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Archive for November, 2009


Grahamstown is a city in the Eastern Cape, with a population of about 125,000, located North of Port Elizabeth. The city was founded by the British in the 1900s as an outpost during the Boer Wars, and there are some interesting historical military buildings and relics to be found throughout the city, as it has the largest number of forts of any city in South Africa. Grahamstown is the central city within “Frontier Country”, an area recognized by its turbulent past.

Firstly, the city has earned the nickname “the City of Saints”. There are over 40 religious buildings in Grahamstown, and the city caters for a wide range of different religions, including Hindu, Quaker, Muslim and Mormon adherents. The main bulk of the 40 buildings belong to the wide variety of Christian denominations. The Anglican Church is, logically enough, most well represented, and Grahamstown has an Anglican Bishop, who has his episcopal seat at the Anglican Cathedral of St Michael and St George. This Cathedral is perhaps the most impressive building in the city, with the tallest spire in South Africa.

Although I refer to Grahamstown as a city it feels more like a town even though it has a population in excess of one hundred thousand and a cathedral. It therefore also has a more intimate feel to it enhanced by the lack of high-rise buildings and the presence of thousands of trees inside the city boundaries. It is also not uncommon to find the odd donkey-cart in the streets. The town has three traffic lights excluding the pedestrian crossings with traffic light assistance. One of these can be found at St Andrews College, one of the world class schools in Grahamstown together with Kingswood College. The Diocesan School for Girls is also worth a mention and is the sister school to St Andrews College.

Secondly, Grahamstown is known for the Rhodes University, a world class institution with thousands of students. It is therefore not unusual to suspect that the night life in the city is something tremendous.

Nightlife in The City of Saints is almost always throbbing unless the students are between semesters then all of them are away at their respective homes. Even when the students are away the world class “The Rat and Parrot” pub is always busy and when the students are here it is almost impossible to move inside this double-storey double bar pub with a balcony area and an outside area. Grahamstown also has “Friar Tuck’s”, a well-visited pub with dance floor that usually receives its patrons late at nigh after they had visited The Rat and Parrot and other bars or private house parties. Slip Stream Sports Bar is further down the street from the Rat and Parrot and at this venue one can have a drink and try your gambling luck with slot machines.

This is also related to the third feature which makes Grahamstown such an attractive place to visit, is the fact that it is known as the festival capital of South Africa. Grahamstown hosts a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, which attracts visitors from all over the country. The main festival is the National Arts Festival, and during the week when it is in play, Grahamstown transforms into one large cultural exposition.

During the summer over December and January things become much more quiet in Grahamstown, but a mere fifty-odd kilometers to the South are the world class beaches at Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea where you will find thousands of holiday-makers. Port Alfred boasts one of the more impressive Marinas in the Southern Hemisphere whereas Kenton has two Blue Flag Beaches. If you like the beach and holiday atmosphere that accompanies summer then this whole area of the coast is for you.

All the large buildings and open spaces are occupied by musicians, dancers and comedians, and open-air theaters are erected on the main village squares, with ongoing performances throughout the day. Flea-markets span the street and hawkers sell extravagant goods on the sidewalks.

Grahamstown has something for everybody and it seems everybody is interesting. Get tired of this impressive city and you can take a quick trip to the beach or one of the game farms like Shamwari or a slightly longer ride to Port Elizabeth, one hundred and thirty kilometers away. I would recommend Grahamstown to any would-be traveler.

De Wallen

De Wallen is the largest yet best known red light district area in Amsterdam, and the world. It’s a major tourist attraction that’s located in the heart of oldest parts of Amsterdam city. The area covers multiple blocks around the Oude Kerk and crosses several canals. De Wallen, together with the prostitution areas Singelgebied and Ruysdaelkade is locally known as “Rosse Buurt” and worldwide known as “Red Light District”.

