6AM wake up call to drive through the fog from Porto to Sintra. The drive from Porto was roughly 3.5-4 hour drive to Quinta da Regaleira. Honestly, I was following the speeds of the other drivers and at certain points I was driving a consistent 160KM/HR on the highway.
Originally planned to visit both Quinta da Regaleira (€8) and Palácio da Pena (there are 2 ticket options – Park & Palace €14 OR just Park ticket €7.50). For those heading to Quinta da Regaleira – Parking – there really isn’t much parking nearby Quinta and if the spots that are close are not empty, it’s only a one way road that takes about 30 minutes to circle back around. We found out the hard way and on the second time around, we found a spot where people had made their own spots on the side of the road about a 15 minute walk past Quinta da Regaleira.
We ended up just going to Quinta da Regaleira. We walked around the site to the infamous Initiation Well and cave system as the main attraction. Continued to the Fountain of Youth and the palace. We decided to nix Palácio da Pena and head to the beach side. We figured out that both myself and Winnie aren’t as big into Castles and Museums as many other travellers tend to be. Also, the weather was lovely and back home in Toronto the weather was starting to get cooler and we wanted to soak in the sun as much as we could.
We drove to Azenhas do Mar to take in the views and that’s where we overheard a guide mention of this beach town Cascais and decided to drive over. We situated ourselves at Praia dos Pescadores but not before getting ourselves some acai bowls. Took a few hours to catch some rays on the sand before heading to our Airbnb in Caxias.
Our Airbnb location was about a 15-minute drive over to Lisbon where we met up with my friend Kat who I originally met through Yuujou and had the opportunity to meet in person in NYC back in July. Timing wise, she literally just moved there the day before but happily met up for dinner with us to show us one of her favourite places.
We had an amazing dinner at Noobai, which is a 3-tiered restaurant that overlooks the city and is a great place for sunsets. The food was amazing as well! I got the codfish loin, Kat got the prawn curry and Winnie got the mango salad. We shared a lovely pitcher of sangria as well.
After dinner, Kat walked us through her old neighbourhood before leaving us for a conference call. We ventured off to continue our quest for tasting pastel de natas. We stopped at 3 spots: Alcoa, Fabrica da Nata and Pastelaria Casa Brasileira. I think for me, the flaky buttery crust of Fabrica won but the custard of Casa Brasileira won for that night.
Portugal is also known for this codfish croquette called Bacalhau but we were so full we did not have the chance to try one for ourselves.
During this adventure, we also walked by Santa Justa Lift (you can pay to get an above roof top level view right in the middle of the city), MUDE and Timeout Lisbon Market. And finally to end the night, went to pink Street where we met back up with Kat at 4 Caravelas and met all her Remote Year friends for drinks. Sam, Victor, Austin and Scott were the ones we chatted with the most.
Lisbon – Porto, Portugal
Sama Sama – same same but different.
After being in Lisbon for less than 48 hours, I can definitely see how Lisbon is the San Francisco of Europe. Incredibly hilly, by the water, impacted by earthquakes and has it’s own version of the Golden gate Bridge (same architect) and has the tram system.
First thing we did that morning was to get up and goto Pastéis de Belém for the OG (if you will) for pastel de nata. To be very honest, it was good but not my favourite. I stand by my choices the night before of the custard of Pastelaria Casa Brasileira and the flaky crust of Fabrica with Manteigueira as a close second overall. Right across the street is Jerónimos Monastery and on the other side of the road that we kept driving past was Belém Tower.
We drove into Lisbon city centre and walked around during the daytime since all the places we saw the previous day was in the evening. Had breakfast at Fauna and Flora where I ordered the Spicy Pumpkin pancakes.
Walked through Alfama area and all the way to the top of Miradouro da Senhora do Monte for the best view of Lisbon. There are steep streets to get up there but well worth it.
A pitstop we needed to goto before leaving Lisbon was for pastel de nata from Fabrica. We ate lunch at Sama Sama. I got the Maggie crepe and the Lemon drop smoothie and we got to eat in their affiliated bar on the corner called Crafty Corner.
