Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Caprivi Strip, June 2014. Chobe Under Canvas Chobe River Botswana.

I have been to the Caprivi Strip before, but didn’t realise we were on it! That was on my last visit to Botswana / Namibia when I stayed in the Houseboat. However, I wanted to drive the Caprivi Strip. So that is what this trip was about. The Caprivi Strip.
If you look at the map you will see why the Caprivi Region has a unique history.  In the late 1800's the strip of land was administered as part of the British protectorate of Bechuanaland (Botswana) until 1890 when Germany laid claim to the British administered island of Zanzibar, to which Britain objected. The dispute was settled by the Berlin Conference in 1890, when Queen Victoria waved her magic wand and acquired Zanzibar, and Germany settled for the territory which became known as the Caprivi Strip; named after  a German Chancellor.

The German motivation behind this swap, was to acquire a strip of land linking German South-West Africa…now Namibia to the Mighty Zambezi River, thus providing easy access from Namibia to the Indian Ocean. However the British colonization of Rhodesia stopped the Germans plans well upstream of Victoria Falls. During the First World War the Caprivi Strip again came under British rule and was governed as part of Bechuanaland, but it received little attention and became known as a lawless frontier.  It was also important during South Africa’s battle with Angola, again due to its strategic position.
The Caprivi is also the only region that shares its borders with 4 other countries – Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As I planned, I realised it may not take as long to drive the Caprivi Strip as I had imagined. I had thought it would take days, my research was almost convincing me that if you were not fishing you could do it in 1/2 a day!!! Would this be correct?
We flew as usual from Manchester via Dubai to Johannesburg. We got into JoBurgh late PM so had to stay overnight. The taxi took us out to Sandton and the Butchers Shop for a steak, red wine and a comfy bed.

The next morning it was a very early start back to JoBurgh airport to get an Air Botswana flight to Kasane, check in was 06.00. I had booked a direct flight from JNB to Kasane, located on the banks of the Chobe River. However at the airport the check in desk was closed, flights had been cancelled...I think as only 6 px were booked and the flight rerouted via Gaberone at the later time of 10.00. The flight from JNB to Gaberone was very short but you got a hot pasty.
At Gaberone we had get off the plane and get our bags, go through immigration and check in for the flight to Kasane.....on the plane we had just got off!! what a farce, the crew found it very amusing.The flight to Kasane was full, and we were fed again, this time we were served a hot snack and Biltong.
The new Sir Seretse Khama Airport, very posh, very new and I got told off for taking photos
Those who read this blog will know that I don't use travel agents, for this trip I used a travel agent for parts of it and other parts I booked my self.
I had found that most of the accommodation in Botswana can not be booked independently, you have to go through an agent. I wanted to stay at the Safari Lodge in Chobe National Park and was advised to use Expert Africa. They were fabulous! The agent I spoke to; Megan, informed me about Chobe under Canvas.
Chobe Under Canvas combines the advantages of a mobile camping safari with the luxuries of a semi-permanent tented camp. It is always based in the Chobe Riverfront area of the Chobe National Park, in keeping with the national park’s mobile-camping rules the camp is packed up every fifth day and moved to a new private camping site in the same area. It was a guide from this company who collected us from Kasane airport, we were late landing as there were Baboons on the new long runway, able to take large aircraft, direct from Europe! What a layover? Our guide was also late as there was a lion kill on the roadside on the main road to the airport....Welcome to Africa!
We were taken from the airport to lunch at a local hotel and then met other guests, the party was 8, and had our sundowner cruise on the Chobe river, that Gin & Tonic went down very well! It was wonderful, but just be warned if you had travelled from Europe or USA you may have found this a bit much. I was glad we spent the first night in JNB so we were not tired or jet lagged.
We then drove into Chobe National Park and our Tent, one of the 4 in the mobile campsite.

