the car when we could drive no further, and from there it was a short walk to the End of the Earth. That is, the place where Earth drops steeply into the ocean, ceasing to exist any further as rolling hills, or mountainous climbs, or vast flat plains of nothingness, except for one last attempt as a small island in the distance – giving in to the relentless push of the heavy waters of the ocean and the force of the winds. The sunlight shoots of the top of the cliffs and falls into the water – having no more earth to warm up, its heat lost in the wild Atlantic.

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But the end of the earth extends to a different direction away from the cliffs also, where the earth starts cracking up; crevices open first tenderly and then deeply, roots making last attempts to find their way above the earth and fog, before the entire thing – the end of the whole entire world – just slips into the ocean, reaching unimaginable depths, disappearing without want of ostentation, without saying goodbye.

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Act Five: The Ones You Love

Laughing, dancing, feeling victorious – we traversed a landscape that felt like dragons and kings, wealth and prosperity, knowledge and discoveries, and, then finally and almost abruptly, a wilderness that makes you imagine the absence of man, even though this now feels nearly impossible, until we reached what felt like the End of the Earth (and very well could have been); and we did it together.

This is what Ireland feels like.

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Blood Pudding, Castles, and Braveheart | Roadtripping Scotland

Kilts, shortbread, sipping on whiskey and beer simultaneously, medieval castles, bagpipes and drums, friendly cats, Scottish accents – there are many things that make Scotland great (some people would include haggis, blood pudding, and small dogs on this list too), but nothing beats its incredible landscape.

During a weekend trip visiting some friends in Glasgow we decided to take a little day trip up to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The day seemed like it would be relatively rain-free, so we bundled up in our coats, scarves and hats, and into the frosty car, ready to witness lakes and mountains.

But first, breakfast! Which was the perfect, sleazy Saturday breakfast, complete with our first (and only) serving of blood pudding – although, I have to admit I opted for a vegetarian breakfast and resorted to nibbling on the blackness of sausage soaked in pig’s blood on Joel’s plate, which actually isn’t as terrible as it sounds. After chasing breakfast with Scottish Iron Brew, we headed North for Loch Lomond. 

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Loch Lomond is the largest body of inland water in Great Britain. It’s a fresh water lake apparently separating the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, and it basically just one of the most awesome things to see in all of the United Kingdoms – not to mention the incredible drive up and around the colossal lake.

A stop was made in Luss, where we got to take our first photos of the 6°C icy grey, placid waters, disturbed only by some maniac who was swimming in it. A second stop along the Loch was made at Tarbet, where snow-capped peaks against slivers of blue skies surrounded us. While the drive up got colder the further North we went, it was, astonishingly, nearly all cleared up as we stopped in the small town of Killin. I even saw my own shadow, which feels like the biggest accomplishment ever since we moved from sunny Cape Town.

A first stop at Luss

A first stop at Luss

Tarbet: Snowy mountains surround Loch Lomond this time of year.

Tarbet: Snowy mountains surround Loch Lomond this time of year.

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Tarbet

My shadow!

My shadow!

Killin is cute as. A small and skinny town along a beautiful rushing river, with a few streets lined with beautiful, cosy-looking homes, and a shop or two, including the bake shop where we enjoyed mince pies and hot chocolate for basically no money at all (is what it seems like if you live in London).

All around cuteness in Killin

All around cuteness in Killin

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Also, not only did I see my own shadow, but its seems that the UK’s one and only cat (seriously, where are the freaking cats?) materialised in Killin, just waiting to be stroked and loved. It’s a Christmas miracle.

Scotland loves us back!

Scotland loves us back!

We headed down to Glasgow via Stirling, which is where I learned all about William Wallace, and, by association, Braveheart, which, regrettably, I haven’t seen – and which is not to be confused with the equally exciting 1996 epic DragonHeart, in which a man shares a heart with a dragon, which I have seen (although Joel keeps insisting it’s not something to be proud about). We visited Stirling Castle, around which some war(s) took place (some of the Scottish independence wars?), the details of which confused me a little, which may have been because the details were narrated by a thick-accented Scottish man who served as our tour guide.

I hesitate to say that the castle museum is overpriced, because I just know that they must receive very little funding, not too mention the 40% budget cuts to afflict government museums this year, but it was…okay. It was nice to see, and it served as a wonderful lookout point (especially around sunset) of the area, especially if you do the ‘wall walk’. The experience would probably be greatly enhanced with kids, as the interpretation for children is actually very well done (complete with medieval fighting demonstrations).

We merged into some group that was led by the sweet old Scottish man with long white hair.

