Cape Town – World’s best kept secret

Posted by Mark

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I’m at the Cape Town airport right now waiting for my flight back to Kuwait and I figured this would be the best time to write about one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

I booked my flight to Cape Town on impulse and not by doing a lot of research. I was at the Foo Fighters website checking out their tshirts when I decided to check and see where they were touring. I noticed they were going to be in Cape Town in December so I figured why not go watch them there. I booked the concert tickets and then messaged my friend in Cape Town telling her I would be visiting. I then booked my airline ticket and that was pretty much it. Around two weeks before leaving to Cape Town I started doing some research trying to see what else there is to do there. First thing popped up was the Sonar electronic music festival, it was taking place on the last two days I would be in Cape Town so I purchased tickets to that as well. I then kept researching and came up with a pretty long list of things I wanted to do in Cape Town and that included:

Bungee Jumping
Paragliding
Hang Gliding
Skydiving
Surfing
Kite Surfing
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Wine Tasting

Once I got to Cape Town I started planning my schedule.

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Where I stayed
Because December is peak season in Cape Town and I was booking everything last minute I couldn’t find a good hotel to stay in so I ended up staying in a beautiful bed and breakfast called Radium Hall. The website and photos really don’t do it any justice and 6 nights stay cost me just KD160. Insanely great value and I’m so glad I ended up staying there instead of a hotel. The view from the balcony wow… I loved coming back home just for the view.

How I got around
While in Cape Town I was using the Uber cab service the whole time and I found it incredibly cheap and practical. 80% of my trips were costing me on average KD1 and my most expensive trips were to the airport and those cost me KD4. All the cab drivers were super friendly and they even have Uber Chopper in Cape Town where you can order a chopper and an Uber black car picks you up and takes you to a helicopter which will then give you a tour of Cape Town.

What I did
So I had a pretty long list of things to do but I decided to prioritize and ended up doing the following:

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Foo Fighters
The first day I got there I did the Foo Fighters concert. It was being held in the Cape Town Stadium and I arrived five hours early hoping to be first in line only to find a fairly large queue already waiting. I still managed to end up center stage though and forth row standing which is super close. It was a great show and three hours long, they played all their greatest hits since back in 1995. I loved it.

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Skydiving
I’ve been wanting to skydive for such a long time and even though I could have done it in Dubai I really wasn’t interested in jumping over a dessert/city. I wanted to jump out of a plane over a beautiful landscape and I’m glad I ended up doing it in Cape Town. I did the jump with Skydive Cape Town, it cost around KD80 including pick up and drop off. We were three jumpers at the same time (tandem of course) and we squeezed into the back of a super tiny plane that looked like it was 50 years old. Super freaky but that was part of the experience. It took us around 20 minutes to get to the right jumping height and then one by one we jumped out of the plane. I wasn’t the slightest bit scared I was just really curious to see how I would react when we first jumped out and my reaction turned out to be just pure excitement. They recorded a video of the jump and basically for the first 30 seconds while we were free falling all you could hear me scream was “fuuuuccccck yesssss!!”. I loved it. The company I jumped with seemed a bit old fashioned though when it came to documenting the jump. They took photos and videos from a camera that my skydive instructor wore on his wrist while in Dubai for example, based on the photos I’ve seen, they actually have another jumper jump with you to take photos of you. Also they gave me the video on DVD.. in DVD format so even though they shot the video with a GoPro in HD, the video I got was low res. Plus who still has a DVD player?

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Bungee Jumping
The second activity I did was bungee jumping. This turned out to be a complicated activity to perform just because of the planning it involved. The highest bungee jumping bridge in the world is at Bloukrans Bridge which is a whopping 8 hours drive from Cape Town. I was planning of renting a car and driving there but then I found a quicker way to get there. I ended up flying out from Cape Town to an area called George and then renting a car from the airport and driving around two and a half hours to Nature’s Valley which is just 10 minutes away from the Bloukrans Bridge. I booked a room at the Tranquility Lodge for the night and they helped me book my bungee jump for the same day.