I use the words 'Tent' and 'Camp' very lightly. The Chobe Under Canvas camp has up to five spacious, walk-in tents taking a maximum of ten guests. The tents are fairly traditionally made Meru-style tents of green canvas with mesh windows and are furnished with very comfortable twin or double beds, a hanging rail, canvas wardrobe and luggage chest. Sisal matting covers the floor and bedside tables hold rechargeable lanterns. A rolled-up canvas doorway leads through to the en-suite bathroom, complete with flush toilet, shaving mirror, tin basin, water jug and complimentary soaps. A bucket shower hangs above a slatted wooden mat and is filled with warm water for a shower when you return from the day’s safari activities.All our meals and drinks were provided, as were our every need. There is no electricity, but this is not a problem as you have oil lamps / wind up lamps. It was June, and Africa in June is cold. The other guests really did not have the correct clothing, I had to lend one girl my spare fleeces as all she had was summer dresses! The hot water bottle in the beds at night were great.
We spent an exceptional 3 nights with 'Chobe under Canvas' and I highly recommend them. All to soon It was time to go back into Kasane and pick up our 4x4 Hilux with tent on top, booked through Bushlore. And drive the Caprivi Strip. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Dubai to Manchester with EK 17.

I checked in at Staff Travel Dubai early in the morning, to get flight EK 17 bound for Manchester due to depart at 07.25. It was an A380 and there were a few Economy seats spare so I got on with out any problem.
Again the new menu has the FIFA world cup logo on it.  
Two services were done on this flight the first was Breakfast;
Continental Breakfast;
Breakfast Deli Platter, sliced pastrami, chicken breast, gouda cheese, potato salad.
Tea and Coffee.
Then no sooner had you had that when we were served Lunch;
Appetiser; Sweet corn and Vegetable Salad.
Main ; Roasted Chicken with onion sauce, mash, peas and carrots. OR
            Fish Biryani.
Dessert; Banana Hazelnut Cake. with fresh cream and passion fruit.
Tea and Coffee and a Chocolate.
I ate all the food I was given and watched the end on Mad Men Series 6 and Saving Mr Banks on ICE and with that we were landing into Manchester. How times fly's when your having fun.

Dubai May 2014. The Public Beaches of Dubai and Indugence at The One & Only Royal Mirage Spa

When you tell people you are going to Dubai they ask about the beaches and the shopping.
The beaches, The Arabian Gulf is a beautiful part of the world, with emerald sea and white beaches, BUT many of the new hotel complexes that have been built as beach resorts in Dubai have resulted in much of the beach being off limits to the general public. over the next two days we visited Public Beaches. Starting with the beach close to the Burg El Arab, also know as The Kitesurfing Beach and Umm Suqeim Public Beach. This is such an iconic view of the Burg that many coach loads of tourists stop here for 'the photo', then move on.
The surf was high today and most people on the beach had rented surf boards from a surf shack further up the road and were out catching waves. There are changing rooms and toilets on this beach but no umbrella or sunbed rental. It was really windy and soon we were fed  up of being sand blasted so made our way to Dubai's newest public beach.

Public beach and Burg in Dubai
Public beach and sand Burg in Dubai
 The Walk at Jumeirah Beach has been open for a while, but it has been extended to include the beach. there are restaurants, shops, a new shopping mall, on open air cinema, it has seating in and out doors. New public bathrooms and changing facilities. A rubberised running track with exercise machines runs parallel to the sea. There is a large grassy area perfect for picnics, the beach as umbrellas to rent, I am unsure about sun beds. But best of all for children (or adults who haven't grown up!) there is a large inflatable obstacle course in the sea.
On the beach were these sand sculptures, they must have been there a while as some were quite eroded, but they were still really good.
Dubai in sand and real