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Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is one of the largest cities in South Africa, and the largest city in the Eastern Cape Province. The extended city, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan area, houses over 1.3 million people. The city was founded by the British in 1820, and it has played an influential role during the Boer Wars, which has shaped its history. There are a number of historical attractions available to visit throughout Port Elizabeth, or the Windy City, as it is known locally, including the Historic Donkin Heritage trail, which allows visitors to relive the settler experiences of the early 1900s by following a trail past some of the remaining relics of the era.

The city is usually considered the last locality on the Garden Route, and like many of the Garden Route towns, the Windy City offers some great opportunities for water-sports fanatics. The beaches of Port Elizabeth are generally accepted as the best beaches a large South African city has to offer, with warm water and perfect wind conditions for surfing waves. Closer to the CBD, Port Elizabeth has more to offer, and as the 2010 World Cup draws nearer, the city will be preparing for its own influx of international visitors, which will result in a better infrastructure, a revamping of the international Port Elizabeth Airport, and an extension of the already widely available accommodation on offer.

If you intend to stay in the city center, there are some interesting museums and extensive parks, including the King George Park, a sprawling cultivated garden with plenty of flora. Furthermore, Port Elizabeth has always been a sports-obsessed city, and there are some word class cricket and rugby stadiums featuring matches on a regular basis.

Finally, it has to be mentioned that even though Port Elizabeth is bordering the ocean, there is still an opportunity to see the Big Five in either the Addo Elephant Park, just outside PE, where Elephants and Buffallo roam free, and the luxurious Shamwari Game Reserve, where all the big animals of the continent can be seen in the semi-wild.

Greenpoint and Seapoint

Greenpoint is mostly a residential suburb. Located to the North-West of the central business district (CBD) in Cape Town, it is very close to the city center. For visitors, the main appeal of the suburb is the large number of restaurants, clubs, dance halls, bars and other nightlife. Since 2009, the Greenpoint Stadium has been in development.

This stadium will be the site of a number of 2010 Soccer World Cup matches, including a quarter and semi-final. Because of this, the number of accommodations is poised to rise exponentially over the coming months, and the suburb, which used to be both notorious for its high crime level and famous for its shopping and dining atmosphere, is set to be cleansed of its dark side.

Cape Town is often hailed as one of the gay capitals of the planet. If this is true, the Greenpoint is definitely the headquarters. GLBT emancipation has progressed a lot over the years, and the Seapoint on Greenpoint is characterized by Rainbow flags outside some well established gay bars.

For straight people, the suburb has much to offer as well, both night and day. During the day, the biggest African market in the city is set up near the site of the new Greenpoint Stadium. Sellers from all over Southern Africa set up their stalls most mornings, offering the widest variety of African art, in the form of statues, cloths and other handicraft items, of decent quality. Haggling is absolutely necessary if you intend to buy any souvenirs at the market.

The neighboring suburb of Seapoint has many of the same qualities, but the buildings are more expensive, there are a lot of high rise buildings, and the views of Lion’s Head, the little brother of Table Mountain, and the Atlantic Seaboard are an additional reason to visit.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Kirstenbosch Gardens is a large botanical garden, inside Cape Town, on the slopes of the Table mountain. It is a 13km drive from the city center, and there are buses in the center and the Southern Suburbs which will take you to the Gardens directly.

The unique climate of the Western Cape, and the large amounts of indigenous species of flora which are found all over the country in special locations, such as the Table Mountain fynbos ecosystem, are all on display in a natural environment. Most of the 525 hectares of the Garden are cultivated by nature and can be enjoyed in their own habitat.

The cultivated garden area is an impressive botanical feat. South Africa has several differing climates, from the Mediterranean climate down at the West Coast, to semi-desert in the Karoo, humid wet forest in the East and dry patches in the Northern Cape. The cultivated garden recreates the best conditions for each of these areas, and some of the spectacular flora from the winter rainfall areas, which you would not be able to encounter inside the Western Cape, are blooming in Kirstenbosch.