We drove 3.5 hours to get back to Porto and returned the car rental by the afternoon. Got to the airport and dropped off our bags in the storage lockers. On our way out of the airport since our flight wasn’t until the morning, we decided to head back into the city however we looked up and saw on tv that they were playing volleyball, albeit a very fuzzy quality screen. We ended up standing there for an extra hour watching before we finally left.
We decided to hop on the metro line and get back into town for one final meal. Walked around a bit trying to find food and ended off at Casinha Baixa Do Porto. We ordered the codfish with creamy potato puree, mini-francesinhas, tripinhas, folded egg with spinach and manchego cheese on bread and finally a smoked salmon salad. We had also looked into this food market type of establishment called Food Corner that housed a different cuisine per floor but we didn’t quite like the options at that time.
The accommodation for the night: Porto airport. One thing we learned about travelling and sleeping in an airport is that if you haven’t checked in yet, you can find the closed cafes and push the chairs together to create a bed. We observed others doing the same and followed suite. We have also slept on floors by power outlets.
Porto, Portugal – London,UK – Stockholm, Sweden
3 airports, 3 countries. Porto – London – Stockholm.
We slept in the airport overnight to catch our 630AM flights. Winnie and myself parted ways (but only for a few days). She wanted to stay in the warmth while I decided to head to the Scandanavian country of Sweden to visit a friend in Stockholm. I landed into Stansted airport in London early in the morning to 14°C but in the sun, felt amazing. Since Stansted is further out of the main city centre and I had another flight to catch in the evening, I stayed put but found a good spot outside of the airport by the bus meeting room by a power outlet. I also found a good spot on the hill in the sun.
I was able to charge up all my devices and catch up on backing up photos. When I travel, I always bring my mogics powerbar so I can share the charging with others. During my charging time, I was able to make friends with a man named Vullant. He is an army chef who lives in London and was coming back from Izmir, Turkey from visiting his mother.
Having plenty of time and the weather cooperating at 22°C, I took back to the hill to catch the rays before I had to go through security.
Ryanair is the cheap budget airline but it can afford to be because it doesn’t fly right into the city centre’s. During my evening flight, luckily I took out my earbuds earlier near the end of the flight as I made friends with the girl beside me – Jamila. She is originally from Holland but lives in London. She was travelling to Stockholm to attend a family wedding.
She was even kind enough to offer me a ride into the city centre however timing wise, her cousin was running late and the bus I originally booked was more feasible. Coming out of the airport, the weather was drastically different from what I had experience so far into the trip at 5°C.
I took the Flygbussarna from Skavsta to the city centre. It took 1.5-2 hours but at least the bus has outlets and USB plugs. I got off the bus around midnight to 2°C but briskly walked to Centralstation and was able to get a glimpse of 2 of the metro stations. I purchased the 72-hour metro card pass for unlimited travel on their transit system.
Through my experience with the travel experiment Yuujou, I was able to connect with what I call the Yuujou 25 family (my digital family from around the world). And in Stockholm, I finally got to meet Isabelle in person finally! (She hosted me during my short stay in Stockholm).
To start the trip off, I flew into London’s Heathrow Airport via Air Canada and went to meet my friend Winnie (my travel partner for the next month or so) at Liverpool Station.
Once I got to the airport, I purchased an Oyster Card and filled it with 25£. The underground sure covers a lot but since it is an older transport system, its not the most accessible and also very hot and tight (at certain times, can feel claustrophobic). Parts of the underground metro system reminded me of my hometown Scarborough’s RT train system..
After meeting Winnie at the station, we went to Spitalfields – a quaint outdoor market space filled with little shops and food vendors. We ate at Leon – good food for a good price. We also walked through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park with our bags in tow (I really missed my Northface Basecamp Duffel). We didn’t have anything really planned for the rest of day and also thought we could just arrive early and sleep at Stansted Airport but luckily we sat down and checked to realize Stansted actually closes between midnight and 2AM. We also realized that we were incorrect about the time of our flight and we actually booked the 830AM not 625AM.
