The French Riviera – Drippin with Finesse!

Nice – Check. Cannes – Check. Monaco – Check. Monte Carlo – Check. Eze – Check. Antibes – Check. SMILE, you’ve been to the French Riviera! Boy Oh Boy! What is someone even supposed to say about a destination donned with such beauty & luxury? Got an answer for us; What is my life?!

French Riviera is the Southern part of France where its all quiet and demure unlike Paris for example where its a buzz of activity. Even the lifts at the FR are cozy! Nice, Eze, Antibes, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Saint Tropez, Saint Paul De Vance, all make up the French Riviera. Nice is where we landed and drove around to the other cities with each having its own vybe. In Nice though, we struggled to find common eateries where you just walk in and grab some food. Lunch is served at lunch time and so is dinner. Maybe we were on the bourgeois side where its all formal. But its all worth it because when that lasagna gets served..mmm mmm mmm!!

Chateau dela Chevre dor hotel in Eze area is really another story. You literally feel like you are on the set of a James Bond movie. Its so exotic, elegant and just plain sophisticated. The hotel only opens in summer. We traveled in winter because well oh well its budjetmsafiri, Can always use a bargain! All its rooms are sound proof with elegant furnishing, private gardens and heated swimming pool. Located on a hill, its surrounded by a medieval village like neighborhood overlooking the Mediterranean sea that gives you a panoramic view of the French Riviera coastline. You may want to let that marinate.

Then there is Cannes which comes to life in May when Hollywood royalty checks in for the Cannes Film Festival. The whole street is on lock down during this time with only limo drop off and pick ups taking place. The fans and press watch from the sidelines while the celebrities strut their Glamour on that Red Carpet while their yachts await for the after parties. Everyone on their lane..please!

Next is Monaco the second smallest city in the world and the third richest. This is where the Elite come to play with their Yachts, Aston Martins, Harley Davidsons, Maseratis and that’s just basic. We got to watch the change of guard; a fete that occurs every afternoon when the guards at the King’s Palace change shifts. Nothing like log in and out – thats for me, maybe you and the rest of us. Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious and has a lot of celebrities and wealthy people in attendance. After the race, they just hop on their yachts and helicopters and head out to the sea to party and network. Some of these yachts have Helipads. The Grand Prix start point is at the marina with the circuit running all through Monaco. Aryton Senna – the Formula 1 great owned an apartment here. Wasn’t he such a sweetheart!

The infamous Monte Carlo casino is also in Monaco. Now here you feel like you are in a Concours d’Elegance show. Vintage and exclusive car models that are just out of this world drive in & out; And this just a normal day where everyone is all about their business. ( Wow..and to think you’ve made it with a 4×4) The snowy ambiance at the entrance usually turns to a fountain in summer. It  looks very interesting especially in the night when it gets lit up.

The Old Town side of the French Riviera is known as Antibes where besides the Christmas Market, you get to visit the Picasso Museum that has Pablo Picasso art collection. Its not as glamorous as other cities but nevertheless, it still has that southern French charm. Pablo Picasso has inspired a lot of Kanye West art i once heard him say.

Saint Paul de Vance is a very elegant shopping boulevard surrounded by beautiful landscapes and where you find such amazing artwork which is quite pricey. This must be what they call Masterpieces. They are so well thought out, very unique and exclusive. A lot of world renown wealthy people come here to buy the artwork. The prices i repeat are not for regular people.

I think what makes this area so breathtakingly beautiful is how Environment conscious they are over here. Pollution is almost non existent. The flower vase below is set up with recycled material. Inside is a collection of corks from wine bottles to hold the flowers and the strips. How thoughtful.Overall, we had such an amazing time and that hot wine otherwise known as Glogg made the chilly weather bearable. Its a common drink in Europe during winter. There’s a specific way it gets prepared so please don’t go boiling your wine…Do Not! try this at home! Cheers! & Merry Xmas!

Lisbon – Old City Charm

If as a Kenyan you want to understand the amount of influence the Portuguese had on Mombasa look no further than Lisbon. The narrow streets, The tiny restaurants, Grafitti, Medieval neighborhood, the Tuk Tuks!! You feel like you are in Lamu! Katikati. Interestingly, Lisbon also comes to life at night just like Mombasa! Lisbon is that city that is characteristic of Old City Charm. It’s where one of the world’s biggest explorer Vasco Da Gama embarked on his exploration journey through Africa all the way to Goa India by Sea. The point of his departure is right in front of the Lisbon Square. All the history you learnt in school really starts to make sense. Some say the fiction character Sinbad is based on his story. Theres a bar/club concept that we found quite fascinating here. They have several of them located in one high rise building; whereby on each floor they play different genres of music and serve different menus – so you just go to the one that has the music or meal of your choice . Or just hop all over. Shopping is also big in Lisbon and you dont wanna guess what else we found in the market – Mutura. Really, Lisbon is just little Mombasa. Its that city that if your touring around, you pass by on your way to some place else. My 2 cents.