This whole two day trip was a beautiful experience. First of all the jump was insane. Like the skydive I wasn’t scared at all before the jump, in fact I was pretty numb. I had a bunch of things on my mind and so was too preoccupied to be scared. I was actually worried I might get scared while standing at the edge but even that didn’t bother me. But, as soon as I jumped the first second or two I was fine but because the jump is soo high (216 meters) it just felt like I wouldn’t stop and I was thinking what the fuck when will the bungee cord snap back up. It was exhilarating. The company running the bungee jumping was also extremely extremely professional. I mean every step of the way from booking till the end they were very organized. They also took some great photos and shot an amazing video of the jump which I later purchased from them on a memory card. Definitely worth the experience and the jump cost just KD20 (not including around KD60 for the flight, KD30 for the car rental and KD15 for the room).

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The rest of the day I ended up spending it on the Nature’s Valley beach. I didn’t even know my lodge was located next to the beach but I heard a sound of a waterfall behind a large green bushy area so I went to explore and ended up finding myself on a large fairly secluded beach with waves splashing constantly. It was beautiful and that alone would have been worth the trip.

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Surfing
Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to surf, probably because all the cool people used to be surfers on tv shows and I just wanted to be cool like them as a kid growing up. Cape Town is a surf town so it wasn’t very difficult finding a surfing school. I ended up booking a private session with one of the best and most expensive surfing schools in Cape Town called Stoked School of Surf. The private two hour lesson cost me around KD40 which isn’t really expensive just expensive compared to other options available.

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This experience turned out to be wayyyyy more fun than I ever imagined. Not only that but by half way through my lesson I was already standing on the board and surfing to the beach. The whole team behind Stoked were very professional and they had two dedicated photographers covering the private and group lessons, one guy in the water with a GoPro while the other on the shore with a DSLR.


[YouTube]

Sonar Cape Town
I was pretty surprised to find out the Sonar music festival was coming to Cape Town. Even though the event was being held over two days I ended up just buying a ticket for the second day since there were two musicians I REALLY wanted to see, Jon Hopkins and Ten Walls. Both turned out to be the last acts of the night so I kept popping in and out of the festival all day long until I was back there at 1AM to watch Jon Hopkins and then Ten Walls at 3AM.

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I have mixed feelings about Sonar, Cape Town definitely isn’t a partying city in the same way Barcelona is where I was back in May for the Sonar festival there. When I first popped in at 4PM there were literally like 5-10 people there only watching one of the performances (pic above). It looked like a really bad high school prom. Then later on during the day it started getting more packed but for example when Jon Hopkins was going to come on I don’t think anybody knew who he was except me, a friend and another couple who were there standing in front of the stage with us waiting for Jon to come on. Turns out the other couple were from the same town at Jon hence why they knew who he was. Both Jon Hopkins and Ten Wall were ridiculous and I’m so glad I watched them live.

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Why Cape Town is amazing

Cape Town is a bit like Lebanon, LA and Miami all combined into one. I travel a lot and I’ve been to a lot of great cities but Cape Town is the first one I actually want to move to. I feel there are a ton of business opportunities here and I really really can’t describe how beautiful the city is. I loved the fact that if you want to go camping in the middle of nowhere or go to a beautiful private secluded beach, you can and they’re just 30 minutes drive away. The beaches! I went beach hopping one day and every beach we ended up at was nicer than the beach before it. The sand is snow white and the water a clean and sparkling blue. You have the huge table mountain right behind you as well so it’s such a pretty sight wherever you go. And the food… I literally just had sea food while I was here and everywhere I ate was just delicious. My favorite places were probably Beluga, Haiku and Willoughby & Co. I didn’t drink any wine while I was here but I didn’t have to since Cape Town beer is some of the best I’ve ever had as well. I was introduced to Castle Lite by the owner of the bed and breakfast I was staying in on the very first day I arrived and I was constantly drinking that for the rest of the trip. Oh and for those of you who don’t think Cape Town is safe, I found it as safe as New York. I was out past midnight in some dodgy neighborhoods without feat but I was also “mugging ready” meaning like in New York or any other city for that matter which I travel to, I always am prepared in case I get mugged. I always have a backup credit card and debit card in my hotel and I make sure I don’t wear my expensive watches or carry expensive electronics other than my phone.

