Category Archives: Road trip

Italy roadtrip: Savignano and Florence

Right after JP Day, we hit the road with P’s mom, sister, P’s bff from highschool and her spouse (we postponed our honeymoon till next year) and headed to Tuscany. It was everyone’s first Europe trip and since it’s already mid September, we figured Italy would be a safe bet for warm and sunny weather. And so it went, our week was full of sunshine. We stayed 20km north of Florence in the secluded, ancient and tiny village of Savignano in a beautiful 13th century villa with an infinity pool overlooking the owner’s own olive plantage.  Needless to say, we didn’t wanna leave.


Our villa in Savignano
Aerial view of the tiny village, that’s really it!
The villa has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, perfect for our group of 6.


Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore late in the evening


Palazzo Vecchio


On the way to the river Arno
Ponte Vecchio, another “must-see” with many shops built on top of the bridge
View from Ponte Vecchio to the next of many bridges across river Arno


South Africa ’14, Part 7: Jo’burg

Last stop of our three-week journey along the East Coast of South Africa is Johannesburg, or Jo’burg as called by the locals. The whole trip has been a long drive for J, ~3.500km in total with one accident (my fault by the way) on the way back to Jo’burg that caused pretty serious damage to our poor Toyota Hilux, had to give that car some credit for bringing us back to our hotel anyway even though past mid-night. Despite this little incident, it has been a very fun drive at the same time. We’ve seen a lot and experienced a great deal. Three weeks went by so fast you don’t even notice time fly.

We spent the our last three nights at the Thaba Ya Batswana Eco Hotel & Spa. I chose this while looking for some alternatives far away from the crowded city, but it turned out to be even more than what we hope it would be (nice resort with a decent spa). It is located in the middle of the Klipriviersberg Municipal Nature Reserve and has a Lion Center on its site, which is a nice surprise and definitely the finishing touch that made this trip perfect.

On Saturday, we spent a few hours exploring downtown Jo’burg. We were warned not to take any valuables with us so we left our camera in our hotel room being prepared for some danger-fighting experience. As it turned out, we were being way too careful. With no business going on like on weekdays, we were literally the only non-blacks in the whole city, but in no way we felt any “threatened” or intimidated, rather a little amused. We passed by a butchery where lots of locals gather to eat the foods they just bought inside on some kind of banks and plastic chairs on the side walk and decided to do the same. The shop is huge, at first I thought it was some kind of butcher’s shop offering some light meals, until we saw some of the staffs coming out of the back door pushing shopping carts (yes, the same ones you use at supermarket) full of cow heads still dripping fresh blood on all over the floor to some trucks waiting outside, we realized they even slaughter the animals on site. The foods is very typical of South Africa, lots of meat cooked in piri source. Not the best we had on our trip, but the experience is authentic and fun.

But the funniest happened on that Saturday was at the farmer market near the main town square. An old African grand-ma owning a vegetables stand stopped us and tried to talked us into buying something “very special”. She then presented us with two bottle of very colorful liquids (I believed they were pink and blue) which were supposed to make miracles happen in the bed room… Don’t think we need them though ;-)).

View from our room at Hotel Thaba Ya
Panorama view from our room at Thaba Ya Hotel with Jo’burg in the background, great value for your money, the spa was pretty good too.

So what is the purpose of a Lion Center in a country like South Africa? No, they do not hold lion cubs as a tourist attraction. Rather, they nurse the little ones that are abandoned by their mothers in the wilderness until these babies are old enough (around 6-month-old) to be brought back to their pride and survive on their own. Why? Because wild life is tough. Lion mothers give birth several times to several cubs at the same time a year and often choose to feed/take care of only the strongest ones, for them having the biggest chance of surviving until their adulthood. Hence, the weaker ones are often left starved to death (Lions do not feed other lion’s babies like other animals). This is when these Lion Centers come in handy. The one we visited here was only a representative center, the locations of the real big centers are indeed kept secret to avoid poaching. All in all, they really do a great job of nursing these adorable babies and give them a nice home to kind of grow up in. When you’re there, you can really see with how much love and care these lion cubs are treated. But be careful, lions are wild animals after all, they cannot be tamed. They have a remarkably small brain which does not give them the capacity to “learn” stuffs like dogs or a few other animals do, their strongest talent is hence their hunting instinct. We were warned not to “move” too fast around them or they’ll chase us down and bite off our fingers in an instant despite being just a couple weeks old. So be careful!