We debated if we wanted to stay up and out all night or book a hostel to sleep for a few hours and drop off our bags. Originally, we opted not to put our bags in storage or book a hostel but after walking around for 2-4 hours and running out of things to do, we booked Smart Hostels – a 15 bed mixed dorm and put our stuff down.
We wanted to try this cool ramen place called Kanada-Ya but there was a super long line so we went across the street to Ippudo Ramen instead. Winnie got the Yokohama ramen and I got the Unagi Chirashi bowl. Delicious.
London, UK – Madrid, Spain
Apparently having a bed doesn’t always mean you can sleep through the night. We went to bed at 10PM thinking we could get in 8 hours of sleep before waking and leaving for 3AM. I did not sleep well at all. We hopped on our bus ($20.40CAD) for an 1.5hr ride to Stansted Airport from Russell Square and that ride was really great time for sleeping. We booked with Ryanair and unfortunately that means the airports we are flying out of are not the main airports and are smaller airports that are out of the city centres. Also, as a Non-EU passenger flying in and out of UK requires you to print your boarding pass to get a Visa check.
First stop on our Eurotrip from London was Madrid, Spain. Our first stop was to the Greenhouse Atocha – a train station with an indoor Tropical greenery area. We also stored our luggage at this train station for 3.10 Euro. We had some ordeals with the machine to buy the ticket but all was fixed after 15 minutes. We changed into shorts and just went to town (literally).
We walked over to check out Caixa Forum (Vertical Garden Wall). Next stop was El Retiro Park with the Crystal Palace and watched people row boats while drinking horchata.
Finally checked into our Airbnb in the suburbs and then walked over to Parque Cerro De Rio Rio (Parque de las tetas – The park of the tits as locals like to call it because of the book-shaped hills) for sunset. Highly recommend with multiple hills to watch from.
Went to dinner at Bar Don Manolo – tapas with beer and wine. Ended the night with gelato – Mora (blackberry) and hazelnut.
We woke up later than we had planned but good thing we did as we checked the weather and changed from shorts and tanks to pants and rain gear.
Did the rain stop us? Of course not!
We were still able to walk over 40,000 steps. Started off walking through Rocodromo Pasarela Parque. We walked to Matadero (a former slaughterhouse turned into a art centre), Embajadores neighbourhood – saw the church, Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel & Mercado San Ildefonso. Continued to Puerta del Sol (it is Spain’s belly button) with a stop to San Gines chocolate for churros! (BTW, hot chocolate literally means liquid chocolate not milky hot chocolate drink) and made our way to Gran Via shopping street & El Corte Ingles then meandered to the neighbourhood of Malasana.
Went to an awesome cafe call Cafe Federal. The sun eventually came out and we returned back to Puerto De Sol on our way to La Tabacalera de Lavapiés – a former tobacco factory that now houses underground tunnels with graffiti and artists. We then took the metro to the Templo de Debod in hopes of catching a beautiful sunset but unfortunately it was a weak sunset.
For dinner, we walked back towards the Royal Palace and made our way to the Tapas Street (Calle de la Cava Baja) but before that, we popped back into Mercado de San Miguel (much emptier than earlier when it was raining) where we met Rick who works for NASA. Watch out for helicopter drone 2020 next mission out to Mars. We finished off our night having dinner at La Perejila and had the smoked cod, octopus with potato and ham and tomato paste.
The original plan was to go to Australia & New Zealand for Sept/Oct 2019 with my friend Winnie. We were hoping for a flight deal to come along. Unfortunately no deal came by the deadline we gave ourselves so we decided to go to Europe together instead. Our itinerary is all over the place zig –zagging all over Europe. We narrowed down our top 10 countries we wanted to visit in the time period we had and researched where we could fly to for a bargain. From there, we chose to go to the warmer destinations first to extend our summer. The last leg of the trip was originally going to be staying in London/UK but we decided during the trip to go somewhere warm because let’s be fair, the heat makes things happier especially being in chilly and wet weather for awhile.