Kirstenbosch does have an entrance fee, of about R30 (about $4), and with this you will have access to all the amenities inside the park. There are pathways throughout the park, a visitor center where maps can be purchased, toilets, a restaurant and a garden shop where seeds, flowers and other paraphernalia are offered.

Most days, visitors will come to the Garden for a lazy afternoon, a picnic, drinks or a chance to climb the Table Mountain from one of the more accessible slopes. Between November and April, Kirstenbosch offers something more, when the Summer Concerts occur every Sunday on the lawns. Some of the finest musicians and groups, included rock, jazz and classical, can be viewed live in this peaceful setting.


Stellenbosch is a town located just outside of Cape Town, in the Western Cape at 50 kilometers east of the city. It has about 50 thousand inhabitants, and it is the second oldest town in the country. The old settler houses and colonial buildings spread throughout the village are a nice sight for visitors interested in architecture.

There are two main features Stellenbosch is famous for. Firstly, there is the University of Stellenbosch, one of the oldest, more esteemed universities in the country, and one of the few universities being taught in African. Because the town itself is not very populous, and the university is relatively large, you will find a lot of students, and their predominance has left a mark on the village, as there are a lot of pubs, cafes and music venues in the dense town center.

The opening of the academic year, in February, is always a cause for celebration, and if you are looking for an opportunity to see African rock bands, you should attend this event, or one of the many festivals occurring irregularly throughout the year. Then there is the wine culture, the feature Stellenbosch is probably more famous for abroad. There are over 140 wine farms around Stellenbosch, and regular wine festivals occur during the summer months. There are many drivers in Cape Town and Stellenbosch advertising wine tours, where you can spend a day driving from farm to farm to taste the different types of wine, explore the cellars and farms, and buy some of the best wine South Africa has to offer directly from the producers.

If you are staying in the Cape Town and have the time to go on a weekend break, Stellenbosch is the perfect option. Accommodation is available both in the town and on some of the wine farms. Many of the wine places have developed into guest houses or restaurants, and the owners like taking care of their guests.

Camps Bay

Camps Bay is one of the famous beaches of the mother city. Because of its great location, only 15 minutes from the heart of Cape Town or the V A Waterfront, and about half an hour from the airport, it has become a busy tourist hub. Even though it is only a short drive to get there, the stunning views on the way past the mountainous windy roads will make you feel like entering a different place altogether.

The beach area itself is characterized by the long straight road, with boardwalks on the side, flanked by towering palms, which severs the beach from the hotels, restaurants and amenities. In the background, you can recognize the Twelve Apostles, the famous twelve mountain ridges.

Although the Atlantic Ocean waters near Cape Town are notoriously cold, even during the summer months, a brave swimmer will be tempted to jump in the deep blue waters bordering the sandy white beach. The waters are safe, with coast guards always on duty. However, sharks have been active, if rarely, in this area, and it is advised to keep close to the shore. For the not so brave, a large tidal pool, built in the 1930ies, will be the warmer (and safer) option to get some aquatic exercise.

You can rent umbrellas and loungers, and public toilets are situated near the west end, by the coast guard station. Beach volley, kite surfing, and scuba diving can all be organized, and a short drive away you will find a 30 holes golf course.

Among the many beachfront cafes, you are bound to find the perfect spot to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets in the city. If you are looking for a luxury stay and fine dining, the Bay Hotel and the Twelve Apostles Hotel both offer top of the line luxury rooms, several pools and sundecks, and their restaurants are equally acclaimed.

District 6

District Six used to be a mixed-race suburb within Apartheid South Africa. After the regime decided the area was unfit for the residents, they forcefully removed the 60,000 inhabitants, in order for the area to be cleared. Its location near the harbor, the city center and the attractive Table Mountain made it a prime real estate area, one of the main reasons the government decided to clear the area 40 years ago, and a good reason for visitors staying near the V A Waterfront or the city center to visit the suburb, which now boasts the expansive and interesting historical District Six museum.

