The World is a Book

Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

Page 2 of 19

Cruel Trip!

We knew it would be tiring but wow were we wiped out the first couple of days in South Africa. We left Florida on a Tuesday evening and had an overnight flight to Gatwick (9 hours). Then it was a car across London to Heathrow where we couldn’t check in and so hung around the front of the airport a few hours until they accepted our bags 3 hours prior to flight time (9 hour layover). That was Wednesday. We got onto the flight Wednesday evening and flew 10.5 hours to Johannesburg, which meant we had two overnight flights with one day at an airport in between. We were highly ready for proper beds and a shower by that point.

We got money from the ATM and a local sim card and then an easy drive to our apartment hotel. Then we slept – a lot. The first few days we took Uber to the mall and the Big Red tourist bus, which allowed us to see the city as an overview. Another day we headed to the zoo because we wanted to walk and enjoy being outside but since our knowledge of the parks was limited, the zoo was a safer option. It was a little sad in terms of animals but fun watching large family and friend groups picnic and play. We always like to visit zoos in new places as you tend to see locals more and get a feel for family life. Although the disclaimer at the zoo was a bit disconcerting given lions and tigers — oh my!


The best thing we did in the city was a tour by Felleng Tours. It’s run by a husband and wife who have really taken great pains to know the city and get to know local people; especially in Soweto. We spent a day with Rudy and it was such a joy getting to know him and see the city and hear so many stories. We went to Soweto because he was able to take us to an after school program and spend time visiting with them. I had been unsure before because I had visions of tourist buses zipping around to take pictures of all the poor people. But this was not like that thankfully. We visited a tiny little roadside café and tried the corn meal (think grits).


Max wasn’t too impressed with the roadside cafe.

Traditional Healer

We went to a market and met a traditional healer (picture above). They are paid by the government to treat patients and are quite respected by government and local community. We ate the local doughnuts and walked around Freedom square where copies of the Freedom Charter are on display.

Then we went to Kliptown, which is the poorest township within Soweto. I had thought of Soweto as all one township when in fact it is many with millionaires (just a few) down to those still living in abject poverty. Some of the areas have small blockhouses and others are corrugated metal cobbled together into shantytowns. It was a huge area that seemed very vibrant and full of life.

Kliptown Market

Later we visited the Mandela Museum, which was small (his former home) but interesting. Winnie Mandela still lives nearby and we drove by her house, which is quite a fortress with bulletproof windows etc. Still if you saw the bullet holes in their shared home and the stories about police firing shots and petrol bombs at the home when Winnie and her children were living in it, it’s easy to see why a fortress would be preferred.

Great information — Apartheid Museum

We were able to spend a few hours at the Apartheid Museum. It’s a lovely modern museum that shows the development of apartheid, South African history and the life of Mandela. A good way to spend an afternoon learning about the local history and also to see the links to other countries, political beliefs and find (sadly) crossover to current affairs in the US.

Anyway I highly recommend Rudie’s company: Felleng Tours.

Picnics and hikes

I think we had the most fun in England walking and picnicking and feeding ducks. Simple things but with lovely weather and the green landscape, England is perfect for walking and sitting enjoying the country (well in August it was).

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One forest area was set up to encourage children to PLAY and make forts. They left branches and logs in piles out in the woods and kids could build shelters to play in. It was so much fun that all three of us got involved.


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Cambridge and Ely


We spent time revisiting (for me) two places I used to go to with the older boys when we were living around RAF Lakenheath in the early 90s. It was fun to see some of the old places but the base has changed a lot and I didn’t recognize much.


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South Wales

We only had a short trip to South Wales but it was a lovely area and we had fun visiting caves and family. Hope to go back and do some hiking and Charlotte wants to ride ponies on the beaches.

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Stratford Upon Avon

We managed to get tickets to a production of Hamlet in Stratford at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and it was amazing. Incredible performance (modern/kind of set in Africa) and of course the theatre is wonderful. We were high up on tall seats like bar stools but this allowed for full views all around the stage. The kids stayed glued to the entire show.


We did manage to visit Shakespeare’s birth place too and some good food in town but certainly could have stayed longer.