Now, before you get to the itinerary (all the way at the bottom), I am posting some (hopefully) helpful tips and information that came up during our trip.
Money – STACK (Pre-paid Mastercard)
36 days of travelling to multiple countries with different currencies takes a lot of organizing. When I travel, I usually carry a good amount of cash on me and pay that way so I don’t incur high conversion fees using my credit card. I made sure I knew what countries I was going to and calculated roughly how much I would be spending per day and got cash for certain countries I knew I would be in for a longer duration.
I tried to average about $60CAD/day. Prior to setting off on this trip, we tried to book our Airbnb’s, car rentals and flights in advance so at least those costs were covered.
My brother told me about this card called STACK, which is a conversion fee pre-paid Mastercard. With this card, you Interac transfer money from your bank account to the card account via the app using the special custom question and answer the app provides you with. Say you decide to transfer $200 to the card, if the card gets stolen, the card is not linked to your actual bank account and if say only $200 is on the card that is the limit that can be used. This card comes as a physical card but is also a virtual card via the app.
What I liked about using this card is that it was a very fast and secure way of paying for things abroad and the app also notifies you when a transaction has been made and will convert it automatically to your main currency so you don’t have to calculate the conversion yourself. And it is conversion fee free!
I used this card more so in the Scandinavian countries because they have started to adopt the cash-less transactions method but I still used cash in many of the other countries we travelled to.
Use my referral link and you’ll get $5 in your account when you activate your card.
Download STACK now: https://getstackco.app.link/fuqEmfMNH1 (this link only works on your phone via the app once its downloaded)
Yes Ryanair has super cheap flights BUT many hidden costs or steps. We decided to go to many countries because of how cheap the flights were (12£ one-way to go from London (Stansted) to Copenhagen (CPH) is a real good price). We also booked early. These cheap tickets have many drawbacks. First off, many of the airports you fly out of or into are not usually the main airports and are usually smaller airports outside of the city centre which adds more travel time.
More recently, Ryanair changed their luggage requirements from what use to be a free carry-on (still smaller than regulation size on other airlines) and now the only free luggage you can have must be 40x20x25CM. Depending on the airport and the staff, they don’t really check the size of your bag. I got the size compliant bag (Swissgear – https://www.shopbentley.com/en/escape-collection-travel-tote-swiss-gear-1016684.html) and it sits under the seat no problem with room to spare. The staff didn’t really check so you could get away with a slightly larger bag or a bag that can squish.
REMEMBER TO ALWAYS CHECK IN ONLINE. You can do this up to 48 hours. For non-EU passengers, you must print your documents, as they will not issue you a boarding pass. I found that with flights not connected to the UK, the boarding pass will be issued to your Ryanair App however, if you are flying out of or into UK, you must print your boarding pass to get a Visa check and stamp. I have heard that if you don’t print it and ask at the check-in desk, there is an expensive fee for them to print for you.
Car rentals – International Driver’s License
As a Canadian, you are required to have your International Driver’s License to rent a car in Spain.
Travelling throughout many countries in Europe for over a month, trying to find a SIM card plan that works in all the countries and for that period of time was a challenge but there are definitely options out there beside “roaming” with your phone plan back home as that can be costly.
For my 36 day Eurotrip, I purchased this 30 day SIM card that works throughout 71 European countries with 12GB + 3000 minutes + 3000 texts. You are also able to top up this plan when in the UK by purchasing in-store.
Photo & Video Storage – SSD & USB – I brought an external to back up my photos from my DSLR and my phone every night. I also bring a USB for back-up to the back-up of the external for peace of mind since my phone internal storage is not large enough to store all the photos from the trip for the entirety of 36 days. I would suggest bringing another USB (64GB should suffice) to be the back up to the back up for the phone photos so you can clear space.
You can also use cloud storage but I am not a fan of that so these are my alternatives.
Alltrails is amazing for finding hikes around the world. People review or comment on each hike and also you can see the difficulty and lengths. You can also download the app.
