A Day in Cardiff

I went to the capital of Wales for just a day, and devised a Cardiff-in-one-day sightseeing plan. It’s only an hour away from Bristol with plenty of connections to England by train and bus. I arrived by bus and started my self-guided day tour in the rain.

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the backdoor of Cardiff castle, as seen from Bute Garden

The bus station is in Sophia Gardens, so take a stroll there, and over the bridge to Bute Park and you’re in the city centre in ten minutes. Stop by Cardiff Castle and meet the bird man – he carries a pet owl and falcon around to keep the seagulls out. Walk around the castle walls – there’s lots of interesting architecture and plenty of stone animals to be seen.

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the many facades of the Cardiff Castle wall

Next, explore the Castle quarter. There you can find the Cardiff Central Market and a handful of other arcades and covered lanes. St. John the Baptist Parish church is worth a visit. Take a slight detour east to see Chapel, the 1877 church now used as a trendy bar and restaurant.

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Chapel Bar & Restaurant still looks more like a chapel

Hop on the 5 minute train to Cardiff Bay from Cardiff Queen street, where you can take pictures of the Wales Millennium Centre and Roald Dahl Plass. Mermaid Quay has bars and restaurants, and I got a coffee out on the pier at Coffee co. lounge. Stop at a local pub, like the Cardiff Cottage or Cambrian Tap, and try a pint of Brains.

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the Cardiff Castle is tiny compared to nearby Coch or Caerphilly

If you’ve got more time or your own transport, perhaps you can also go the two places I missed: Castle Coch and the medieval Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Wales. Send me a postcard if you go – Arnarholl 1, Reykjavik 116.

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Holed up in Oxford

I want to write a book. Correction, I am trying to write a book, and the only way it seems possible is to be in a cold, grey, expensive British town somewhere where I know nobody. I know one guy actually, but he’s a penguinologist researcher on site in Antarctica until February, so he agreed to let me squat his house and punish myself in isolation while writing some hundreds of pages about me. It is as boring as it sounds, but some people (like myself) May want to read it one day.

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Cornmarket Street, Oxford

I arrived January 18th, and didn’t leave the house for the first week, except for one grocery shop. The only non-book writing things I did were: take a bath, watch one Tarantino movie, and drink red wine. But it wasn’t so bad, January in Oxford… not compared to Reykjavik at least.

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Oxford’s famous Covered Market

There are leaves on the trees and the parks still have green grass. Birds chirp every morning and when the sun does show its face for a moment, it actually gives warmth. The grocery shopping here is a fraction of what things cost in Reykjavik, but mostly I’m here because there’s noone to call or meet for coffee, and noone showing up to distract me. I feel like I’m becoming a crazy cat lady without the cats.

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Malmaison, former prison turned Boutique Hotel

The wonderful thing about writing a 60,000 word book is it makes a 500 word blog seem like a piece of cake. But after a very productive week I decided to go to them if they wouldn’t come to me (people, not cats), so a weekend trip to Bristol is underway. A couple of days away from my computer screen should do me good, and I’ll finally hear the sound of my own voice when I speak to another human again. Can’t wait.

Wandering France

Christmas is a wonderful time to be in Iceland, especially for the food and lights, and New Years Eve in Reykjavik is like nowhere else on earth, but this was also a nice time to travel since so many others are also on holiday now.

I met an American in Tuscany 6 years ago and we stayed in touch over the years. She came to Iceland in 2016 and met me in Mauritius for my birthday 2017, and we decided on meeting in Paris to celebrate 2018. It was going to be a cheap and cosy holiday, since we had my friends flat in Republique to house-sit, but when he dropped off the face of the earth without leaving any keys, we were pretty much homeless in Paris.

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Girls night out in Paris

Luckily for us, Stef had a friend who was housesitting and we crashed with her for 2 nights. Those nights were well spent, eating cheese and drinking red wine. We ended up out for a night near the Moulin Rouge, and dragged a Christmas tree home with us on the 4am saunter back past all the open sex shops.