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London Shows and Museums

We were thrilled to be able to meet up with Uncle Tim as we have missed him since moving from Dubai (where he lives). We took the train to London and met him at the station where he took us off to a couple of great restaurants (naturally as he’s an executive chef and also used to work in London) for lunch and dinner. We also went to see Phantom of the Opera as Max and Charlotte hadn’t seen it. This was a great show to start their London theatre viewing with as it never fails to impress (and they know the music already).




Later in our trip we went back to London as I just had to see my idol – Michael Crawford who was the first Phantom. We got to see him in a show called The Go-Between. He was on stage the entire couple of hours and sang quite a bit. We were front row and he was amazingly close which was quite exciting (I restrained myself). The show was good and he was incredible.



Trips to London have to include some of the amazing and FREE museums. We spent some time in the Science Museum and the National Gallery, which always amazes me. I love that museums in London are all free. Such a gift with so much to see and do.


Little wet but didn’t dampen the fun

House Swapping in England

Through our worldschooling group we found a lovely family who wanted to house swap their home in England with ours in Florida. We were thrilled to spend 5 weeks in a town called Saffron Walden, which is about 30 minutes from Cambridge and about an hour, by train from center of London. We swapped cars as well but after one day driving around minuscule roads on the opposite side with a stick shift, I opted for a rental that was automatic. Just too many things to focus on and it’s been years since I had a stick shift and I hated it then!


The house was a 15 minute walk into town which had all the main stores we needed plus plenty of eating spots. A favorite was Tea Amo for tea and sandwiches.


Town description here is from the site below:

Saffron Walden is a delightful medieval market town located in north-west Essex and just 15 miles to the south of Cambridge. It has a rich heritage of old buildings, including the magnificent Jacobian mansion Audley End House and Gardens and St Mary’s Church, the largest and one of the most beautiful parish churches in Essex. On the north side of town is Bridge End Garden, a restored Victorian garden of great charm, which contains a wonderful yew hedge maze and sunken Dutch Garden.
A market has been held here since 1141, and market days are now Tuesdays and Saturdays with shoppers enjoying browsing and buying goods from a variety of market stalls. Beyond the market place, there are many independent shops and eating places to choose from.



Carara National Park

This was a new park to us and it didn’t disappoint. Located just before you get to Jaco, it took us about 30 minutes from Atenas (morning with no traffic). We followed suggestions and got there early and there were guides waiting for hire. We chose not to because we don’t like to follow a guide (too independent) plus they cost $60 for a couple of hours and we had read they weren’t fully necessary.

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The first loop is an all access one and would be fine for wheelchairs or strollers. It’s close to the road and we didn’t see much there but it’s a pleasant 30-45 minute loop. From it you head off on two others that, while good trails, would not be wheel friendly. Toddlers or preschoolers would do fine though. However it is hot and sticky and there is no water for sale in the park so bring plenty. We did use bug spray but didn’t see mosquitoes. The foliage is pretty dense so there is little wind to cool you off. It is comprised of both dry and tropical rainforest so mixes it up a bit and supposedly they have 45% of all the species of Costa Rica’s wildlife living in it. Entrance fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

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We were lucky enough to see a nesting pair of scarlet macaws, two types of monkeys, boa constrictor (slithered right in front of us on the path which made us jump), gorgeous green poison dart frogs, various types of lizards, leaf cutter ants, multiple brightly colored birds, and a range of weird insects.

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Costa Rica Revisited

Well it’s been eight years and we were excited to come back. This time we decided to stay in a house on the opposite side of the central valley than Santa Barbara where we were last time. We chose Atenas because it was rated by National Geographic as having the best climate in the world. Sadly I think that was before Al Gore’s projections on global warming are coming true; Atenas is hot and sticky so having a house with no air conditioning is less than amazing. But thankfully it does cool off at night and we have a pool during the day. Trips to the mountains and volcanoes also mean cooler times.

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We visited Zoo Ave again and it’s still a sweet little zoo with lovely foliage to walk through. Expensive visit though at $20 per person for about an hour and a half. After the Merida, Mexico zoo visit was free this is hard to fund!

The Poas Volcano and park are pretty neat to see. They are doing work on the park so all the hiking trails and picnic area are closed but we got to see the crater before the clouds rolled in. No lower prices for the park even though most of it is closed — $15 a person.