To be honest, we ate out a lot this trip. When we could, we tried to make some meals with friends. We also stocked up on snacks like fruit and breakfast (skyr, yogurt, granola etc). You will find that there are many grocery stores but some are superior to others in terms of quality for the price. Budget friendly grocery stores you should be on the lookout for are Aldi & LIDL.
Spain – Euro
-Tipping is not common but you can tip if you want (5-10%)
Eating times Different times for eating. They take siesta very seriously and will take hour long lunches where the kids will go home as well to eat with family. Dinner usually starts around 8PM.
Desayuno – breakfast – 7-9AM
-a Spanish classic is a toasted baguette with olive oil and crushed tomatoes
-other breakfast foods consist of churros and chocolate or pastries like croissants.
Almuerzo – Mid-morning snack – 1030-11AM – Coffee with a muffin or a croissant with ham and cheese
La Comida – Lunch – 2-330PM – Most important meal of the day.
Merienda – Mid-after snack – 530-730PM – More about socializing – more drinks than food. Churros are popular at this time of day or a small meat and cheese sandwich.
La hora del aperitivo – Tapas Hour – 830-10PM
La Cena – Dinner time – 9-11PM – Dinner is usually much lighter than a standard dinner meal. Traditional Spanish dinners are shared plates.
-Try Clara – beer with lemonade or lemon Fanta
-Try Tinto de verano – Red wine with Sprite or Fanta (very popular in Spain) – very similar to sangria
-Hola – Ola – Hello
-Adios – bye
-Si – Yes
-No – No
-Pardon or Disculpa – Excuse me
-Por Favor – Please
-Gracias – Thank you
-De nada – You’re Welcome
-Lo SIento – Sorry
-Factura – Bill
-Salud – Cheers
-Camamos – Let’s eat
Portugal – Euro
-Tipping is not common but you can tip if you want (5-10%)
-You need to try some pastel de nata (Portugese Egg Tarts)
-Ola – Hello
-Oi – Hi
-Tchau – Bye
-Sim – Yes
-Nao – No
-Por Vaor – Please
-Obrigado – Thank you
-De nada – You’re Welcome
-Desculpe – I’m Sorry
-Perdao – Pardon me
-Saúde – Cheers
-vamos comer – Let’s eat!
Sweden – Stockholm – SEK – Swedish Krone
-Open drinking on the streets is not allowed.
-Physical cash transaction is not common here.
-Tap and Swish (E-Transfer) is the common transaction types
-Stockholm is made up of many little islands connected by bridges
-Tipping is not common however, it is common to round up the total to the nearest big number as a tip.
-Access is their tap transport card – I got the 72-hour card. You can take all the forms of transportation ranging from bus, train, tram and ferry.
-Fika – an important part of Swedish culture. Fika – coffee break
-Hej – Hello
-adjö – bye
-Ja – Yes
-Nej – No
-Ursäkta – Excuse me
-snälla du – Please
-Tack or Tack tack – Thank you
-Varsågod – You’re welcome
-Förlåt – Sorry
-räkningen – Bill
-Skål – Cheers
-låt oss äta – Let’s eat
Denmark – Copenhagen – DKK – Krone
-Open drinking on the streets is not allowed.
-Tipping is not common however, it is common to round up the total to the nearest big number as a tip
-Biking is taken very seriously and has its own road rules just like driving a car.
-Copenhagen Card – You can use the calculator on their website to see if it is worth it to purchase this card. We purchased it but mainly for the unlimited travel. We purchased the 72 hours card. It’s sort of an honour system in a sense as you have to write in your start date and time on the card. You don’t tap it when boarding trains/buses etc but there may be a fare/ticket checker on some of your rides and must show your card. I wish we used the erasable pen we had instead so we could adjust it as we were in Copenhagen for a little bit more than 72 hours and it would have been nice to not have to purchase a day pass for the last few hours. The card gets you into many attractions and discounts on many other things.
