My friend Sarah originally asked me to go to Africa with her about 2.5 years ago but unfortunately timing didn’t work out back then. I did promise her that the next time she wanted to return, that I would join her and that I did.
Travelling with 4 in total (Sarah, Lulu & Jin), we arrived at the airport (YYZ) and checked in together with a lovely lady who called out Sarah for being in her own time zone. She scolded me for how small my signature was but first time in probably 3 years that I have checked a bag. We booked with Ethiopian Airlines, which is affiliated with Air Canada. The system isn’t 100% connected, as we needed to check in at CDG for the rest of our connecting flights. Our luggage however would meet us in Zimbabwe. We had 2 connecting flights – YYZ->CDG; CDG->ADD; ADD->VGA.
We got through security no problem with time to spare and grabbed burgers, fries and a shake before boarding. We didn’t check but our flight also included 2 meals (oops). We all sat together and watched Girls Trip simultaneously. Sarah on the other hand, had deep conversations with the passenger beside her for more than 3 hours with no breaks of silence. Usually I can fall asleep no problem but that flight, I was restless.
We arrived at CDG to temperatures outside of 2-4C degrees. We walked over to terminal 2 to catch the RER B train into town. You need to line up to purchase RER tickets at the machines. A 2-way ticket was 20,60 euro – single 10,30 euro. Arriving at Chatelet des Halles, we walked over to Centre Pompidou Museum (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) but only walked the perimeters and surrounding area. For only 5 euros, you can get the panoramic ticket, which allows you to take the escalator to the top of the building to get a scenic panoramic view of the city. The fountain was turned off but there was a large golden thumb statue called The Thumb of Caesar. A little chilled to the bone, we stopped to rest and eat lunch at Le Cafe Rive Droite (2 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris, France) where I ordered the croque monsieur – 7,80 euro.
The goal for this roughly 10-hour layover was to see a good chunk of Paris (parts I haven’t seen in my past travels too) for as cheap as possible and spend some money on food before heading back to the airport. I am a huge fan of alleyways or hidden streets because they create wonderful vignettes unbeknownst to the rest of the surrounding area for that moment in time. I had looked up a few galerie & passages before coming to get a little glimpse of old Paris with its eclectic style and architecture that is still preserved.
We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) for a meal – It is a Michelin starred restaurant I had looked up nearby with a prefixed menu for 38 euro but lunch service ended at 3PM. After the Louvre, we decided we wanted to sit indoors somewhere because the cold was getting to us especially with Sarah in her Birkenstocks (which a I think a German man noticed while we were getting crepes and commented “are you mad?!”. We decided to stay near the Seine river and stopped by Coffee Crepes (24 Quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, France). We all ordered a nice After Eight minty hot chocolates then took a quick glimpse of La Seine river with faraway views of the Eiffel Tower.
We hopped on the train around 6PM and at one point, we had to transfer trains because someone got sick but luckily a local man saw we didn’t get off and lead the way for us to the new train. Once back in terminal 2, we saw line to check-in was incredibly long and luckily enough, we were able to check-in online to avoid that line. Before we boarded the flight from CDG to Addis Ababa, the flight attendant came up to us and asked for our passports. Since the system wasn’t 100% connected before, our luggage was brought to their attention but not connected to a boarding pass until they fixed it in the system. The flight was much better with more rest. 2 more meals (yay).
The flight was still a long haul. But the last flight felt even longer with these 3 guys sitting around myself and the girls, who kept getting up, brought tons of snacks. Way too fidgety for me and they were really rude to the staff thinking they could leave their stuff everywhere and walk anywhere they wanted. We finally arrived and beat the line to customs where we got our single entry visa for $75USD. On the Go Tours arranged airport pickup and away we went. The 30-minute van ride was the best sleep I had in the past 24 hours.
We stayed at the Shearwater Explorer Village (Adam Stander Dr, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) where our accommodations where in tents on-site with a cot. *DOUBLE CHECK the cots for bed bugs before using it. Apparently the 2 cots in my domed tent had bed bugs as Lulu and myself woke up with these bug bites on our legs that did not resemble mosquito bites. The facility has 4 separate campsite tent areas with shared showers and toilet areas (hot water and toilet paper included) with a main building that has a infinity pool, spa and restaurant along with lodges you can upgrade to. The tents with the cots are the holding area as the 3 other campsite areas are where you are grouped by your tour.