The Walk Dubai

We went up to the One and Only Hotel to book a spa treatment for the next day and enjoyed sun downers on the beach then ate a South African Restaurant at the Habtoor Grand later.
The next day we spent the morning at a the Jumeirah Open Beach, this beach has changing rooms, toilets, showers, umbrellas and sunbeds to rent as well as a 1.8KM running track. It was really pleasant on this beach despite the view of the docks.
I love afternoon tea and was thrilled to hear that Fortnum and Mason have opened a store in the Dubai Mall. We went and indulged in Afternoon tea before going back to the spa  at the One & Only Royal Mirage. We had chosen this spa as it has a Hammam.We opted for the Signature Experience 'The Compete Oriental Experience'.
The Hammam at The One & Only Spa, Royal Mirage, Dubai
Firstly we arrived early and used the facilities, plunge pool, sauna and relaxation room. then we were escorted into the Hammam. Here we were cleansed with traditional Moroccan Black soap, it smelt of Eucalyptus. We waited in the steam room as the soap bubble up for about 20 mins. Then in the heart of the Hammam, on the marble slab our body's were vigorously scrubbed with a Loofah glove then we were sluiced with warm water. Laying back on the warm slab our bodies were coated with Ghassoul Mud, and a Honey face mask applied. After 30 mins were again sluiced with the warm water so that all traces of the mud was removed, hair washed, conditioned, and wrapped in a towel we were led into the relaxation room to enjoy Moroccan Tea and Dates. We then had a full body massage in a private room. The treatment lasted well over 2 hours and it was heaven!
So all to soon my weekend of indulgence was over and it was time for me to go home and for my Dolly with the Trolley to go to Sydney / Auckland.

Dubai May 2014. Wadi Adventure and Bab Al Sharms Desert Resort.

I have visited Dubai many times, each time it changes. New buildings are completed, and others start to rise from the sand. New forms of public transport such as the Metro are  stating to take shape and being added to with new bus routes, water taxies and a tram system. New entertainment is constantly being developed and during my weekends visit I did lots of new activities and visited places I had not been to before. Today I was taken to Wadi Adventure, this is a water park located in the Oasis town of Al Ain. It is 120 KM south of Dubai and took about 1 1/2 hours to dive to it. Due to its location it is not at all busy.  
Map of Wadi Adventure Park, Al Ain.
 At this water park you can Raft, Kayak and Surf. There are three white-water rapids available. Those of you who read this blog will know that I had an accident in New Zealand white-water rafting so I have no intention of repeating that experience, I just looked on!
 The surfing takes place in a pool that has the largest man made waves in the world, and the waves looked good.

Adult Pool

Wadi Adventure also has an Airpark that includes a climbing wall, high rope course, zip line and a 33ft falling swing. It is a fantastic facility and if it was located in Dubai it would not be as quiet as it is.
After surfing we drove to the desert resort of Bab Al Sharms. This was a stunning hotel and spa set in the Arabian Desert.

The Al Sarab Rooftop Lounge

After having sun downers at the Al Sarab Rooftop Lounge, we were taken by an electric trolley bus to another part of the resort and shown into the Al Hadheerah restaurant. This was outside and decorated in Bedouin style. The selection of food was extensive and delicious and we watched Whirling Dervishes, Belly Dancers, a Camel Show and finally an Arabian Horse Show.

Flight EK 22, Manchester to Dubai. A fun filled weekend in Dubai.

I did not know what was going on with the roads around Manchester as I headed to Manchester Airport for a weekend break in Dubai. I knew the flight was not full so left home early to get my standby flight. But even at 06.30 in the morning and due to an earlier car crash on the M 62 the M6 was congested. In truth it would have been quicker to walk to Manchester Airport! Due to this massive traffic jam I almost missed my flight to Dubai. At 09.05 I ran to the check in desks at Terminal 1, quite expecting check in to be closed, but I was lucky; one desk was still open and the man in charge let me check in.
So boarding card in hand, I cleared customs and security. Today was the day when they subjected me to a full and very though body search. I then took the long walk to the gate where an Emirates 777 stood. Boarding was well under way, so I wasted no more time and was in my seat on EK 22 by 09.35. Very promptly at 09.55 the aircraft pushed back and I was on my way to see my daughter and a fun weekend in Dubai.
The new Emirates Menu with the FIFA World Cup Logo. 
This was the first time I had flown on EK 22, it is scheduled to depart at 10.00 and arrives in Dubai at around 20.00. Even thought its is a short flight you have two services; Lunch then Afternoon Tea. I used the ICE system and watched half of Mad Med Series 6 on this flight and in no time at all the aircraft was descending into Dubai.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Phuket to Manchester via Dubai Emirates Business Class 2014 report.