-Make sure you check if certain attractiions are open on specific days
-Hej – Hello
-adjö – bye
-Ja – Yes
-Ingen – No
-undskyld mig- Excuse me
-Vær venlig (vair-vin-lee)– Please
-Tack or Tack tack – Thank you
-Selv tak (sell tack) – You’re welcome
-Beklager (bi-clay-er) – Sorry
-regning – Bill
-Skål (skuul) – Cheers
-Lad os spise- Let’s eat
Germany – Euro
-Tipping is not common but you can tip if you want (10%)
-Drinking is allowed in public
-Many flea markets on Sundays!
-Many stores are closed
-Grocery stores are closed Sundays however the ones in bus/train stations are exceptions
-Hallo – Hello
-Tschüss – (choose) bye
-Ja – Yes
-Nein – No
-Entschuldigen Sie – Excuse me
-bitte – Please
-Dankeschön– Thank you
-Bitte – You’re welcome
-Es tut uns leid (astudentslight) – Sorry
-Rechnung – Bill
-Lass uns essen- Let’s eat
London – Pound – £
-Oyster Card – train/subway/bus system is very intricate but can get you everywhere.
-Tip is around 10%
Scotland – Pound- £
-Similar to Quebec to the rest of Canada, Scotland is the United Kingdom’s counterpart whereby at a certain point, they wanted to separate to become a country of their own.
-It doesn’t really snow here but the temperature remains an average low of maybe 5C
-Edinburgh seems to be a popular for international students to study
Congratulations, you have made it to the piece de resistance – My Itinerary for 36 days in Europe. We did move around things we did on certain days in certain cities but for the most part, this is what we did and they are grouped by areas in each city to maximize your days.
To start off this trip, we had to fly to Toronto to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle before we made our way to Anchorage. I guess there are more direct flights out of Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. We arrived around 1030PM where Kenny and Ryan were waiting for us. We walked out to arrivals and found a SUV that had the We the North flag hanging from it (Raptors won the Championship in Game 7!).
We went to the hostel – Arctic Adventure Hostel – to drop off our things and headed to Walmart (open 24hr) to stock up on sustenance for the next few days before finding a late night place to eat and have a drink. We ended up at 49th State Brewing Co. 49th State Brewing sits on a corner of a sloped street that also has 2 levels of outdoor patio with heaters and a beautiful uninterrupted view of the waters. We got a table with a live fire going to keep us warm but also in visible sight of the beautiful sun “setting”. Since Kenny and Ryan had arrived earlier, Merle and myself ate while we all drank some local beer and cheers to arriving to Alaska, the start of our adventure and Kenny reaching his 50th state.
I ordered the Baked Alaska Ale and the Elk Crossing 10” pizza (Elk Meatballs) – roughly $24USD (after tax & tip). We left the bar around 130AM and the sun was pleasantly still up as we drove home. Surprisingly, many people were still out and about. Summer is similar to Iceland where the sun rises at 430AM and “sets” (really just sits on the horizon) at 1130PM.
Since we were all coming from different parts of North America, we decided to sleep in a bit and start our day later. I routinely keep waking up for 7/8AM Toronto time so even though we went to bed around 230AM Alaskan time, I still awoke at 4AM. We ended up leaving around 930-10AM. First stop, Kaladi Brothers – We got reindeer breakfast burritos and they got cold brew coffee. According to many blogs I read, the highway going to Seward is the #1 scenic highway in USA. It definitely had some beautiful spots but I wouldn’t quite say it was the best I’ve seen in my travels. It was a pleasant drive nonetheless.
One of Kenny’s friends mentioned detouring to a small town called Whittier. Whittier has the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. This tunnel lets to a small inlet town of Prince William Sound. This tunnel is a one-way tunnel that is shared by both cars and trains. It costs $13USD to go through and there are scheduled release times to allow traffic to go through smoothly. There are also restrooms available as you wait for your number to get the go ahead to go through.
One the other side in is Prince William Sound, a small inlet. There are a few waterfalls and also a bunker that use to hold many things. It was an interesting experience but if you have little time, I would suggest skipping it.