The first night they provide you with a lock for the tent however, the second night, we got moved to another tent (which will be our tents for our trip). These tents, you will be required your own lock. We used my luggage lock. Once we settled into our tent, off we went to the pool to relax. We showered and by the time we were finished, we had a group meeting. On the Go Tours teams up with ATC (African tour company) a local tour company. This meeting is a debriefing of the tour and also where you share with your guides your insurance information and also get to meet one another. Clive was our cook, Frans our driver and Will our guide. Will went over an updated list of all the stops along the way as sometimes the information on the website isn’t 100% up to date. He also listed almost all the excursions that are included and optional add-ons. He also told us that we should save our physical money to pay for tours as they include a 11% inflation rate on credit cards but for normal day to day meals and whatnot to use credit cards like we do back home. Also to save local currency for tips.
Our group for this tour consisted of 13 people plus the 3 staff. Lisa the Yoga Teacher and Katie the Paramedic (Katherine) from Toronto/Calgary and Hamilton, Gordon & Margaret and David and Marianne all retired teachers and nurses from Hope, BC, Susan the Mental Health Administrator from Australia, Stephanie the Electrical Engineer from Dublin (who is working in Cape Town) and Alberto the Lawyer / Events Production company / Farmer etc from Costa Rica.
Also note that although first night accommodation is included in price, meals are not included until the Monday morning when you leave Zimbabwe for Botswana. The currency they use in Zimbabwe is USD.
We decided to go check out the market just outside the gate of our accommodations and just looking at possible souvenirs but the men the market are very pushy always approaching you “sister, take a look at my store, I give your sunset deal”. A little too aggressive for my taste. In terms of being on a tour, this was the only time we had to check out markets for souvenirs and because we had just arrived and we hadn’t even seen any animals we couldn’t justify purchasing anything – a big regret on our part. Zimbabwe is known for their precious stones and there were many beautiful stone sculptures of the big five amongst other things. The average for these stone statues asking price was $25USD but you need to haggle with them. Some other statues could be haggled for cheaper like $5USD. We had arranged to go for dinner with the group with our tour at the nearby restaurant The Three Monkeys and we walked over together. The food is great. We were recommended to get “The Dude burger” or in matter of fact, any burger or pizza – all American sized portions.
The girls and myself sat with Frans and Will and got to know them better. Both have been with ATC for about 1.5-2 years a abs both are from Joburg. Frans is 28 with a young baby at home (taking time off after this tour) Clive is 31 with 4 children and Will is 30 and has a younger sister who is working to save the endangered animals and their environments.
For those who wish to walk with lions, check out Lion Encounter. My friend was working with this organization however we both dropped the ball and didn’t connect or follow-up with one another and missed re-connecting in the short period of time that both of us would have been in Vic Falls.
We flew with Air Canada 14.5 hours direct to Hong Kong – very smooth.
Landed in Hong Kong and had to walk a distance to get to customs. The airport is it’s own island as Hong Kong acts as a giant hub for transfers. Once we cleared customs we purchased a sim card and a octopus card. Octopus card is a tap card you can refill and use for buses and convenience stores – It is very important to have one of these cards. $39HKD for the card with $10HKD already on the card.
We stayed at Caritas Oswald Cheung International House (rm2105) in Aberdeen for the week. We got a room with triple beds. We took the bus (A10) from the airport all the way to Tin Wan street (about an hour ride). It is humid outside however, in Hong Kong, they blast AC everywhere indoors (including the bus) – you can’t win. When we arrived at our hotel, our glasses fogged as we left the bus. We went to reception and they heard us speaking english so they started to converse with us in english and unknowingly, they spoke with a British accent. Hong Kong was once under British rule thus British schooling. After checking in, we passed out until dinner time. We joined Georgina’s parents for dinner at a small restaurant down the street. The rain started to come down really hard to the point that the streets were flooded and a heavy stream of water covered the streets. Good thing for flip flops.
The streets are so narrow and everything is pretty much on angles and slopes including schools. Since there isn’t much land, they build upwards. There are 7-Eleven’s everywhere. Well Come is their equivalent to our Loblaws, Shop n Park – Food Basic, K mart – Shoppers drugmart.
Since the weather called for rain, we decided the night before that we would make it a shopping day. In the morning, we went to Number 1 bakery and grabbed buns and egg tarts then some Vitasoy from the 7-Eleven for breakfast. We left around 930AM and arrived at Causeway Bay by bus at 10AM. Stores don’t open until 11AM (they stay open really late). The temperature started rising as we started to walk around. The sun came out and the rays were strong. Since Hong Kong is so jam-packed, they build department stores & malls upward. There are tons of shopping centres scattered around. Our biggest haul for shopping was from Uniqlo – we spent about 2 hours in there.