 

Oktoberfest, OktFest & Koln Germany

Experienced my first ever OktoberFest in Heidelberg Germany – the home of OktFests. It was fun fun fun to say the least. Also got to tour Koln city and wow!! I have so far not seen a country that is this functional. Everything works! This what i learnt;

  1. OktoberFest is the World’s Largest Beer Festival held on large scale in Munich Germany and on a smaller scale in Heidelberg. It runs from Late September to Early October. To celebrate, people wear costumes which are representative of traditional Germany’s mode of dressing; Dindyl for the Ladies & Lederhosen for men. At the festival, the theme is Old Germany countryside setting, music, song and dance with an Orchestra if need be.  To kickstart the event, the first glass from the beer tank is tapped that is accompanied by the gong and cheers from the audience. And of course after some few beers, dont be surprised when everyone hops on the tables to dance. This is the normal. You miss it, You miss out!!

Some good to know info on Koln / Cologne.

  1. Old Germany was a Monarch but was ruled by an Emperor not a King/Queen.
  2. The Cathedral located at Cologne is short of 800 years old. It survived World War II despite several hits and is now a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site.
  3. Old town has narrow alleys which were pathways used by horses carriages that were the mode of transport then. It also has cafes and restaurants which have that distinctive “Europe’ look.
  4. Recycling is BIG here!! you get paid to return used bottles or cans which are then recycled.
  5. Driving at 200 speed on the highway is the normal
  6. Got extremely fascinated by a taxi concept known as car sharing. You order a driver-less taxi through a phone app that checks for an available car in a given radius near your current location; then you just get in drive it to your destination and dump it there where someone else can also order and so on!! And interestingly, the car models are BMWs, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, Audi!! German Machines!! Literally!! That got me. Plus they snack on Caviar!! Am relocating (pun)
  7. You can walk through the Hohenzollern Bridge to get a vantage view of the city, bridge and the Cathedral. Along the way you pass by the Love Locks wall where couples fix padlocks, lock them and throw away the keys to the Rhein river which is just underneath.
  8. Koln/Cologne is really a feeling; and personally for me it was celebration of a Friendship Long Lived.

 

 

Geneva – Where the Nations Unite!

Whenever i hear Geneva, Koffi Annan comes to mind. Like in a flash! May his Soul RIP. Its also the City where all Nations Unite for the good of the common person. The United Nations office in Geneva is the second largest with Nairobi also being one of the city that hosts it. Happy Dance!!

Well Geneva is not exactly a tourist hotspot. There isnt much to see but more of much to experience. Its quite a sophisticated city though quiet even on a weekend. A lot of the people here are French Speakers and are very friendly and helpful. Getting around the city is pretty easy, with the trums all over the place.

Some of the major landmarks include Jet d’Eau which is large fountain in the Geneva lake that pumps water to a very high altitude and is as old as 1886. It can be viewed from any corner of Geneva including when landing. On windy days, the water splashes to anyone that is close by which i guess can be exciting!

Just before getting to the fountain you pass by the L’horloge Fleurie which is an outdoor clock that is decorated with flowers that symbolizes the city’s famous watchmakers who built it as a dedication to nature. FYI Switzerland is ranked as the number one country that produces the best quality watches. As you draw near the lake,you can just stop and marvel at the beautiful swans. Its a sight to behold!

After your done swooning on them, you can head over to a nearby restaurant that is on a cruise ship to grab a drink as you watch the sunset. Since it was Summer, the sun would set at 10pm which was quite new to me.

As mentioned earlier, Geneva is home to the second largest United Nations Headquarters, the more reason I relate the city to Koffi Annan. Great Man!! Of course entry to the UN is restricted understandably; but right outside is another landmark known as the Broken Chair which was constructed in the era of landmines to serve as a reminder to any politicians visiting the UN of the opposition towards landmines and bombs. Princess Diana was also a very strong Oppose’ and led a campaign against them by walking on an active minefield in Angola during one of her campaigns.