After this detour, we finally made it back on the road and enroute to Seward – Kenai Fjords National Park to do the Harding Icefield Trail. Parking is free and the visitor centre was open and restrooms available. The map shows you the trails you can take and also helpful tips if you were to interact with wildlife such as bears or moose. BUG SPRAY IS KEY!
We started our hike of the Harding Icefield Trail at the Exit Glacier. If you want to complete the entire trail to the top, it will be roughly a 6-8 hour hike. We arrived around 3-330PM and decided to hike to Marmot Meadows viewpoint. Reading all the comments of this hike, it was highly recommended to get hiking poles. The 3 of them had hiking poles but I decided to opt out of them. There are parts where it gets a little steep but for the most part, I was ok without them. I have to note as well that I guess I am slightly more athletic than the average person so if in doubt, get poles if you worry. Marmot Meadows viewpoint was a stunner. You get a good look at the glacier and the valley. The next point after Marmot Meadows, we attempted to goto since it would only be about an hour and we had made good time however, it got to the point where the trail was just covered in snow and me without poles, wasn’t the safest of options. Ryan and Kenny continued up while Merle and myself wait at Marmot Meadows for them. The hike down was rather quick (at least for me). I do recommend trying to go further if you can, the view just 10 minutes past Marmot Meadows I think has a better view than what you see at the Marmot Meadows lookout.
By the time we made it to the bottom, we did the smaller viewpoint loop to the bottom of the glacier.
We left the park and decided to look for dinner in town before driving back to Anchorage. We found a cool little place called Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. We all ordered a cup of seafood or clam chowder and shared some halibut butts (bites) and 2lb steamer clams in garlic butter. Delicious!
The good thing about this time of year is that the sun was still up and bright as we drove back and by the time we arrive back around 1230AM, they sun was right on the horizon and calming.
6AM wake up call. Breakfast was a big improvement with hard boiled & fried eggs, bacon, bread, boar sausage. It was the final tear down – bittersweet. The rain had past but the fog hadn’t fully lifted making it eerie but beautiful as we drove. Another round of gin rummy and a few hours later, we made it to our last pitstop at the mall for lunch. (lunch is not included)
Will realized after he purchased a new phone that he had left his pouch with his sim card and passport back at Kruger which was 3-4 back the opposite direction.
Another hour or two and we finally made it to Benoni (roughly 20 minutes drive to airport) to Mufasa Backpackers where we all disembarked from the truck one last time. Earlier in the week Will asked for all our plans and arranged rides for all of us to get to our next destination. It cost 600ZAR to get from Benoni to Rosebank by taxi. Before we all parted ways, we presented Will, Frans and Clive with envelopes containing our collective tips for them.
TIPPING – On the Go Tours
Tipping is all dependent on what you feel comfortable paying. Our guide mentioned to us that it is roughly $5USD/day per staff for the length of the tour. In the end, depending on how long of duration your tour is, it can add up. In the end, we thought it fair for $150USD collectively split amongst the 3 staff. Tipping is a very Westernize custom but USD goes a long way especially in Africa. We (as in Canadians – Torontonians precisely) pay at least 13% back home. Tipping also customarily shows the person you are tipping if their skills were up to par or if they need improvement.
It is not highly recommended to take public transit or walking around especially for foreigners. There is high crime rate in Joburg. Uber is a good alternative to taxis especially for the price.
We booked with Hyde Park Villa (28B – 3rd Road, Sandton) for 2731ZAR for 2 villa rooms with 2 single beds in each room for a night. The bathrooms are just as large as the rooms with a full tub and walk in shower. Rosebank & Sandton are a gated community and this hotel is gated and felt very safe and secure. This hotel is located near a St David’s College. They have an honours bar where you take what you want but write down your room number and pay later.
We got the villa rooms 12 & 14 close to the breakfast room and closest to the pool in the inner courtyard. Room 12 has more natural lighting coming into the room but nonetheless the rooms are nice and cozy and their bathrooms are beautiful and spacious including a open shower and a giant tub with 2 sinks. The only issue we had in room 14 was that the AC/heater unit was giving off a funky smell. The courtyard was very cozy and inviting but unfortunately we didn’t have time to use the pool. The stairs to the units above our room made you feel like you were somewhere in Europe. There is free wifi on the premises via Alwayson provider which allows a complimentary 500MB per day. It is a decent speed.