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Mont Saint Michel

We had 10 more days in France without any attachment to Paris, so we decided to travel. We went to Normandy to see the infamous Mont Saint Michel, which looks unreal even to the naked eye. We carried onto Bretagne, where we visited the riche towns of St. Malo and Dinard and stayed in the capital Rennes.

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Chateau du Vitré

Facebook told me I had a friend in Bretagne I had forgotten about – I couchsurfed with a metropole named Al in French Guyana 6 years ago and he lived in Corlay. It’s a village most have never heard of but they are famous for inventing their own breed of horse (who are great steeple chasers) and Al’s brother had a cottage there. We celebrated New Years Eve at midnight there, and barely missed it since we were the only 3 people in the village and couldn’t see or hear a sound of life from anywhere else. It was the quietest NYE party I’ve had yet, but the most champagne bottles drunk per head.

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Dinard, on the coast of Bretagne

Our trip carried on thru some more charming places in Bretagne, like the Abbaye de Bon Repos and the lighthouse and pink rocks of Ploumenach. We found a cheap blablacar to Tours and thought “we’ve never been there” and went. It has a nice church and a yellow cobblestoned city center, but the most beautiful chateaus and wine villages around the region are more worth the visit.

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Annecy in the Rhone-Alpes

My wandering in France ended in Lyon at a horse friends house. She works in a hospital and offered to photograph me with her x-ray machine. I picked my left shoulder as a subject, since it clicks sometimes and thought maybe we’d see why. She had a day off and took us to the mountains, Annecy at the edge of the Rhone-Alpes and up to the snow in Semnoz to have a snowball fight. We ate raclette, and bread and wine and more cheese, for most meals of the day, until my flight home the 5th. But it was Alicia’s birthday the 5th, so it was appropriate to have cheese and bread and champagne for breakfast and my last meal in France.

Alicia´s champagne birthday breakfast

Now its time to cheese and wine detox, at least a couple of kilos, and stop eating so much white bread. How do French people stay so slim?

The Weird and Tasty in London

I never go to London to go to London – it´s usually on the way from Iceland to somewhere else, or a stopover to switch airports. I´ve been to London a dozen times, and always left the airport if I can, but never really wanted to stay long since London struck me as a grey and overpriced, crowded city. I also hate commuting, and the London underground is the most complicated public transport system in the world, but this was finally going to be the first trip to London for the sake of getting to know London.

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typical London to me

For the first time, I started liking London. I stayed in zone 1 and tried to walk as much as possible, and actually saw blue skies more than once. Oxford street with all its Christmas cheer was undeniably charming, and the handful of parks around still had green grass. The trip was focused on wining and dining, since it will be my WSET Level III exam location in a couple of months, but a string of strange sights and events also made the trip quirky and memorable.

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magic tricks with liquid nitrogen at Dinner by Heston

I don´t have any proof, but out of the window of my Gatwick airport express train, I saw a green parrot flying freely. I wondered where one could post to a Lost and Found forum about their missing exotic bird, or if its possible that it flew here, naturally and by its own will, from somewhere warm and tropical.

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a street scene in downtown St. Helier, a weekend detour we took from London

I had one of those moments where you wish someone had caught it on camera, or suspected there was a hidden camera and it was done on purpose to record your reaction, but it was simply a stroke of bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was walking along the sidewalk where a small puddle had collected in the curb, and a car drove by close and fast enough to send it spraying over me, head to toe. It was stinky, grey, icecold water, but the shock factor was too much for me to worry about that. The woman just behind me, who got pretty much the same splash, gasped and screamed ´that is SO unfair!´

British people are known to be pretty rude drivers, especially in city center traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road and all. But its not funny anymore when it gets racist, and I heard one truck driver screaming out of his window down to the guy in the Mercedes Benz that had just cut him off ´where´d you get your license? Moscow right? Learn to fucking drive!´The Mercedes guy answered and they started screaming all sorts of profanity at eachother, threatening to get out of their car, but luckily the light turned green and everyone went on their way.