SOGO is the Hong Kong version of America’s Macy’s or Canada’s The Hudson Bay Company where brands are separated into sections in one big building. We all purchased a pair of Birkenstocks for 449HKD a pair ($65CAD). We went to Yoshinoya for lunch, which was basically a beef bowl with rice and onions.
It’s overwhelming to see so many people congested into one area. We grabbed beef jerky from Bee Cheng Hiang and also grabbed mango drinks at Hui Lau Shan (hoy lau saang). We returned home by the 72 bus and grabbed Mcdonalds for dinner – I got the big tasty. It’s weird to see people just leave their trash everywhere and on the tables but they have people that get paid to clean.
Adjusting to the time is difficult – Sleeping at 11PM but waking at 3AM. The time difference is 12 hours from Toronto.
I officially got up at 1030AM and went out to explore and shoot. I went left on the main street and kept going left thinking it would lead me back to my street instead it led me uphill and the road kept curving right. Back to Causeway Bay to take the subway line (MTR) – to Mong Kok – the Kowloon side of Causeway Bay. Their subway lines are very efficient in transporting thousands upon thousands of people each and everyday and are ahead of their time well, at least way ahead from Toronto. The subway line is incredibly easy to use and I highly recommend using it! The automated voice speaks in Cantonese, Mandarin and then English with a British accent. Also here on buses/subs etc there is absolutely no eating or drinking (all about efficiency). The subway also is slightly wider and only has seats going along the side instead of toronto’s seats that sit 2 forward/backwards and along the side. They also have metal seats so its easier to clean and just like Paris’ system, you can get cell service all the way underground. To enter the subway, there are already lanes for people to walk through and then arrows where people line up by glass doors which open when the subway arrives (also a good prevention of people jumping onto the tracks). As you exit you need to swipe your octopus card as the MTR charges by distance. There is absolutely no eating or drinking on the subway or else you might end up in a fight with locals.
It feels like it was 10-15 minutes just to get out of the subway station but Hong Kong is all about escalators at all lengths, angles and speeds.
When we arrived at Mong Kok station, we found ourselves at Langham Place which is a 12-storey shopping complex with a crazy long escalators and all about the astrology theme. It jumps from floor 3 to 8 and when you reach 8 there are stairs to either go up or down.
Just to get to each floor was a trek so we stopped by the food court for lunch. I grabbed the chicken beef with omurice from Curry House. It’s weird but they have food court security people who just watch you eat. I guess it’s for efficiency so they get you in and out in no time. I wanted to goto Tim Ho Wan – 2-8 kwong wah st which is the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant but we couldn’t wait to eat.
We walked shoe street and the ladies market. Ladies market street is quite long but is a great place to bargain for goods of all sorts there.
We finished shopping and decided to meet up with Georgina’s extended family for dinner on the west coast of Hong Kong island. We took the subway to the end then hopped onto the 5B bus. This city is busy all the time – think New York’s Times Square but everywhere. We finally made it to our destination after Sands St stop and had dinner in a food court type hot pot restaurant. We took a sprinter van/bus home.
The park opened at 830AM and started walking through around 9AM. The park has 25 different thermal pools – all different. It was pretty cool with a variety of natural colours with bubbling and gargling. Of course, it stenched of sulphur. My favourite without a doubt was the Champagne Pool. It is enormous, and all you can see from a distance is steam but up close there is a outstanding orange/red colour with blue/ green water. There was also a naturally highlighted green pool of water. We walked the park for a good 1-2 hours. The Lady Knox geyser erupts everyday at 1015AM but since we needed to drive 2 hours west to get to Waitomo for our cave tour/trip we left early.
It rained today and I had to drive in it on some crazy roads. I tell you, I’d take Toronto roads any day – less curves. After 2 hours of driving, we arrived at Waitomo just in time for our tour and 5 minutes to grab some lunch. The first cave we went to was Ruaruki Cave also known as the Den of the Dogs – The Maori people named this area after the animals they found there. Our guide Lucas was actually apart of the design process behind this 4.2 million dollar creation. It features a huge cylinder that you walk down into another section that is very James Bond like and then he leads you along the cave. This cave is 100% wheelchair accessible as well and without knowing it, you walk 2KM. He also explained glowworms and showed them to us. The glowworms are actually larvae or maggot stage of a fly and the glow is the mixture of enzymes and their excretions – yup its a fecal matter mixture. The fly only lives for about a week and then reproduces hundreds of eggs at a time. Much like a spider, they glowworm drop up to 20 lines of webs to catch their food.