We merged into some group that was led by the sweet old Scottish man with long white hair.

After some hot cider and hearty dinner at the No 2 Baker Street pub, we headed home to Glasgow with the images of green plains, snowy mountains, and medieval castles still fresh in our minds. It was a day-trip that was just so satisfying and awe-inspiring that we won’t forget.

Also make sure you go with crazy fun friends. That always helps.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

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More cuteness in Stirling

More cuteness in Stirling

UPDATE

Since writing this post I have actually watched Braveheart. So Stirling is actually where that battle took place for which Mel Gibson had his face painted blue. Also, I am willing to admit that Braveheart is slightly more epic than DragonHeart, which may have taken place in Stirling too.

DragonHeart: A man shares a heart with the last dragon on earth??? I mean, I can't make this stuff up.

DragonHeart: A man shares a heart with the last dragon on earth??? I mean, I can’t make this stuff up.

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London on Foot – Imagining Jack the Ripper’s London

It was a gloomy, chilly night in London town as we made our way down to Whitechapel  – for what seems like the first time, London’s weather was actually perfect for the occasion, as we were doing a Jack the Ripper walking tour that night.

I was really excited about it the entire week before, because it was something so cheesy and cliché and it was nearly right in our backyard. It’s that feeling you get when you are a hometown tourist – feeling like you know what’s up, but also experiencing what you usually find so familiar in a completely new way.

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We were pleasantly surprised by the Jack the Ripper tour. Our guide was friendly but professional, he cut to the chase, and it was surprisingly not corny at all! He elaborated on the myths and theories, but also made sure to state the little-known facts, and showed some creepy pictures of Jack’s victims in between. He did warn the group when he was about to show really gross photos (specifically Mary Kelly’s mutilated corpse), so you don’t HAVE to look at them if you don’t want to.

It was a refreshingly different kind of Friday night, winding through dimly lit back alleys, and, with the help of our raconteur-tourguide, imagining the smoggy slums of nineteenth-century London, rife with crime, prostitutes and 24-hour pubs. What made it really great is that we got to learn about the area, greater London, the police system, etc., as much as we got to know about the murderer himself. While the tour covers an area that was mostly flattened by the WWII (See?! We never even knew that until our Jack the Ripper tour!), one of the highlights is stopping by a historic house that remained in one piece. It is a beautiful old gem, with red paint plastering and flaking off its walls, embodying a time and space that is so apparently different from the buildings hugging it on either sides.

The historic house on Princelet Street

The historic house on Princelet Street

We just think it is a great way to get to know London on foot, and also a great way to spend a couple of hours in the evening (if you’re visiting London and you find yourself googling ‘things to do in London at night’) – especially with the folks from the official Jack the Ripper Tour company.

IS IT SAFE?

What. It is so safe. Our guide did tell us to keep an eye on our pockets and such. But I honestly don’t even think it was really necessary for him to do that. While the tour mainly takes place in back streets, they are the back streets of an area that is becoming very cool and hip. Not so much London slums any more.

IS IT CREEPY?

Uhm… It’s actually not as creepy as you’d think (for it being a tour focusing on a serial killer). Our guide was very matter-of-factly – it didn’t seem sensationalised at all.

IS IT TIRING?

While it is approximately 2 hours on foot, the tour proceeds at a leisurely pace. Our guide was particularly considerate about people keeping up and crossing the roads, and so on. So we think you can suck it up and do it.

HMMM…I THINK I’D RATHER JUST GO TO THE MUSEUM.

NO NO NO NO NO. That’s crazy talk. We haven’t actually been there – but we heard it’s pretty lame and quite a …ripper-off (dum dum chuh).

Learning about the immigration population of 19th-cent. London just off of Brick Lane

Learning about the immigration population of 19th-cent. London just off of Brick Lane

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A Weekend Away in Denmark – Country and City

The trouble started the night before our flight, with me and Joel having had respective nights out, and neither one willing to clean the apartment without the other (and neither realising the amount of cleaning it needed). I’m not certain that Joel even slept, but I sneaked in about an hour on the couch (the bed had new linen for the weekend’s Airbnb guests). With a 6.30am flight from Gatwick Airport, which is over an hour’s drive from the centre of London (where we stay), it was an all-nighter, watching the sunrise from 30,000+ feet over the North Sea on our way to Copenhagen.

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We were visiting two Danish friends who we met in Mozambique a couple of years ago who just had a baby – ‘just’ as in a week before we arrived. They live in Vejle (“Vejle?? What are you doing in Vejle??” – everyone in Copenhagen), a beautiful and quaint countryside town, so we were going to spend our Friday in Copenhagen and head over in the evening. With a crazy week behind us, we forgot to plan for this trip, so it was a quick ‘Top-Five-Things-To-Do-In-Copenhagen’-according-to-TripAdvisor sort of itinerary.

