Wonderful Trip to East Africa Pt. 1

Charles and I have a tradition. Whenever one of us celebrates a special birthday we get to choose a special trip. It was my choice this time, and I was drawn back to Africa. I adored our visit there three years ago, and was totally mesmerized by the animals and the scenery. https://suddenly70.ca/2017/01/18/south-african-dream-2/ https://suddenly70.ca/2017/02/03/south-african-dream-pt-1/https://suddenly70.ca/2017/02/17/more-south-african-dream/ https://suddenly70.ca/2017/03/11/african-dream-come-true/

I called Caroline at Roar Africa, who had helped us plan our last trip. It was perfect in every way, and I knew I could trust her. East Africa seemed like a good choice for something different and I chose parts of Kenya and Tanzania. Now there is a great deal of info about this trip that we received before we went so I could start planning. Things like using only soft duffle bags and not exceeding 33 lbs. This for the small planes that we would take many times in Africa as well as visa and vaccination details, which are crucial. What to wear in the varying climates, even during one day the temperatures could range from 45 F in the early mornings to 85F in the afternoons.

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my travel partners, knapsack and duffle for two weeks in Africa

When we visited our doctor at his travel clinic, we learned about the yellow fever vaccination, and this was important because all the materials talk about getting this. However, it is definitely not recommended to give to anyone our age. He said he hesitates to give to younger people as well as you can become very sick with it. There is a government card that is signed and can exclude anyone who might suffer from this vaccine. We also got a prescription for the much needed Malarone, or anti-malaria pills that should be started one day before you enter the country, and continued for three days after you leave the infected areas. We also learned that we should not wear blue that attracts Tsetse flies, and also on safari to wear beige or khaki colors to blend into the scenery and the jeep, so as not to distract the animals. He provided us with insect repellent that had no disgusting odour, and advised us not to touch the animals, and to wash our hands well. Of course we must only drink bottled water and to clean our teeth with this. We also got prescriptions for a fast acting antibiotic in case Imodium didn’t do its magic.

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On the long flight to Nairobi from London across the aisle.. beautiful

I always start planning a big excursion months ahead so that I can get good airfares and do all the preparation without stress. As we would be leaving at the end of December, specifically New Years Eve, I had to be sure that our first destination would offer dinner on New Year’s Day. We had already made our great winter trek to Florida, so our flight had to leave from Orlando. The last time we did Africa we flew British Air and the round trip worked perfectly. So I decided we would follow much the same plan. We already had our duffle bags from our first trip to Africa.

I hate long flights, well I can handle 12 hours if it is overnight, as the ones from the west coast to Australia, New Zealand, or even the Far East were, but in this case I planned for a two-day stop in London. What could be so bad? Then we would fly to Nairobi from London. I love the Haymarket Hotel near Trafalgar Square. It is boutique in size and flavor, and has a swimming pool, which is always an attraction for me especially after a long flight. The front desk staff is superb, and the doorman, Mark, is incredibly knowledgeable as well as charming and handsome, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We flew from Orlando to London, Gatwick, where a lovely man, Mr. Bipen, a driver that my sister-in-law, Jane, uses when she is in the UK, met us. He is a patient man as we discovered that New Years Day morning. Turns out that on that first day of 2019, there is a big parade in central London and every single street that could reach our hotel, was closed to traffic. We drove around and around, and then called the hotel front desk. The desk clerk suggested that we get to the sister hotel, The Ham Yard, and the porters there would walk us over. It wasn’t raining, but quite a pretty sunny day so that was certainly doable. We were expected when we reached the Ham Yard, and we set out on foot to our destination, quite amusing really. At the Haymarket we were warmly greeted and headed into the Brumus dining room for a delicious breakfast, as our room wasn’t ready at that early hour. There is nothing quite like freshly squeezed orange juice after a nine hour flight, albeit in Business Class.

walking to the hotel with porters and the view from our window of the theatre across the way

We were upgraded to a slightly larger room and that is always very nice, and eventually settled in for a long nap. This is my favorite kind of nap. I am sure that I have mentioned before that I nap every day, usually about 10-15 minutes, and that just keeps me awake so that I can stay up till about 11:00. When I was performing, this nap was essential because I had to be fresh on stage. But this overseas arrival nap is so very deep, especially if the bed is solid with excellent white crisp sheets, and great pillows. We always have to set an alarm for this one, but when I awake I am ready to walk around and tour, and we did, after a shower of course.