We then drove out to Arnaui Caves which is a smaller cave but nonetheless has the best view. Sadly, it was just Andrew and myself for the second cave and our guide Christian who thought we we’re “together”… But since it was just us 2 and the guide, we talked and sorted things out. At least today is the last day for that to happen… problems travelling with a sibling of a different gender eh. This cave was discovered later than the other two by a farmer who was chasing a wild pig that ended up in that undiscovered cave. There aren’t any glowworms in this cave as there are no rivers running through and an earthquake shut out the main source of water that helped create the formations.
Our last cave for the day was the glowworms cave – Waitomo Caves and let me tell you, our group was small but a mighty good time. There were 3 from England – Charlie, Ben and cannot recall the lady’s name. They had arrived 2 days ago in New Zealand and take the blame for bringing the wet weather. They had previously visited the caves in the 70’s or 80’s. They might of been a older bunch, but they were great for laughs. We were also joined by another Canadian! This time from Saskatoon but since people have no idea of anywhere in Canada besides Vancouver or Toronto, she tells people Toronto. In this cave in particular no photography is allowed so we left out cameras behind. My favourite formation in the cave was one that looked like a kiwi doing a bungee jump. The boat ride was spectacular and felt very Alice in Wonderland-like as you sailed on. The guide would show us the glowworms and then shine a light on them showing their true form which make them less mystical. I wish brought my camera anyways because at the end, we went lower into the river where the caverns were first discovered. The sight of a thousand glowworms lighting up the ceiling was an amazing sight to be seen.
We finished the caves and back on the road by 455PM. Drove into Auckland by 7-715PM and are basically staying in the airport until check-in. Our flight is at 7AM. It is now 215AM and there are sleeping bags and people sprawled all over the place. I didn’t sleep. The check in desks opened around 4AM and we checked in. Got on the plane by 630AM and flew over to Sydney by 925AM (NZ time). We gain 2 hours flying back to Sydney (725AM AUS). Since we don’t have a re-entry visa for Australia we cannot leave the airport to have a final dinner with uncle Ronald and auntie Maisie but instead, we landed in Sydney and were trapped in the international terminal awaiting our flight to connect to back home. I barely slept on the flight from Sydney To Vancouver – 15 & half hours. 4 hours more in the air and finally arrive back in Toronto.
Since we did 2 full day tours in Melbourne, we weren’t able to really get a chance to see the town. I for one wanted to see Flinders Station and Federation Square and Chinatown area. We decided to get a late flight to Auckland so that we could explore. We took the tram – it runs on a honour system. You purchase your tickets on the back of the bus from a coin machine as the driver is sitting in a box and doesn’t interact with you. The trams run quite frequently. We made our way to Queen Victoria Market which is very similar to Toronto’s St Lawrence Market including a similar looking building albeit white instead of our burgundy one outside. We had a quick bite before we scurried past Chinatown and took to the main touristy streets I suppose. Did you know Federation Square is Australia’s largest free wifi hotspot or that Flinders Station is their Union Station as the central hub for transport. As I was taking a panoramic, a group of school kids with bright orange hats were crossing by and this little boy made my day. He basically saw me and had walked along with his class but then he turned back and walked back towards me and said hello! than ran back to his classmates. We didn’t have enough time to go shopping nor go through the National Gallery of Victoria (180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006) (mind you the gift shop was lovely) but we we’re able to stop by San Churro Chocolateria (Shop LTL 255, QV Centre/Swanston Street) – basically gourmet chocolate churros and other chocolate products. I got a raspberry rumba which is a white chocolate shake with raspberry topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
We noticed the time and were running a tad late in returning to our hostel to catch the shuttle. We hopped on a tram but apparently the wrong one, hopped off and got back to the hostel right on time. We got to the airport about 4-430PM and our flight was at 605PM. We got to the Qantas check-in counter for our flight from Melbourne to Auckland and the lady asked to see our boarding pass out of New Zealand; having only booked a one way to New Zealand, we had to go purchase another ticket before we could even check in. Our minds weren’t clicking before that we were flying internationally meaning to another country so we didn’t think we needed to book a flight out. Anyways, we wanted to fly from Rotorua back to Sydney and stay a day with uncle Ronald and auntie Maisie but apparently the visa we had trouble getting before departing toronto (the ETA) is only valid for a single entry only so once you leave the country, you cannot come back in unless you reapply off of Australian soil overseas.