Well, number two on the list hit us just as we exited the central station: ‘Tivoli Gardens’.

Tivoli Gardens

After coffee, pastries, fiddling with a sim card and a train station nap by Joel (“excuse me you can’t sleep here” – train station employee) we headed over to what we thought were some fancy gardens or something. It turns out it’s an elaborate carnival/family/theme park and it was expertly decorated for Halloween, which woke Joel up for a couple of hours. We didn’t buy tickets for rides, but it was just fun strolling around and discovering all the nooks and crannies of Tivoli.

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Number one on TripAdvisor’s list was our next target: Nyhavn.

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The typical Danish backdrop of the multi-coloured houses in the harbour. We strolled over from Tivoli, took some selfies on arrival, and walked through the harbour around to the other side. We carried on along the water, in a half-assed attempt of getting to the ‘Little Mermaid’, but fatigue stopped us from actually caring about it and we ended up sitting down and resting a bit in front of the national opera house or something. FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER, Joel wakes up from his wonderful nap while I had to stay awake, my head dipping forward every now and then as I struggle to do so, so that we don’t look like complete hobos.

The beautiful Nyhavn

The beautiful Nyhavn

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There was more coffee and sleeping in random places until we got on our train to Vejle (where Joel could sleep some more).

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After a wonderful evening of traditional, hearty, Danish food, meeting a new baby, wine by the fireside, and falling asleep mid-conversation (Joel…), it was the moment that Joel and I had been waiting for: Bedtime. All the sleeps await us!

Our friends' gorgeous countryside home where we got to stay and cuddle with their new baby girl

Our friends’ gorgeous countryside home where we got to stay and cuddle with their new baby girl

Aarhus

The next day we were taken around Aarhus by our friend, Jonas. The day started in high spirits as he parked the car in an automated underground parking bay. It was like we were face to face with all of my new millennium dreams as the car disappeared underneath the earth and we made excited exclamations and took a zillion photos and videos.

Step One

Step One

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Step Two

Just...the future is already here and it's in Denmark.

Just…the future is already here and it’s in Denmark.

We then made our way over to the Aarhus Cathedral, the tallest and longest church in the country, to look at its medieval frescoes and boats hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers, which is not something I’ve seen in a catholic cathedral before.

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Olafur Eliasson’s Rainbow Panorama on top of the Aarhus Art Museum made for a drastic scenery change as we viewed Aarhus from above in all the colours of the rainbow. If you are not into discovering historical, modern or contemporary Scandinavian art, then Eliasson’s panorama and the Australian artist Ron Mueck’s gigantic ‘Boy’, in many ways the permanent pride of the museum, are enough to justify the entrance fee. The Aarhus Art Museum comes highly recommended. It also had an exhibition of Monet and his contemporaries, which we did not go to because I was just too hungry.

Eliasson's panorama crowning the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

Eliasson’s panorama crowning the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

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'Boy' by Ron Mueck

The uncanny of Ron Mueck’s ‘Boy’

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Which is why we had the most Danish lunch instead of seeing impressionists – A hotdog with everything and chocolate milk! Jonas took us to a stand ran by one of his friends, who is basically the sweetest, kindest, Nepali cook you will ever meet. We were, admittedly, won over by this hotdog-chocolate milk combination.

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Find this place and go there.

Find this place and go there.

Dyrehaven

Jonas then took us to a place where all my Autumn dreams came true. It is called Dyrehaven (Animal Park), and it is a large piece of land, looks like something between a park and a forest, where wild(-ish) deer and wild pigs roam free. You are allowed to feed them, and so most of them are a slight bit tamer than I imagine wild deer are supposed to be. So we spent a couple of hours at sunset strolling through the reds, yellows and golds of Autumnal Denmark, immersed in the soft falling of leaves and the occasional bleat of a nearby deer, or the ruffling of a wild pig family.

Autumnal strolls through Dyrehaven

Autumnal strolls through Dyrehaven

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Our friend Jonas showing us the ropes

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After another relaxing evening filled with Tenna’s home-cooked meals, snuggles with the one-week-old Cornelia, more wine and banter, and after the next morning’s sleepy train ride through the beautiful Danish landscape, we were left to our own TripAdvisor-esque devices in Copenhagen again. 