I’m on the plane now about to take off so have to quickly end this post. In conclusion, Cape Town is a must visit city and it’s easy to get to, just one stop away with Qatar Airways or Emirates. Cape Town is where I am going to retire in.


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Off to Cape Town

Posted by Mark

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I’m at the airport now on my way to Cape Town for a week long vacation. I will be posting while there but very lightly since I will be at the beach most of the day. Sorry not sorry.


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Review: The Meydan Hotel – Dubai

Posted by Mark

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As I mentioned in my previous post, over the weekend Red Bull sent me to Dubai to watch their Car Park Drift finale. Since the event was being held at the Meydan Racetrack, Red Bull ended up putting me up at The Meydan Hotel.

I had their standard room which over looked the racetrack and it was pretty large in size compared to most standard rooms I’ve stayed in. The whole hotel is pretty ginormous so makes sense that the rooms would be as well. When you first walk into the room you have a long winding corridor which contains the closets followed by the bathroom and then the rest of the room.

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The room had some nice features like touch controls for the lighting and the AC, an iPhone dock connected to a sound system and my favorite feature, a closet that opens from two sides. I don’t know why I’ve never come across this before but it’s super practical, basically you can access the closet from the main room corridor or from the bathroom since there are doors on both sides of the closet. This means if you come out of the shower you can just open the closet and pick your outfit without having to walk out into the main room. The bathroom also had a large bathtub with a tv and a large window overlooking the room. It was a beautiful and tasteful room.

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But, there are some downsides with the main one being the fact the hotel is located in the middle of nowhere. It’s somewhere between Dubai Mall and Mall of Emirates but located inwards and surrounded by nothing. It makes it really unpractical say to go shopping and then come back and drop stuff at the hotel. Another issue I faced was the lack of taxis again because the hotel was located in the middle of nowhere. You can have the hotel order a cab but it would take around 20 minutes to get one so the only option if you’re in a rush is to take the hotel limo which costs a considerable amount more. To be fair the hotel does offer shuttle services to and from Dubai Mall and Mall of Emirates but only at certain times.

The hotel is pretty cool, very modern and if you’re a party person then you’ll probably like the fact the club White is located on the rooftop of the hotel. But as I said, it’s not close to anything and thats the compromise you’ll have to make since the rooms are pretty affordable starting at around KD50 a night. Here is a link to their [Website]


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Mondays with Matthew: Visitors Welcome (1 of 2)

Posted by Matthew Lodge

Hello again. It’s good to be back for a second week of “Mondays with Matthew”. I have enjoyed reading all your comments on my first post – even the more critical ones! I’ll respond to as much as I can, and I’ll always respond honestly.

In the spirit of that approach, I wanted to say a few words about visas – the first thing that comes to mind when you mention that you’re the British Ambassador to Kuwait. Yes it’s not the most exciting subject, but it’s clearly one that generates a lot of frustration and emotion. “Too expensive”, “too slow”, “too complicated”, “unfair”, “unnecessary”, or even “insulting”. These are all comments I have heard when listening to Kuwaitis talk about visas to travel to the UK. Let me tackle this head on. My hope over the next two posts is to explain why we do what we do, and how travellers can make the system work as smoothly for them as possible.

Let me start by saying that the United Kingdom welcomes visitors. We are delighted that so many Kuwaitis enjoy travelling to the UK, visiting London and other cities and we want that to continue. Last year, the visa team here at the Embassy received around 100,000 applications for visas from Kuwait for people wishing to travel to the UK. That number doesn’t include all those who have longer-term visas, who are studying or those visiting the UK for medical treatment. In addition, a study by Visit Britain (the UK’s tourist agency) showed that Kuwaiti visitors did more shopping in the UK than any other nationality last year. The UK’s close relationship with Kuwait and the strong human ties are something very special and I am anxious that we maintain and strengthen them.