Personally I think lion cubs are just about the most adorable animal I’ve ever come in contact with. We went to “play” with them twice during the three days we’re here. It’s impossible NOT to want to kidnap one home ;-).














On our last day: South African souvenirs - non-permanent tattoo and copper-bracelets. This kind of bracelets were formerly used as money by African tribes.
(Lost) memories from the trip: lion footprints and copper bracelets (which used to replace money in the old days among African tribes). I wish these tattoos were permanent cause they’re so damn cute. J has also lost his bracelets so we’re both wearing new ones now.

And finally here’s the map of our road trip:




South Africa ’14, Part 6: Blyde River Canyon

After Kruger, we stopped here for a couple days before heading back to Johannesburg. Our lodge is in the middle of a small game reserve so lots of antelopes cross the gate every day to come and feed on our part of the area. With the Blyde river in the front, we hear Hippos all nights so if getting a good night of sleep is your priority, this is not the place.

The more interesting thing to do/see in this area is probably visiting the Maholoholo Animal Conservatory nearby which rescues injured animals to help them get back on their feet again. Those that can heal fully are released back into the wild, those rescued at infant stage are kept here permanently because they never had the chance to learn how to hunt to be able to survive on their own, same for those so heavily injured that they lost their ability to hunt such as vultures with only one wing left, very sad indeed.

The area is also famous for their African Silk production so we could not miss the chance to spoil us with some very nice bed sheets. The only off-putting thing about this is that lot of shops while advertising for African silk does, in fact, sell silk made-in-China… Globalization has its price, I guess.


Arriving at our "kingfisher" bungalow at Blyde River lodge
Our “kingfisher” bungalow with river view at Blyde River lodge, a decent place, nothing luxurious but not too bad either. Breakfast was disappointing but dinner was quite good.
Pool area of the lodge - was a bit chilly though
Pool area of the lodge but the autumn weather didn’t call for a dip
They always came in the morning into our lodge
Our lodge is only one gate away from a small game reserve so wild animals wander very frequently around our room. These always came in the early morning.
Speaks for itself
J still thinks this is funny. Well…
Getting very close to a cheetah at Maholoholo animal conservatory. All animals there were found wounded or poisoned. The people there are doing a great job in healing the animals, knowing that most of them can never be released into the wild again because of their injuries.
Getting very close to a cheetah at Maholoholo animal conservatory. All animals were found wounded or poisoned. The people there are doing a great job in healing them, knowing that most of them can never be released back into the wild again because of their injuries.
They are also doing extensive educational work for the biggest enemy of all those animals - human beings....
The staffs are giving extensive educations to the animals’ biggest enemy as well – human beings!
Vultures are often poisoned because some people still believe they can do some "magic" with parts of their body
Vultures are often poisoned because some legends said that eating them would give you the supernatural power they are believed to have for being able to spot their preys from very high above
Pretty heavy birds !
Pretty heavy birds !


Such a beauty
Such a beauty
Not much of a beauty, a little scary indeed. We were told that the wild dogs are “killers with a heart” because they kill their catch immediately by breaking their necks. Lions, on the opposit, eat their preys alive cause that way the meat and blood stay warm for several hours… Life is in fact not at all peaceful in the bush!
The eagle liked being caressed on the neck
The eagle liked being caressed on the neck, he even bowed his head


Giraffes are normally very shy of human presence. This one though, was pretty cool and let us touch him for a while. He’d probably gotten used to it after living here for so long.
Driving into Blyde River Canyon
It’s the third biggest canyon in the world, much smaller than Grand Canyon but still very impressive
Blyde River waterfall, this part deep in the canyon does not see sun light very often so the water here was really cold, like real icy cold. J dared me so we both went in. It was so cold that you bones hurt but we had a good laugh in the end. So it was all worth it.
Trekking paths on the way back from the waterfall
We bought our supply of fruits for the road from these street vendors a lot because they were the best, coming straight from the farms nearby. Looking back I wish we could take back more with us to Germany. How I miss these juicy mangos…
Cute flower
Wild flower
Often we just walked around the hotel park on foot cause we were told there’s no really dangerous game living on the site. Giraffes are actually really shy, they always run away when we approach them. What a shame!


This was the closest they got to us
This was the closest I could get to any of them. They ran away right after this picture was taken.