The beaches of Phuket
If you go away, it is a sad fact that you have to go home. Having spent 16 idyllic days in and around the Island of Phuket, it was time to return to Manchester. As I was traveling Emirates Business Class the one thing that was not a problem was the flight.
The flight from Phuket is a night flight, EK379 was due to leave Phuket at 00.30. Check in at Phuket airport was very easy and a lady in a yellow suite escorted us through customs and security at breakneck speed to the Phuket Airport Coral Lounge.
This lounge was very small area cordoned off from the main waiting area with semi permanent walls, it was very full and felt crowded. There was a very small selection of food, soft drinks, coffee and beer. There was not any tea. It was actually better out in the main airport lounge area where they were good shops, plenty of seating and a variety of food outlets.
Phuket Airport 2014

Phuket Airport 2014

Phuket Airport 2014

Phuket Airport 2014
 The aircraft scheduled for this route was an A340 so I was not expecting very much in the way of comfort as many of these aircraft have not been upgraded. I was therefor presently surprised when we boarded to fine we were on a 777-300, with the same seating as on the journey to Phuket.
All the passengers boarded promptly and the Air Hostess was just about to hand us our champagne when the Captain announce that the flight was ready to depart and started to taxi along to the take off position; this was an early departure as it was only 00.10. Soon after take off we were given more Champagne.
As it was a night flight I did not know what to expect as regards the meal service. It seems that 'Light Bites' of Hot and Cold Snacks would be served promptly after take off, then breakfast as we approached Dubai.
We were given Amenity packs with hand cream, face cream, toothbrush and toothpaste in them.
soon after take off I made my seat into a bed, I was given a memory foam type seat cover to use and I went off to sleep so did not eat but if I had wanted food this was the Menu.

Cold Snacks;
Selection of open Sandwiches.

Hot Snacks;
Seafood Pie.
Penne with tomato sauce.
Singaporean fried rice with chicken satay.

A selection of sweets.

Tea, Coffee, Chocolates and instant Cup Noodles available at ant time.


Fruit Juices

Breakfast Fruits.


Main Course;

Gruyere cheese omelette.

Creamy scrambled eggs.

Shrimp Pad Thai.

Delicatessen's cold meats and cheese.

Bread Basket.

Hot Beverages.

The flight to Dubai was very fast, it was just 6 hours, that combined with he early take off got us into Dubai for 03.20 not the scheduled 03.55.

To pass the time we made use of the Business Class Lounge in what is now called the B terminal. This Lounge a vast area as it has to accommodate all the Business Class passengers who pass through Dubai Airport. Luckily at this time in the morning it was quiet and I found an area to get a bit of sleep.
EK 17 Manchester to Dubai was due to leave at 07.25, as you can see from the photo this was an Airbus 380.

The crew on this flight were fantastic, so friendly and welcoming they truly looked after us. As we did not have to drive when we got to Manchester we made good use of the bar! and enjoyed an exceptional lunch that made you forget you were at 35.000 feet.
Breakfast and Lunch were served on this 7 hour flight! I don't know if you need two services on a short flight like this, but if you do this was the choice;
Breakfast Bread Basket.
Hot Beverages.
Arabic Mezze.
Yellow fin Tuna.
Potato and Leek Soup.
Main Course;
Grilled Beef Fillet.
Chicken Korma.
Seafood Machbous.
Bread Basket;
Ipanema mousse.
Cranberry Cheesecake.
Cheese Board.
Tea, Coffee, and Chocolates.

Emirates A380 v 777. Business Class. Manchester- Dubai - Phuket Flight Review.

It was time to experience Emirates Business Class; this time from Manchester to Phuket via Dubai. The Dubai to Phuket route is relatively new having been introduced in December 2012.
As part of your Emirates Business class  package you are picked up from your home by a 'Chauffer', you request this service on line when you book you ticket. The car company rang the night before our trip to let us know what time they would be picking us up. As arranged a very new, and very smart Mercedes arrived to take us to Manchester airport.
Once at the Airport, check in was fast using the designated Business Class check in counter, and we were advised that we could use the Emirates lounge.  The Lounge is located on the first floor of Terminal 1, I have experienced this lounge before and it is one of my favourites. The windows run along its length and overlook the runway so you have a good view of the incoming and outgoing aircraft.  It is decorated in the normal Emirates brown and gold tones. It is large as it has to accommodate all the First and Business class passengers flying on each of the three flights from Manchester each day.  But, despite the numbers flying on the A380 that day (the flight was full in Business class) the lounge was a very quiet and restful area. There are showers and the restaurant area has a large selection of hot and cold food as well as unlimited Moet!!
Emirates Lounge at Manchester