Just beside it is an explanation in many different languages as to why it was constructed. The English part reads ” Broken Chair is a symbol of fragility and strength, precariousness and stability, brutality and dignity. Originally conceived with the aim of urging nations to ban anti-personnel mines (in 1997) and cluster munitions (in 2008), Broken Chair is a continuing symbol of the desperate cry of war-torn civilian populations. Broken Chair is a reminder to the world’s nations to protect and aid these civilian victims. It invites each one of us to denounce what is unacceptable, to stand up for the rights of individuals and communities and to call for their rightful compensation.

Fun Fact: You can head out to the mountains to bask in the beautiful nature. Its very picturesque with insane views overlooking the whole of Geneva. You can still view the Jet d’Eau from here. They do have shops and restaurants as well where you can relax. People also bring their hiking gear including bikes as its an ideal location for such activities.

Not So Fun Fact: Travelling makes you appreciate where you come from more!! We went grocery shopping and apparently in this side of the world, you have to do the coding and pricing of grocery items; and when you get to the counter you have to do the packing as well! Switzerland is also very strict on Environment laws and plastic bags are not allowed so you need to carry a grocery bag every time you go shopping – which is a good thing. But the coding, pricing and packing..i love you Kenya!

To get to the mountains, you use a cable car which can be a bit busy in peak days like the weekends. In winter, the mountains are all covered in snow so you can just picture that image. Whats more, even in summer Switzerland is still very breathtakingly green. Am never big on relocating but I could live here!

Once your back to the city from the mountains, how about saying hello to those fellows hanging around the streets (wink). You never know, they might just respond! And incase your struggling with the Jet d’Eau pronunciation, just say Zhe-do and you’ l be fine. As for L’horloge Fleurie; well, you may want to take a moment of silence on that one!

 

 

The BC Of Mainland China

China was somehow a moment for me; as it was there that I had my first ever overseas assignment where I was among the Kenyan delegation that launched the Kenya Tourism Board Marketing Campaign – Magical Kenya which was inaugurated by the then President Mwai Kibaki & First Lady Lucy, then Minister of Foreign Affairs Raphael Tuju amongst others in Beijing. Those are some of the small perks being a Tourism Ambassador can get you. Oh yeah..am dropping BIG names & titles here! So heres to literally the BC of Mainland China – presenting Beijing & Chengdu.

China is home to the famous Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius; whose many quotes resonates with most today. His teachings were based on ideas regarding wisdom and emotional intelligence otherwise called the school of life. Ever heard “Confucius says – if at first you don’t succeed do it like your wife told you”. Men please take notes! But that’s a story for another day.

Thing I noted most about Mainland China is that you have to be really aware of the place your travelling to as there are many cities and provinces which are so similar even in wording you may just end up in the wrong town. And to make matters worse, most local people there speak Mandarin and are not familiar with English or other foreign languages. They however have portable devices they use to translate English to mandarin and vice versa in order to communicate and that requires a lot of patience. A place like Chengdu which is home to the Panda can be quite a challenge communication wise.  This is one of those places where getting a local tour guide would be necessary. Getting around though is easy as metros, buses and cars are readily available and besides you can just bike around as you tour the city.

In Chengdu Some of the places to visit include the Chengdu Panda Research base center where a lot of conservationists visit to learn about the breeding of the giant Panda which is done to save it from extinction. The red Panda can also be seen at the centre and  its also considered an endangered species. Pandas are bears if you like.

Some other touristic places include the worlds tallest and largest stone Buddha statue carved on a cliff known as Leshan Giant Buddha and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the creativity and its size.  Viewing of the carving can be done by going down the cliff then climb back up which is what we did or from the ferry though at a cost. If you choose to hike be ready for some intense climbing. Ohh it hurts!!

In Beijing, the communication struggle is not as bad as its cosmopolitan but some English speaking locals can take advantage posing as tour guides who then extort money from you if not careful. You will find them at the metro stations where they target tourists who seem not familiar with the city. For us we bumped into them at the metro stop to Forbidden City. Speaking of which is also a UNESCO declared World Heritage site and was known as the home of the emperors. You can listen to all that history through headphones they provide inside the museum.

It’s also in Beijing that you get to climb the Great Wall of China which is almost one and a half hours drive away from the city. There is no direct metro train therefore to get there you can use a private car or a tour bus. The peaks at the Great Wall are highlighted by tiers and the higher up you go the more windy and steeper it gets. They have a small brief mounted at the base regarding the history of TGW.

The tour bus offered us a complimentary visit to the Chinese theatre to watch some theatrical shows which are so hilarious. Also visit to the Silk, Herbal Tea and Fine China shops is complimentary where you can make your purchases if interested. As for food options, this is very dependent on a person’s choice because Chinese menu is “quite colorful” and if you’re like me maybe you’re better of at McDonalds for a vegetarian meal. Veggie Burger please, thankyou!