Rosenborg Castle

First I forced Joel to go to the National Gallery of Denmark, so that I can see Matisse’s Green Stripe and subsequently discover other wonderful modern Scandinavian art, and then Joel navigated us towards the Rosenborg Castle. With little time (and motivation) to go inside, we snapped a few photos and headed over to the Church of Our Saviour – another TripAdvisor classic.

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The Rosenborg Castle

The Best View in Copenhagen

The Church of our Saviour is a beautiful church built in the Baroque style in the 17th century, with an appropriately ornate spire completed in the 18th century. The spire reaches a height of 90m and you can ascend to almost the very top of it by a network of narrow staircases. If you get claustrophobic, I would think twice about going up, since the staircases are very narrow and there’s only one way up and down. But the view from the top is really something, especially when you go around sunset, which is when we happened to be up there.

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On top of Denmark!

On top of Denmark!

The weekend was topped off by AMAZING and mouth-watering food and wine at Höst with friends. We boarded our plane with full hearts and stomachs – ready to return to our home in what then seemed like delightfully warm London after Denmark’s Autumn chill.

Also, in case you were looking, here is our

LIST OF PLACES IN COPENHAGEN TO NAP, TRIED AND TESTED BY JOEL BRONKOWSKI:

  1. Train station (but make sure they don’t see you)
  2. The deck of the Copenhagen Opera House
  3. Any table of any Baresso coffee shop
  4. The train
  5. Mid-conversation in someone’s house
  6. Any McDonalds
  7. In the National Gallery, on a chair in front of a video art piece, with headphones on whilst watching the piece. (…Yes, this is real – I caught Joel snoring seconds after he put the headphones on…)

HAPPY NAPPING!

Joel's sleepy adventure

Joel’s sleepy adventure

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One Does Not Simply ‘Visit’ Petra

“What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?”

Is a question Joel and I often test each other with. And for over a year, for both of us, it has always been a toss-up between snorkelling with whale sharks and encountering Petra. I say ‘encountering’ because going to Petra is not like visiting a place. One doesn’t ‘visit’ Petra – it is something to be experienced, something immense and ancient to be immersed  in or overcome by. It is an unbelievable, unimaginable corner of the earth and when confronted with it, is an indescribable and overwhelming couple of hours of your life.

BOROMIRPETRA

Petra is an ancient city in the South of Jordan carved from the brilliant red rock-face of the Jebel al-Madhbah mountains, established as the capital of the Nabatean people, possible around 312 BC. The first Western guy who came across it called it

“a rose-red city half as old as time.”

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HOW WE GOT THERE

We were planning a trip to Israel for a wedding and we decided that it is ‘now or never’ – we must go and conquer/survive Petra.

But getting there was quite a trip itself.

There are many tourism companies that will offer you a two or three day trip to Petra from the border city of Eilat. I am not sure whether they are an okay deal or way too expensive. Either way, we decided screw them, we are doing it ourselves. We drove about 2h30min from Mesada to Eilat in Israel. Eilat is a relatively small port/resort town that lies on the tip of the red sea, sandwiched between Jordan and Egypt. When we arrived there it was time for the Game Face – no toilet breaks, no effing around – we need to get to Petra.

We just parked our car in some field by a hostel and pretended we belong there, we threw some clothes in a backpack, and we set out to find a taxi to the border. After we were dropped off at the border, got our passports stamped, shuffled through security, we were out on the other side (which is a Jordanian town called Aqaba)! So far so good!

Onwards!

Onwards!

Then came the time to get a taxi to Petra.

The taxi drivers on the Jordanian side of the border are called the taxi mafia. And for good reason, too. These guys are the most badass taxi drivers I have ever encountered. Play your cards well, and your 2+ hour drive to Petra will be a near-pleasant experience, but if you mess it up, you’re in for a real shitty trek (as we discovered on the drive back).

On the long and deserted walk from the border office to the taxis, it was only us and another couple, so we (aka Joel) decided to make some chitchat. Eventually it happened that these guys will split a taxi with us – which is the beginning of the most exhausting language sandwich I have ever been in:

It turns out they are a Polish-German couple with limited English. We are a South African-North American couple with limited Polish (like negative-Polish). So the overlap there is German, which two of the four of us can speak.

Boy.

Speaking and understanding German doesn’t come second nature to me. It requires a constant and fierce concentration – but once this guy found out I spoke German, he had all kinds of stories.

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The main thing is that these mafia taxi drivers are constantly trying to take you for a drink (tea) somewhere at his cousin’s place, or selling you some other tourist experience. So he would speak to us in English, and then I would translate in German, and then the German guy discusses it with his Polish wife, and then she gives the verdict in Polish, he speaks to me in German, I discuss it with Joel in Afrikaans, I give our verdict again in German, and finally we either confirm or deny it with the taxi driver in English. And this was my life for the next 6 hours. 