The neighborhood itself is still in the process of being restructured. It is a politically difficult legacy, as the ANC government promised it would restore the suburb and hand it back to former residents, but practical and ethical obstacles remain in place.

The museum features a permanent exhibit, located in an old, wooden community church, where the central theme is the reconstruction of the memories and identities of the community of freed slaves, immigrants, merchants and artisans who were cut off from their living space. This is done by combining actual objects from the former neighborhood with digital visual and audio effects.

Temporary exhibits rotate, and include art projects, photography and video screenings. The entrance fee is R20 (about $2). The district lies in between Sir Lowry Road and De Waal Drive, and it is easily accessible. The recent (2009) science fiction movie District 9, directed by Peter Jackson has attracted more attention to the history of District 6, as the movie is based on the story of the forced removals.

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh formerly known as Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. The city is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, about 37 miles from the South China Sea, and 1090 miles south from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It’s metropolitan area covers a population of over 9 million people, while Ho Chi Minh city alone has a population of 7.2 million.

For the regular tourist, Saigon, as it’s still being called by most of the city locals, can seem a mess of crowded and chaotic traffic and clogged roads. Though the majority of the population, and thousand of expats and immigrants tend to disagree. They’ve all been fallen for the hidden charms of the lively city of Ho Chi Minh.

The city of Ho Chi Minh has been going through a financial and economic growth, attracting foreign investors and local contractors to help build and restore the city. These investments has led to a new generation of first class hotels, high end restaurants, modern shopping malls and trendy nightclubs and lounges. Yet it’s history and sightseeing haven’t been forgotten, they are still clearly visible throughout the city and locals are proud to show them with to those who interested.

When arriving in the city for the first time it’s recommended to visit the Tourist Information Center which can be found on Loi Loi Street in District 1 which is in the heart of city center, you can ask further information and pick up a free Ho Chi Minh city map, that’s for anyone who missed the free “VN Trip Map – for travel and coupons” hand out by Vietnamese women wearing the traditional oa dai dress at Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Travelers to Ho Chi Minh need a valid passport and visa. United States and European passport holders must have a valid passport and a visa is required. Travel in Vietnam is generally safe and violent crime is uncommon. Pick-pocketing is rife, and drive-by purse snatching is a common trick. The summer months are between June, July, and August though some rain may be expected.

Da Nang

Da Nang is a major port and city situated on the South Central Coast, on the coast of the South China Sea of Vietnam. It’s one of the five independent municipalities in Vietnam. It used to be called “Tourane”  during the French colonization of Vietnam. Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. As of latest measurement Da Nang has a population of 790 thousand people.

Arriving in Da Nang you will most likely land at the smallest international airport in Vietnam, Da Nang International Airport. There’s frequent domestic flights to Da Nang from all over Vietnam. Once arrived, it’s a 2 miles taxi ride to downtown Da Nang, it’s recommended to make use of the regular taxi companies Mai Linh, Taxi Xanh, or Song Han rather than a unscrupulous taxi driver who has a fast meter or tries to haggle you for the jackpot.

The city of Da Nang does not have the ever going hustle from Ho Chi Minh City, yet shares the same sights, and is close to the atmosphere and charms of Hoi An and the imperial capital of Hue. The possible downsides of the laid back, less serious aspects of Da Nang is that even locals complain that there isn’t much to do else than drinking. Though, this is untrue. The city offers plenty sightseeing that can be accessed by tourists as well locals like a zoo, soccer stadium, several spacious parks, plenty pool halls and a water park. Besides the fact, that locals and tourists don’t have to be drinking at home but can go have fun in the many nightclubs, bars and pubs throughout the town. Also, Da Nang offers a beach named Son Tra peninsul which is a popular travel destination in town.

Travelers to Da Nang need a valid passport and visa. US passport holders must have a valid passport and a visa is required. Travel in Vietnam is generally safe and violent crime is uncommon. Pick-pocketing is rife, and drive-by purse snatching is a common trick. The summer months are between June, July, and August though some rain may be expected.