Restaurant style dining area in the Emirates Lounge at Manchester Airport.
Manchester Airport Emirates Lounge

How much Moet can you drink????
 I had a starter of Tiger Prawn Creaser Salad, then moved on to a roast chicken dinner and steam pudding.  It was all delicious.
All to soon we were advised to board the A380. The Business class is on the upper deck of the A380. The seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration. The 2 seats in the middle are either side by side or separated by a shelf like storage area with a drinks holder in it...not refrigerated. This make this seat very private, however if you want to talk to your fellow passenger make Shure you book the 'sweetheart' seats. Many passengers were asking to move as they felt they were to far away from the travelling companion, but as the plane was full this was not an option for me.
A380 Business Class
The 'Sweetheart' seats on the A380 Business class
 As soon as we sat down we were offered Champagne, Orange juice or water. Hot towels were given and the menus and a wine list was handed out.

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne on the Emirates A380.

The seats can lie flat, but as this was a day time flight I did not need to sleep. I had loads of leg room and the seat was very comfy. I used the ICE entertainment system, watching series 5 of Mad Men,  and found the noise cancelling head phones very good.
Lunch was served, this was a choice of;
Aperitifs, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne, Wine.
Appetiser: Seared Prawns, Buffalo Mozzarella, or Spring Pea Soup.
Main Course: Roast Chicken, Lamb Tagine, Loch Fyne Salmon.
Bread Basket.
Dessert: Black Forest Wedge, Apricot and raspberry gratin tart, Cheese board, Selection of Fruit,
Tea, Coffee, Chocolates, Liqueurs, Port.
As I had eaten in the lounge I just had Salad and Cheese. It was well presented and delicious, in fact at times I forgot I was in the air, it was like a 5 star restaurant.
The Lounge Area or Bar on the Emirates A380
To stretch my legs I had a walk to the bar, or lounge area at the back of the aircraft. Here a large selection of Hot and Cold snacks were out on the bar. you could have cocktails as well as all the regular drinks. 

 Soon we were approaching Dubai and had to say good by to a fantastic Aircraft and a wonderful crew.
We had opted to stay over in Dubai for a few hours so our next leg on our journey was the Dubai to Phuket or EK 378. This flight left Dubai at 12.45 arriving into Phuket at 21.55. The aircraft used was a 777-300, so it was a good opportunity to compare the A380 with the 777.
This aircraft was a 2-3-2 configuration. The seats were the type that could lay flat and there was good leg room. The 777 seats are more open in design compared to the pod style of the A380 so feel more spacious. But my partner who is over 6 foot did not like the small foot rest on this seat; I did not notice it.
777 Buisness Class Seat Emirates
Emirates 777 Business Class

Seat Back Screens, Emirates Business Class 777

The pillows, headphones and eye masks were the same as the 777 and the seat back entertainment system just as good. Again we were offered Water, Juice or Champagne, this time Moet Chandon. Just after take-off a bar service was done, then lunch was served.
Traditional Arabic Mezze, this included hummus, artichoke and mushroom salad, smoked aubergine dip and Arabic bread.
Chicken, Chinese style with salad.
Roasted Sweetcorn Soup.
Seasonal Salad.
Main Course;
Roast Five Spice Chicken.
Char Grilled Beef Steak.
Prawn Biryani.
Bread Basket.
Chocolate Coffee Tart.
Orange Coconut Slice.
Cheese Board.
Selection of Fruit.
Tea, Coffee, Chocolates to finish.................Also Instant Cup Noodles available at any time.
The flight was quite short just over 6 and a half hours and we arrived in Phuket in a rested and relaxed state.
The standard of seating and service in the Emirates Business class was good on both aircraft. The 777 does not have the bar that the A380 has, but on these two relatively short flights this was not a problem. I think I would use the bar on one of the ultra long haul flights like the Dubai to LAX, that's over 16 hours long; The worlds 3rd longest flight. On that one you really would need to walk about and the bar would provided a welcome respite from your seat. I loved my Business Class experience with Emirates, the problem is, I never want to go Economy again!!!