Wadi Rum

In the end he did manage to sell us on something: a desert truck drive around the minuscule town of Wadi Rum. So we veered off course for about 40mins, stopping, on the way to Wadi Rum, at the train which they used in the Lawrence of Arabia films, now just abandoned in the middle of nowhere in the desert of Jordan. When we arrived in Wadi Rum (very very very small – we were the only tourists around) everybody spoke quick arabic and we got out of the taxi and into our desert truck.

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This little detour proved to be a lot of fun and recommended by the twocats crew, if you have the time. We had a wonderfully warm and friendly driver, zipping around through the scarlet sands, climbing on and rolling down dunes, we stopped for some tea somewhere, a soft and cooling breeze gently sifting the sands, and complete and utter silence every time the truck stops and we watch some men on camel in the hazy distance. After about two hours of this side-adventure we headed back to the ‘gates‘ of Wadi Rum where our then-friendly taxi driver waited patiently.

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The red dunes of wadi rum #nofilter. fo real.

The red dunes of Wadi Rum #nofilter. fo real.

The Jordanian police going about there business.

The Jordanian police going about their business.

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This off-the-beaten track excursion comes highly recommended. Us and our bedouin driver and the sweet memory of my first selfie.

This off-the-beaten track excursion comes highly recommended. Us and our bedouin driver and the sweet memory of one of my first selfies.

It was a couple more hours (a beautiful drive, at least) until we arrived in Wadi Musa – the main gateway town to Petra.

Then it turned out our European friends had no plans for sleeping anywhere. So, after some more fun rounds of English/Afrikaans/German/Polish/Arabic telephone, they finally decided they’ll just stick to us and go where we are going.

WHERE WE STAYED

We were going to the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, which was AMAZING. We arrived to the sight of a hundred lit candles tucked in the nooks and crannies of the looming boulders, the smell of aromatic bedouin-style cooked meals, and kittens! (It seems we cannot escape cats!..or cats cannot escape us?)

Someomne else's great photo of the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

Someone else’s great photo of the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

These other people take some great photos

These other people take some great photos.

BEING IN PETRA

The next morning Seven Wonder’s van took us to the commercial gates of Petra, which was swarming with tourists. We bought our tickets, picked up some maps, and headed off for the red city. It was a long walk before we finally reached the official ancient gateway – a wall of colossal steep rock rising up sharply before you, with a slender crevice as a passageway. It’s a couple of kilometres inside this crevice, which offers cool relief to the burning heat every else, before it abruptly ends and it feels like you have stumbled upon the ruins of an ancient civilisation:

The long walk through the ancient 'gates'

The long walk through the ancient ‘gates’

At first just a tiny glimpse...

At first just a tiny glimpse…

And then all of a sudden

And then all of a sudden

The gigantic treasury, carved from the mountain, materialises almost without warning in front of you. There’s frustration of not even having enough space to step back and it in – it’s like you are submerged in it; like you have been swallowed by the mountains.

And there’s more cats!

Cat! Finally someone to talk to!

“Cat! Finally someone to talk to!” –Annchen

Once you’ve entered this part of the city it’s a full day (or two full days) of hiking and gawking and not being able to believe your own eyes.

A couple of hours later we decided to make the 900-step ascent to the monastery and beyond. At this stage I was unfortunately feeling slightly ill, and I convinced Joel to go up on a donkey. If I was feeling fine, we probably would have walked it, but I am glad we got to go up with the donkeys – it was quite an experience!

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My ride

My ride

The immense Monastery

The immense Monastery

Even higher up is ‘High Place’, which, if you are able to manage more hiking, offers incredible breathtaking views to the Jordanian peaks and valleys over 1000m below. There you can find merchants making wonderfully refreshing lemonade and take a quiet rest in there tents, cooling down in the breeze.

Despite being a major tourist destination, Petra doesn’t feel crowded, due to its sheer immensity. And there’s a quiet pleasure in know that when you leave and night falls, and probably long after we will be gone, these manipulated mountains will still stand – silent, resolute, and strong – not needing our presence in order to be spectacular.

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An amphitheatre to seat thousands, carved from the mountain.

An amphitheatre to seat thousands, carved from the mountain.

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The beautiful, blended colours of the smooth, cold rock inside the mountain-chambers

The beautiful, blended colours of the smooth, cold rock inside the mountain-chambers

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You can take a ride on these guys around the city if you wanted to

You can take a ride on these guys around the city if you wanted to

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