So, why do we need a Global visa regime at all?

It’s all about security and control. The UK is open, tolerant and welcoming. It is also a country that continues to be shaped by its past with large immigrant communities, an increasingly diverse society and a genuinely global outlook. Add to this the English language, the National Health Service and other factors, and the UK becomes an enormously attractive destination for migrants from many different countries. And then consider the UK’s high profile internationally, the determination of successive UK Governments to stand up for those elsewhere who face oppression, injustice and violence – and you also see a UK that is viewed as a target for those who want to do us harm, who don’t share our views and don’t like our engagement overseas.

One of the prime responsibilities of any national Government is to keep its country – and its people – safe. In the 21st century, that responsibility has become even harder to fulfil. Controlling who crosses our borders is a fundamental element of this. That is why we need to operate a visa regime. It’s not about making life difficult for honest travellers and welcome visitors. It is about stopping those who would do us harm, discouraging those who want to enter the UK illegally, and controlling those who might want to stay on after they have finished what they came for.

So, if we accept that we – sadly – need a visa regime, how can we make it as smooth as possible? More on that next Monday, but for now I welcome your thoughts and input in the comments section!

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge

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Long term parking at the airport

Posted by Mark

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I’m heading to Beirut for the weekend for my younger brothers wedding and I feel pretty lucky since I managed to park in the long term parking lot.

The lot was actually full but like I usually do I just waited outside the parking entrance and hoped that someone would leave so I could take their spot. I wasn’t expecting to find parking today and was planning to park in the short term parking as plan B but, the parking attendant came and told me he had a spot in the back but I would have to park on the curb. I didn’t have an issue with that and so he removed the temporary barriers blocking the parking entrance and once I was in led the way to the back. I was planning to just climb the curb and park but it seems they wanted to utilize that space properly so he made me park to one side so there would still be a spot on the curb for someone else. The more cars he can help park, the more tips he will make.

According to the parking attendant the long term parking has been full for the past three days so if you’re planning to park your car at the airport expect to find the long term parking full. Your alternatives are the short term parking lot (I think it’s KD4 a day) or the cargo terminal parking lot which is free but a pretty long walk.

Note: Photo captured from my snapchat


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Escape to Oman

Posted by Mark

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Ali Husain has been organizing trips to Oman for awhile now but I only recently found out about them through a friend of mine. Ali is a Kuwaiti who used to travel to Oman on a monthly basis to hike and discover new places but he ended up completely moving there back in 2012 because he loved the place so much.

According to Ali, the mountains in Oman are rugged yet majestic and unfortunately, not many people know about the real beauty of Oman. It always upsets him every time he asks a person about Oman and the only thing they know is the Shangri-La hotel which is not a representation of anything real in Oman. Oman has so many hidden jewels, unique mountains, caves and waterfalls to offer but no one is willing to put the effort to leave the comfort of a hotel room. So, Ali decided to start a new outdoor community in the Gulf.

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Every few months Ali organizes trips to Oman from Kuwait. The trips are available usually on weekends and they are all about team work and creating a mini community in a magical setup. Everyone on these trips works together to set up camps, cut wood, cook meals, etc. It is a full on schedule usually for two days with hardly any sleep. There are no hotels or proper bathroom and everyone will have to go back to basics in everything.

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Right now Ali has two upcoming trips this October. The first trip is from October 9th to 11th and its to the the largest caving system in the region. It is an amazing experience like no other places on this planet. The second trip takes place from October 16th to October 18th and is to the summit of the highest point in the Gulf, Jebal Shams at 10,000 ft. The cost is KD150 per person and that includes food, beverages, camping gear and transportation but does not include airfare to Oman or any hotel stays before or after the trip. Most of the trips require a high level of endurance and acceptance is usually based on that.