 

Jo’burg & Capetown – The Rainbow Nation’s Major Cities

Currency:  1 US Dollar = 15 SAR (South African Rand)

I have never been so unprepared for a trip, as i was on our visit to Capetown. We really did underestimate the 17 degrees weather forecast with the assumption that it wouldn’t be that cold but we could never have been that wrong!! On the contrary Johannesburg was quite hot which of course was due to the fact that we traveled in summer. You cant help but notice the contrast between the two cities especially the ambiance. Jo burg is more of  a cosmopolitan city while Capetown is a bit more reserved. I’ve heard very good reviews of both cities especially Capetown and I am here to attest to them.

In Capetown, some of the major landmarks include Table Mountain which is a leveled plateau accessible via a rotating aerial cable-way that can be quite uncomfortable for someone with heights phobia. At the top, they have restaurants where you can buy food or refreshments and just bask in the serenity. The cable way goes back and forth every 10 minutes.

While still at the top; otherwise known as Table Top,  you get to experience such breathtaking views of the country with Devils Peak, Lions Head and Robben Island at the backdrop. Its also a great venue for photography with the breeze assisting in capturing any movement detail.

Other landmarks include Cape of Good Hope which is believed to be the point where the Indian & Atlantic Ocean meet. Apparently its not; the exact point where the two oceans meet is called Cape Agulhas which is quite a distance from Capetown. The two oceans have different colours which is how you distinguish them. On your way to Cape Point you get to pass by the Boulders Beach which is home to the rare African Penguin which is now endangered. An endangered species is that which is almost going to extinction.

Johannesburg on the other hand is quite a busy & vibrant city that is abuzz with trade. Major landmarks here include Nelson Mandela Square located at Sandton. It’s an upmarket area with restaurants, hotels, malls which are pricey compared to other places. Cradle of Humankind Museum a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site is almost a 2 hours drive from Sandton where the evolution history of the beginning of man is featured. A tour guide briefly takes you through the stoneage sites and then you head inside the museum that has a mixture of old and modernity.

Back in Capetown, the best way to view the city is through the Hop On Hop Off buses that are quite affordable and they drop you at every other corner of the city. You can pick them at the V&A waterfront which is the central point for most pickups. Capetown wheel is also found here. We could still view the table mountain though downed in cloud cover. In such days, the aerial cableway is closed until it clears up.

It is also in Capetown that you get to visit Robben Island, (you get a view of it also from the table mountain) a historical landmark that takes you through the apartheid journey. To get there, you board a 45 minutes Ferry to and another 45minutes from. There you find former political prisoners who are now tour guides that take you through the history of what happened in the Island. Such an eye opening experience. Mandela’s Cell number 46664 and the rock pile which they formed during a reunion with the other former political prisoners can also be seen at the compound. The rock pile signified the hard labor and the hardships they endured while in prison. Former SA Presidents imprisoned there include Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma as well as Thabo Mbeki’s father.

In Johannesburg, you can visit Mandela House No. 8115 in Soweto which is where he was arrested and taken to Robben Island to serve the 27 years in prison. You really get to learn a lot about Mandela on a more deeper level as per the article Iv shared before Here. Activity wise you can get to bring out your inner child at the Gold Reef Amusement park.

We also toured the Lighthouse in Capetown which is normally used by sailors to guide them on approach to mainland. Its currently new as the old one was decommissioned after an accident occurred there many years ago. Pieces of the shipwreck are still floating on the waters to date.

A drive through the Chapman’s peak exposes you to the Mother City’s (as its populary known) spectacular scenery and coastline. There is a variety of landscapes along the way including the wine routes that are ranked among the best in the world. Scheduled stops can be done at various approved stop points where you get to bask in the beautiful weather and surroundings. On the other side is Camps Bay which is a high end eatery and residential area that has the beach right across. Ahh Its so surreal!

Some fun activities may include taking a sunset cruise over some champagne..we not saying! Again this depends on your budget as there is a variety of packages you can choose from that may be cheaper or more expensive. The cruise takes place at the V&A Waterfront where you get a variety of yachts to choose from which just makes you feel like Royalty. The choosing!! They also arrange private cruises for couples or groups and even helicopter rides.