We got in and settled by 445PM and with lack of time, we opted to goto to Rosebank Mall (15A Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa). We wanted to Uber to the mall as it is the cheaper option for transportation but we couldn’t get the app to work so luckily Jackie was kind enough to book one for us (Uber updated so you have the option to pay in cash).
Our room key comes with a gate opener that allows us to go in and out without needing to buzz security. Ellet was our driver who was originally from Polokwane and was such a sweet man.
We arrived at the mall and tried to check out the rooftop market but only then realized it is only opened on Sundays so we tried to check out the Arts and Crafts Market on the outside of the mall but they were in the midst of closing at 530PM and we tried to see if they would stay open but majority of the vendors had left. We walked through the mall to search for souvenirs but nothing so we went grocery shopping at Pick n Pay for last minute purchases of snacks and coffee beans. After research, There was high rating for Bean There Coffee, Monate Coffee but I also purchased Terbodore Coffee and E Cafe all for my father.
Unfortunately the mall was closing by the time we finished grocery shopping (everyone told us the mall stays open late into the evening – not true). Luckily there was complimentary wifi and I was able to download Uber and Ubereats. There weren’t any restaurants at the mall so we opted to go back to the hotel and order Ubereats since the mall was closing and our access to free wifi was coming to an end. We had the hardest time trying to make an order on Ubereats. We had made a few selections and had our order ready for 2-4 restaurants but we couldn’t get the app to complete any orders. Luckily Sarah had Skype credits and we ordered pizza from Andiccio 24. I got the Pumpkin Banting (cauliflower crust) with bacon. By the time the pizza’s came and we all showered, it was already 1130PM. Our hotel also gave us complimentary wine but it was just too strong and sweet. We repacked and went to bed in an actual bed.
We got to sleep in until 8AM as complimentary breakfast services finish at 9AM. Not the hottest of mornings like we had days previous so taking a dip in the pool wasn’t an option. Breakfast was great. Cute little eating area with buffet set up of yogurts, pancakes, fruits, bread, smoke salmon and juices/coffees .Jackie is the owner of the bed and breakfast and such a sweet lady. She is very involved including making custom omelettes for us for breakfast. Once seated, Jackie would come over and ask if you wanted any hot food customized. We all got mushroom and cheese omelettes with a side of bacon.
The actual property of Hyde Park Villa feels like being in a private European park that makes you feel secluded and relaxed. Jackie had booked an airport shuttle for us for 550ZAR prior to coming and we had asked her to adjust the time for pickup to 10AM as opposed to the original 11AM as our flight was 210PM. We only were successful in downloading Uber late the night before (it would’ve been 225ZAR) so it was too late to cancel the airport shuttle. We wandered the property until our taxi came for us. We played with Jackie’s dog Mishka who is also a delight and so sweet with it’s spot on the lawn near the swimming pool.
Once we got to O R Tambo, the line for Ethiopian Airlines was enormous and somehow was 3 lines funnelling into 1. We spent an hour at the Made in SA store outside the gates to get souvenirs. We really wished we picked up souvenirs before in Zimbabwe and Botswana but the only opportunity in the trip to do so was realistically in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe at the very beginning before we started our tour.
We made it through security and spent more time in Duty Free and the Out of Africa store (has a much bigger selection than the store outside) still pricier than markets outside of the airport but last minute buys, not bad. Our flight home was long but with Emergency seats, you can’t complain too much. We went from Joburg to Dublin (we didn’t get off but cabin crew changed and plane re-fueled) then Dublin to Toronto. Halfway through the flight, our personal media units (the ones that you unfold from the armrest) stopped standing up on its own and kept falling down. It felt like we were on the plane forever consuming 7 meals and periodically sleeping. One thing I don’t understand when being on planes is the sheer laziness of people who goto the washroom barefoot or in their socks – disgusting.