So if you’re interested in exploring Oman you can contact Ali on husaak@gmail.com or whatsapp +96599635414. You can also follow him on instagram where you can see many more amazing pictures @husaak


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Ultimate Lebanon Summer Guide 2014

Posted by Mark

If you’re going down to Lebanon for Eid at the end of the month, here are my favorite places you need to visit for 2014:

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SUN.DAYS at Skybar
Skybar Beirut have something new going on this year and it’s called SUN.DAYS. Starts at 6:30PM on Sundays while the sun is still up and goes on till past midnight. The whole Skybar gets a major makeover for SUN.DAYS with fake grass flooring, a raised bar area and colorful lounges and chairs all over. It actually takes them nearly 12 hours to setup this conversion, that’s how dedicated they are to SUN.DAYS. There are also special guests on SUN.DAYS and while I was there HVOB were performing and I ended up capturing the great shot below. Reservation is a must.

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Le Montagnou
Probably the nicest looking pool in Lebanon with the greatest view. Located up in Faraya, Le Montagnou is a restaurant with an outdoor pool and bar. Caters mostly to the fancy schmancy crowd of Faraya and Faqra but still cheaper than many pools in Beirut and cheaper than most of the pools in Kuwait. Stay for the sunset and reservation is a must.

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The Gärten by Uberhaus
They’re only open Saturday night from around 8PM to 6AM and it was favorite place last summer and again this summer. It’s an outdoor club that’s open just for the summer with a large green garden filled with bean bags on one side and a huge open dome which is the dance floor on the other.

Internazionale
There are a ton of great pubs in Mar Mikhael but my favorite this trip was Internazionale. It’s owned by the same owner as another favorite pub of mine Torino Express. Internazionale has two advantages over Torino, a larger space and the fact it’s located in the more vibrant Mar Mikhael area. Just like at Torino, the owner DJ’s here as well.

The Train Station
I wish I had taken pictures of this place but I didn’t have my camera on me then. The Train Station is located on the grounds of the old Mar Mikhael train station. They’ve taken one of the abandoned rusty 50+ year old trains and setup a DJ booth inside. They then setup a bar along with tables all around and they’ve kept everything intact including a rust old water tower which the bar surrounds. Pricy for what it is but it’s worth checking out.

The Junkyard
Also located in Mar Mikhael, The Junkyard is located in a large space between a heavily packed residential area and the theme of the place is a giant junkyard. There is indoor and outdoor seating it’s also worth passing by and checking out since it’s visually interesting. The place is a bit too bright so best to start off your evening with The Junkyard which makes sense anyway since they have a good food menu filled with friendly dishes like burgers and fish & chips.

Make sure you check out last years Ultimate Lebanon Summer Guide since most of the recommendations are still applicable as well [Link]


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Review: BEYt Guesthouse

Posted by Mark

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Last week while in Lebanon I stayed at a guesthouse called BEYt. They’ve been open for nearly a year now and I found out about the place by chance on my last trip there while visiting a small bookshop (Play BEY which belongs to them) and overhearing the owner talk about it. The guesthouse was located on top of the bookshop on the main Mar Mikhael street (where all the pubs are) and when I got a tour of the place I knew I would be staying there on my next trip, which is what I ended up doing.

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As I mentioned above, BEYt is located on the very popular Mar Mikhael street. It’s on the first floor of a traditional Lebanese building with high ceilings, wooden shutters and beautiful floor tiles. They only have four rooms available which are:

Master Bedroom (90$ for 1 person, 110$ for 2, 130$ for 3)
Private bedroom with its own en-suite bathroom
1 queen-size bed & 1 single bed

Private bedroom (75$ for 1 person, 95$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with its dedicated bathroom across the corridor
1 queen-size bed

Twin Bedroom (60$ for 1 person, 80$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with shared bathroom across the corridor
2 single beds (1.20 meters)

Corner Bedroom (50$ for 1 person, 70$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with shared bathroom
2 single beds (1.10 meters)

Those are the prices as of this post.