Its best to visit Capetown in Summer as during Winter some of these attractions may be closed due to strong winds and cloud. For the 5 days we were there the Aerial Cableway to Table Mountain was opened only once as the weather was really bad in other days; and you don’t even want to think how long that queue was. Our patience was really tested but we were quite determined. That said, am never one to visit a destination twice but Capetown, il be back. Fo Sho!! I mean who wouldn’t with such sunsets?? Yebboh!!

 

 

Istanbul – A Mix of Ancient & Modern Culture

My trip to Istanbul forever remains edged in my mind because i dont think i have ever experienced such flight turbulence ever. Its really not the best way to start a trip because you get so engrossed in dreading the journey back; but well you cant really fight nature, so its just best to let that go because the journey anyway is all worth it.

Istanbul is a city that has a blend of ancient and modern culture. The architecture has ancient themes with modern finishings whose designs can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. The Emperors had a wild taste for luxury which even to an extent rendered them bankrupt. Some of these buildings include the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Obelisk Of Theodosius to name a few.

There is also the beauty that is Dolmabahce Palace which is where the Emperors lived luxuriously. Visit inside the palace is only through a guided tour as there is just one entrance and one exit. Taking photos inside is not allowed. As you exit the main entrance you get to see the famous clock tower erected right outside the palace.

As you tour the rest of the city, you get to see some other very beautiful buildings. Metros can be used for transport but be ware that English-being the universal language-is not so common here, so its best to use public means if you only know where you are going. Alternatively you can make bookings with the tour companies whose packages consist of English speaking tour guides.

Turkey as a country is located between two continents; Europe & Asia which are connected by the Bhosphorus bridge, a famous landmark here. You can drive between the two continents or use the cable car which is much faster to cross over to either side. They told us the restaurants and hotels are much cheaper on the Asian side. 1USD is equivalent to 2.88 turkish lira so its somehow an expensive city.

While on the Asian side, you get such amazing views of Turkey. We had also previously made a brief stop at the Prems Leather Shop which is famous for its production of very high sophisticated leather. Any purchase made at the shop is discounted so it would be great to take that advantage if looking for quality leather or leather products. All those high end designers get their leather from this shop.

When it comes to activities, you can take the day cruise along the Istanbul strait where you get to view the city from the sea. They have a tour guide that takes you through the history of the Ottoman Empire through the PA system. They also serve refreshments especially since it was the rainy season then.

 A fun filled night cruise was scheduled where dinner was served. This though depends on the package that you choose from the tour company. It comes with entertainment on board from belly dancers, clowns, guitarist and violinist doing their thing.

Overall, it was a great trip; really enjoyed the food, the weather, turkish tea and the country in general. We however had a bad experience with our Tour guide but i have now forgiven the old man. I mean isnt that what we all have always been taught to do?!

 

3 in 1 Singapore – City; Country; Island

Singapore is renown as one of the most modern and developed countries in the world in terms of infrastructure and technology. Its citizens are a multicultural mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays who make up the Singaporeans.


As a city, its very developed with a good transport network of buses, trains and trums. You can use any of the three modes to get to any corner of the country at quite affordable fees. The city’s skyline is lined up with its highrise skyscrapers with even some of its malls made from marble.

Some of its attractions include Marina Bay Sands Hotel which hosts the Skypark at its rooftop that is famous for its  ship like vanishing pool. Most of these attractions can be viewed through the Singapore Flyer that gives you a vantage view of the city including the Floating Sports Platform at the Marina Bay.

Singapore’s Resort World Sentosa is a theme park that has some magnificent designed structures such as the Merlion, Tiger Sky Tower, Universal Studios and Sea Aquarium which has been named the world’s 2nd largest public Sea Aquarium after China.

At the Sea Aquarium you find an array of different marine fish species on display such as the Cow Fish, Jelly Fish, Sharks, Sea Dragons; just to name a few. The corals are also quite interesting to see and can be viewed on an upclose basis in the underwater tunnel.

Singapore is an island country consisting of about 60 other semi islands. Consequently, cable car use is quite common here to connect you to these small islands in a short amount of time. It can also be a great way to experience a panoramic view of the city. Skyline luge at the Sentosa has fun themed cable rides which take you up the hill for breathtaking views and later scoot your way back down .

They also have other fun activities to do such as visiting the universal studios, eating at restaurants at the peak top of the merlion, city views at the top of the tiger sky tower, themed shows backed by story lines that end with a fireworks display and many more. This can all be found at Sentosa.

Singapore is a good choice for travelers interested in modern city vybes. There is so much to see, learn and experience. I didn’t get the chance to experience the IFly – indoor skydiving; so just in case you love thrill that is top recommended. Singapore everyone!