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how did he get there?

The weirdest thing I saw was a car parked on its nose against a house. It had somehow driven, or slid, off the road and lay beside the window of a basement suite. It had taken out the railing, but missed the window and the garbage bins, even though it had fallen down a crack only one meter wide.

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

The most impressionable part of the trip was by far the food. Dinner by Heston, a double Michelin star restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, was mind blowing. I ate chicken liver pate that looked like a plum and tasted the best chocolate tart imaginable. Street XO had a fusion of Mexican and Asian bites, with deliciously experimental cocktails, decor, plating, and even server outfits (think tophats and suspenders worn unconventionally).

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Street XO

We drank gluhwein and hot cocoa, made gingerbread men and had to catch up on our advent calendar chocolates. We had a private lunch at our friend´s work kitchen and ate the best African food in Picadilly Square at a place called Ikoyi. I brought even more of an African with me to London while watching the Lion King, but quickly started embracing the cold, crisp feeling of winter and the change of season. Christmas doesn´t feel right in the heat, you know what I mean?

 

Lusaka and Livingstone

I couldn’t believe our luck, but somehow we managed to hitchhike 530km from Lilongwe to Lusaka. Out of the 5 or 6 other guests at Croc Valley, two were being driven back to town in a private car and let us have the other two spaces, without accepting money for gas. On top of that, the German guy and Cambodian travelers were hoots of fun, and their driver became our local friend in Lusaka to show us around.

Lucy, Dandy Crazy, me and our local friend Al

He took us to a night club called Hollywood and they only sell bottles of alcohol as 2 for one. So our one bottle of bubbly had to be two, and three beers had to be six, and lo and behold I ended up being pulled on stage being dry-humped by some famous artist called Dandy crazy. We paid entrance to a guy called Danger Man, and I think he had something to do with it.

Me and Al with our double bubbles

We stayed at Lusaka backpackers, and their sister campsite, where I slept in my hammock with two Russian over landers as my self-proclaimed body guards. We took a bus to Livingstone, one of the least painful, comfortable coach buses so far, and spent the next few days blowing money.

Riding safari

Everything is an adventure or activity that costs either a lot to run, or they charge whatever they want because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Actually visiting Victoria Falls is barely worth it this time of year, as the end of dry season (and dams upstream) leave almost no water flowing on the Zambian viewing side (but the Zim side is full blast). However, you can walk along the top of the falls closer to the Zim side and swim at the top of the falls for $75.  Some wouldn’t do it if they were paid $75, but it was totally worth it for me, even though I knew it was a rip off.

One the edge – swimming in the Devil’s Pool

Lucy bungee jumped off the Zam-Zim bridge, 111m of free falling and a minute or two of bobbing above the Zambezi River for a cool $160. We took a full day of river rafting on the Zambezi, which included one unrunable rapid. There we walked illegally on Zimbabwean soil, and made it thru the other 20+ rapids without ever flipping (other rafts weren’t so lucky).

Jump!

Our last day was spent cruising on the Zambezi above the falls, where croc and hippo sightings are the norm. A local man had just been taken alive by a crocodile after fishing from the shore, so we made sure to keep our arms and legs well inside the boats. Our sunset cruise turned into an 80’s party where I was twice asked to change my clothes with a kayaker for money, and once just to see the worlds best kayaker Benny Mar wear sparkly gold hot pants for everyone’s amusement. That will be a sight (and person) hard to forget.

Lilongwe to South Luangwa National Park

After more than a week bouncing around the shores of Lake Malawi, we headed to Lilongwe from Kande Beach. Some will tell you it takes 4 hours, others 6, but really it takes about 10 if traveling by local buses. These ‘matolas,’ small 14 seater buses, will actually squeeze in more than 20 people, and stop to drop off and pick up people as long as there’s space to sell one more passenger in, including whatever cargo they may have with them (ie. live chickens, 25kg corn flour sacks, or smelly dried sardines). They’ll tell you they’re going to Lilongwe, but really they’re just going to the next big town where they can buy you into their buddy’s bus, which goes to the next town, and 3 bus exchanges later (if you’re lucky), you’ll actually get to Lilongwe.