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I ended up taking the “Master Bedroom” and found the room fairly spacious with a pretty large bathroom area thats nearly as big as the room itself. The whole guesthouse is fitted with vintage furniture and various vintage electronics like record players, TVs and cameras. It’s a beautiful space and all the furniture was handpicked by the owner. The biggest seller for me though was the location, being situated right on Mar Mikhael street meant I could walk to my favorite pubs and then clumsily stumble back at the end of the night. For those of you who know Lebanon, BEYt is located 2 minutes away walking from pubs like Radio Beirut, Internazionale, The Train Station and The Junkyard. Walk a minute longer and you’re at Bar Tartine, SUD and The Sandwich Shop. I can’t really imagine a better location to be staying at in Beirut. Because there are no pubs below or right across the street from BEYt the place was actually pretty quiet especially the room I stayed in which didn’t overlook the main road. BEYt also had WiFi and it was a pretty reasonable speed compared to Beirut standards.

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With all the positives I did have a number of issues though. When we first arrived at the guesthouse we were told that they needed our rooms for 2 hours because they were installing new vintage lights in our rooms. Nice but why couldn’t they have done that before we arrived or after we left? The first thing I wanted to do was unpack and head out. Another day I walked into my room and noticed they had removed the window shutters and a guy was standing outside my window working on them while looking into my room. That made me feel really uneasy since I was just sitting there on my computer with a guy looking in from my window. Again it wasn’t anything urgent that needed fixing so they should have done it before or after we left. I called the owner and told him how weird that was and he told me the guy just needed 10 more minutes. I had to wait until he was done so I could go and shower which annoyed me since I don’t like other people managing my personal time. The next morning I woke up to find the guy was back at my window, he had removed the shutters and was working on them again. It was really annoying and an invasion of my personal space.

Other issues I faced, the original room description which I listed above stated my room would have two beds but when I got there I found only one. It didn’t turn out to be an issue for me but it would have for someone wanting the second bed. Finally, the last issue I had was with the AC. We were told that we should shutoff the AC when we leave our rooms. I hate doing that especially when the AC isn’t really powerful like the ones they had installed. I usually come back to the room to sleep and don’t want to come back to a hot stuffy room and wait an hour till it cools. Luckily we managed to keep it on the whole time without any issues.

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There were a few more things that bothered me like the smell of the cooking every morning or the really rough and hard towels. But all the issues were relatively minor and nothing really took away from the whole experience except for the guy with my shutters. I thought the price of my room was pretty fair and the fact they have rooms starting at $50 is ridiculous. It’s all about the location and that’s why I’d stay there again with all the issues I had. For more information on BEYt, check out their website [Here]

Another similar place I would recommend staying at is the Hayete Bed & Breakfast which I’ve previously written about [Here]

Note: Picture of the room taken from the BEYt website


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Thinking of going to Cuba?

Posted by Mark

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A couple of weeks ago, me and a friend where looking for places to travel this coming October and Cuba was on the top of our list. We didn’t manage to do much research other than finding out which airline would take us there but, the local travel blog Hello 965 just posted some information on Cuba including how to get there and what to do once you’re there. So if you’re ever considering flying to Cuba, this post should interest you. Check out her post over [Here]


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Kuwait Airlines Plane Makes Emergency Landing in Brussels

Posted by Mark

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A Kuwait Airways plane carrying 200 people made an emergency landing at Brussels airport Monday after the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit, Belgian news reports said.

The plane, an Airbus 300, was en route to London from Kuwait when the pilot asked for clearance to land, the reports said, citing airport spokeswoman Florence Muls.

“The landing proceeded without incident and all passengers disembarked safely,” Muls said. “Safety services are now examining the aircraft” to see if they can discover where the smoke came from, she added. [Source]

Good thing they’re getting new planes end of the year.


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