I love this picture as when I see the ones from 8 years ago it reminds me how big the youngest are now!

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Another day saw us at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This really is a great place. They have a lovely butterfly garden that is filled with all types but we love the blue morphos the best. The toucans are fun to see and the jaguars impressive.

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After visiting the various animals and traditional house there is about an hour’s walk down through the forest where you can see various waterfalls. Lots of steps but good handrails and pretty easy to navigate (although we were a bit out of breath toward the end) and this time was much easier not having a 2.5 year old to carry! This place is not cheap either at $40 for adults and $24 for children.

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We did the requisite coffee planation tour but this time skipped Britt and did the Doka Estate one. I think this was less cheesy than Britt and a bit cheaper ($22 for adults but hey free unlimited coffee – kids were a bit shaky after it).

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Tried to go to Inbio Parque again but sadly we drove 90 minutes to discover it has just recently closed due to new management/bankruptcy. Nothing mentioned on the website though which was a tad frustrating.


One new spot was Freddo Adventura Rural which is actually a lovely farm up on the slopes of the volcano. We spent the afternoon milking cows, watching calves play, riding in a wagon around the farm, walking in a cloud forest, and learning how they make cheese there (and sampling much of it plus the strawberries they grow). The kids were a bit uneasy at drinking the milk fresh from the cow but Grandma and I enjoyed it. Frothy and warm and full on cream as these were Jersey cows!

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Another day saw us at Jaco Beach. While we love our beach time, this one is not a favorite given the black sand. It’s not volcanic black as in Hawaii but rather dirt from the many rivers that run into the ocean so it sticks to you like dirt from the garden mixed with sand. But it was wide open and pretty from a distance!


Jaco Beach


We also visited Heredia and Alajuela. Sadly after loving the town squares in Mexico, we found Costa Rica’s to be lacking. Just not a cafe culture so no outdoor cafes or places to eat at.


Heredia Church


Mexico City/DF/CDMX

I knew it was a huge city but flying into this place makes you gasp at how enormous it really is. Circled by mountains, you fly over a huge valley that is just one entire city. With estimates that the city has about 21.2 million people, it is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere. It was built on a lake and in the original Aztec times it was known as Tenochitlan. There are large ruins on the outskirts but also a more recently uncovered temple right next to the main cathedral in the zocalo. There is even an Aztec ruin in one of the metro stops that’s kind of neat to see. The name is in mid confusion right now with a change from the in-country name of DF (Distrito Federal) to the new acronym CDMX: Ciudad de México.

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We arrived late at night but had pre-booked a large suburban taxi to take us to Coyoacan where we had booked cute two-bedroom apartment. This ended up being near the university and over looking a lovely little park. Sometimes you hit it just right with booking lodging and other times not. As I reclined on the purple chaise longue overlooking a park with a library of academic books around me, I thought this was a good one!

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Coyoacan is one of DF’s 16 boroughs and was a separate village until early 1900s when the main city grew into it. Now it’s just one of the many areas but it still has a smaller charm to it with cobblestone streets and colonial buildings. It has a sweet town square with all kinds of restaurants surrounding it. Great coffee and pan/bread so it makes a good spot to people watch from. There were also loads of market stalls that popped up at the weekend but since we were there for Easter, I’m not sure if that is every weekend.

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Getting around DF is no problem when you use the Metro. Really easy (one ticket costing 5 pesos (28 cents US) got you across the city. Taxis were about 200 pesos ($11) and Uber cost us a third of that – both for about a 30-minute drive. Since it’s so nice and cool there we did a lot of walking combined with Metro as that’s just more fun. We even found China town and ate bao (not that good sadly).


One day we reserved for the big Museum of Anthropology. It was very good and we sure learned a lot but some reviews said reserve a day or two – 3 to 4 hours did us just fine though. Perhaps this was because we had visited the wonderful new Mayan museum in Merida a few weeks prior. It was neat to learn more about the cultures and places we had already been to and I think that made the kids more engaged in learning – doing the museum after the real places.

We also found the Trotsky museum/house which was interesting. One thing that intrigued me was the picture of John Dewey at the house and so I had to research their link. Turns out he was the chair of the “The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials,” and travelled to Mexico to head this inquiry. I was possibly the only one interested in this but it’s that educator side of me!


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