Goodbye Lake Malawi

In Lilongwe we stayed at Mabuya, a backpacker friendly hostel and camp site, but with the early arrival of the rainy season, decided that sleeping outside in our hammocks was a bad idea. We were short on kwacha, but they accepted visa once in a while, and this was one of those nights. It poured from the moment we arrived until we went to sleep, so the $12 splurge on a dorm bed was well worth it, although we missed out on enjoying the swimming pool.

A warm welcome to Zambia

The next morning we left at 6:30, and took a local bus to the bus station. From there, we found a bus to Machinji ‘border,’ which doesn’t go to the border, but takes you to Mchinji town (2000 kwacha, 2 hours). Another 1000 kwacha in a shared taxi took us the last few kilometers to the border, which we walked across, and bought a single-entry Zambian visa for $50US (NB: the coop $30 Zambia/Zimbabwe visa is not available at this border).

Our first sunrise in Mfwue, just seconds after the baboon perched on our picnic table ran away

From there, it was another shared taxi to the next town, Chipata 30km away. The atm at the border didn’t work, no one exchanged shillings or pounds, and after our unexpected visa fees we had no extra dollars. But the shared taxi took us to a Barclays in Chipata, where we had to wait in a long line to use the atm (it was down for the first 15 minutes) or get special permission from the manager to change pounds. I’ve heard Zimbabwe is bad, but this was still worse than I expected. It may have been because it was the first of the month and a Friday, but it was still surprising how difficult it took for us to get local kwachas.

Zebra crossing on the way to South Luangwa

Now it was 12:30, and the taxi had waited an hour for us, but he still only charged us 50 Zambian Kwacha and then dropped us off to the Chipata bus station, where we could get a bus to Mfuwe. We had heard shared taxi’s also do the route, for the same price and a lot faster, so after talking to a few drunkards and some taxi drivers, we finally found out they were waiting somewhere else 3 km away.

Even a lying down giraffe is tall

We were off by 13:30 in a shared taxi, for another 50 kwacha where they say they only take 4 passengers, but a 5th one was always rotating in and out during the 133km journey to Mfwue. We arrived at the doors of Croc Valley, 2 km outside of South Luangwa Park’s gates, just before 4. We checked in for a 2 night, 2 safari, 4 meal deal and slept in our hammocks the first night.

Lazy cat

Even though Croc valley isn’t technically in the park, there are no gates or fences, so the shallow Luangwa river didn’t stop hippos from coming up on our side. After asking permission to sleep in hammocks, and being assured it was safe, we were told there was a small chance some grazing hippos might show up in the middle of the night, and we had to just stay calm and quiet. Sure enough, around 3 am, a large, chomping, snorting hippo decided to nearly graze me he was grazing so close.

Sunrise from Croc Valley

The next morning, after a game drive, the manager of Croc Valley told us we weren’t allowed to sleep in hammocks, since crocodiles also roamed around freely, and “a hyena might come and bite your face off.” So after that kind of warning, we moved into the canvas tents, especially after seeing the size of some of the spiders and avoiding a snake as we took down camp.

Bushbuck antelope are loving the new greenery after the first rains

The place was seething with insects as soon as nightfall came. All sizes and shapes of insects I’ve never seen, and a lovely bunch of mosquitos, plus thieving baboons and monkeys to avoid. A gecko pooped on me while doing yoga on the patio, and the swimming pool had a warning sign advising “please make sure there are no hippos, snakes or crocodiles before swimming.” We managed to eat our meals in peace, since the waiters carried slingshots to threaten any monkeys away, and took a sunset safari in the park to see pukus and zebras who truly have only white and black stripes (that carry on all the way under their bellies). After running into a few more grazing hippos on our way home after dark just outside of camp, we were relieved to sleep in our bush tent, especially once the thunder and lightning started up.