So this put us in a predicament as our international flight home was in Sydney. There were 2 plans that we looked into with the helpful people at Flight Centre, the first being – fly home from Auckland (cost double the price of our existing flight home = no good), 2- book a ticket to Fiji and show that to get us approved for our Auckland flight (which was almost ready to depart) and once we get through, cancel the ticket and reapply for Australian visa once we landed and book a ticket back to Sydney. So for a split second we purchased a ticket to Fiji. As we purchased that ticket, we went back to the check-in desk and the manager of the check-in desk with the Qantas team had told us since we have proof of our returning home flight that all we need to do is purchase a ticket back to Sydney but we would not be able to leave the international terminal as we would be “transiting” to our home of origin flight thus, no need for a new visa. Andrew ran back to change the ticket while I waited at the gate. We were indeed the last ones checked in but luckly not the last ones to board as we cleared security quickly. Apparently, Qantas and Air Canada have some sort of agreement where you can connect with one another allowing our checked baggage to transit through to our next flight although they are not connecting flights in one ticket purchase. We hopped on and flew roughly 3 and 1/2 hours and because of the time change (2+) we arrived at 11PM-12AM-ish.
We are staying Freemans Lodge which apparently is New Zealand’s #1 hostel and last year NZ’s cleaniest hostel. Once you enter, your shoes must be taken off. Did I mention free wifi the whole length of the stay. This hostel is apparently known as a B&B but there is only free tea and coffee and our twin private shared bathroom is actually a double bed in a smallish private room with a shared bathroom.
I knew long in advance that I wanted to travel to Australia and timing wise, I was in limbo just awaiting my final grades for my final year in university and actual graduation ceremony. My brother, Andrew had accumulated about 3 weeks of paid vacation so it was settled – 03/25/10-04/13/10 – a 3 week trip to Australia & New Zealand (2 weeks Australia – Sydney, Cairns & Melbourne & 1 week New Zealand – Auckland & Rotorua),
First off, when planning a trip to Australia make sure you figure out if you plan on travelling outside of Australia (for eg – roundtrip ticket flying in and out of AUS but wanting to travel to New Zealand and return for a day in AUS) and if you plan on coming back as you need to purchase either a single or multi-entry visa. You can also purchase your visa at the airport.
If I knew this ahead of time, my trip would have gone so smoothly. What makes matters worse for myself in particular is the fact my last name is just a single letter – U and your passport and visas need to have the same exact spelling. But at least I was travelling with my brother Andrew so I wasn’t holding anyone else back. Let’s just say we dealt with 3 Air Canada employees that were our saviours and it was a good thing we got to the airport a few hours ahead and were quick to run to our gate where you could see them manually changing us from red listed to allowing us aboard to our first stopover to Vancouver.
Flight from Toronto with a stopover in Vancouver and landing in Sydney, Australia = 4 + 16 = 20 hours of flying. This was my first ever international flight and I can tell you I barely slept and watched practically every single movie on the way over. Keep in mind that when you land in Australia, they are very particular about sterilizing the plane so you will be sitting in the plane after landing for a bit.
We departed Toronto on April 23rd, 2010 and arrived in Sydney, AUS on Sunday April 25th at 830AM.
Our Uncle Ronald (my father’s best friend who resides and retired in Sydney) picked us up from the airport. We haven’t seen him in over a decade and the first thing he says to us “I was looking for these 2” *takes out a photo of Andrew and myself circa 1992*.
Uncle Ronald drove us around to see icons of Sydney especially Kings Cross (not much action during the day) but apparently we came on the weekend of Anzac Parade which is the Australian & New Zealand memorial / remembrance day. We continued onward to the fish market, Lady Macquarie’s Chair, Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge. We then headed over to Chinatown for yum cha with our uncle and his friends Elena, Eric and Philip. That night, uncle Ronald and his lovely wife Maisie took us to their friends home for a big dinner. There was a big Winnie, small Winnie, Ricky, Tommy, Eric and Elena as well as uncle Ronald and auntie Maisie. Dinner was good and well a mixture of food coma and jet lag started to set in as Andrew and myself started to doze off on the couch. We left their place around 10-1030pm and got back around 11pm; we went right to bed. I think we did pretty well our first day in Australia considering we spent 20+ hours on a plane and time difference.