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stunning bar/restaurant in London called Fumo

We strolled all over our part of London and eventually ended up at a restaurant bar called Fumo and ate delicious oysters from Colchester, and drank champagne. Then we meandered back to the hotel and went for dinner in Brumus, the hotel restaurant. They had Dover sole on the menu and we both ordered that, after all we were in London where sole would be easily accessed. We had it Meunière style, that apparently means miller’s wife; brown butter, lemon and chopped parsley. If the fish is fresh, and not overcooked this is exquisite. I ordered some boiled potatoes and spinach, and we had a wonderful Sancerre. We were in heaven. Sometimes I just love food, well almost all the time, but when you savour something truly special it is bliss. We headed to the bar and finished our evening with cognac for me, and scotch for my honey.

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cozy bar in Brumus

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The charming restaurant area in Brumus

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unique light fixture in Brumus restaurant

The next morning I headed to the gorgeous, chilly pool and did my lengths while I watched television on a big screen with no sound. That is always a challenge. Charles worked out. Have to keep ahead of the food. Then the plan was to walk over to the Canadian Embassy and see what show they had on. Well that was a bust. First of all, Charles kept lighting up the screening machine for security. After we finally got through, we wandered around the art exhibit. Well, this is a Canadian Embassy and the art on display was from a Scottish artist. Now really! Our country is filled with wonderful artists and they use a Scottish woman artist? Are we serious? It wasn’t bad; to be fair to Barbara Rae, the featured artist, but this just annoys me. In my days as a director on the board of the Canada Council for the Arts, we were always striving to highlight the works of our Canadian artists, and here was Canada House totally ignoring this. Don’t get me started, but really shame on the curator of this exhibit whose name I can’t find no matter how hard I look.

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the glorious pool

Years ago when I was an up and coming young opera singer I went to the Canada House that was in a different location in Grosvenor Square, after a concert. I was wined and dined and really don’t remember the art specifically, but do remember there was an exhibition. Next time I will arrange a more official visit, and have a good tour of the newish place in Trafalgar Square.

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they still have them even if you go inside to be out of the rain and use your cell

Then we headed to my choice of The National Gallery for an exhibit of Bellini and Mantegna, two brothers-in law. One was rich, and the other self taught. Amazing how so many of their works were similar. I loved this exhibit, the rivalry, the expression, and the art too of course.

We went for lunch at The Portrait Gallery. This was a return visit from 3 years ago. We didn’t have a reservation, but they found us a place. The service was diffident at best and the food was so so. Never go back they say. It is all about the splendid view of the rooftops of London though, and it is spectacular. The food is a take on traditional English fare, smoked salmon, cheesy things, and pork belly etc.

 

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the museum impressive from the outside

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jeep on display very cute but..

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fighter on the ceiling

We left and walked a bit and then cabbed it to the Imperial War Museum, which was on Charles’ list. The last time we were in London we went to the Churchill War Rooms which were so impressive and enlightening, but the Imperial War Museum turned out to be very disappointing and also had many facts wrong, particularly regarding the First World War, and Canada’s involvement.  I went to the floor that housed a Holocaust exhibit that was fairly good, but again very superficial. Charles was so looking forward to this visit to the War Museum, and was very disheartened by the sloppy presentation. Alas, things are not always as one would like..

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wonderful street decorations

Back to the hotel for champagne, and bath, and then dinner at The Wolesley. Again we had eaten there the last visit, and this one proved to be sort of pleasant, but I think our next trip to London whenever that is, we will try new restaurants. Our table was well placed, but Charles kept being bumped into. The seafood starter that we shared was fine. I had goulash of all things, as my main course, and he had average sea bass, but we enjoyed a good Pouiily Fuissé, which was delicious, and because they screwed up on a few things, they kept pouring. Amazingly, I was holding my wine glass, and the waiter knocked the stem off it and I kept holding the goblet part, very strange indeed. We walked briskly to the hotel and enjoyed the city lit up for Christmas.

We needed a good rest as the next day we were off to Nairobi, Kenya’s largest city. Mr. Bipen picked us up in the morning and we headed to Heathrow for our next long flight on British Air. Now Business Class or as they call it Club World is pretty good. Our seats faced each other, which might seem terrific, but was difficult for the passenger facing backwards, Charles. Nice to chat, but the seats are a bit skinny and have no real storage places like the Air Canada Business Class. Nevertheless, their duvets were good, the food adequate, and the service attentive. We both had long sleeps, and then I watched a terrific movie called ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’, but alas we arrived before it ended. I did however catch the rest on our long voyage home. It is a wonderful, heart-warming movie, and the book is simply a delight as well. I highly recommend both.

Before we knew it, it was evening (there is a three hour time change), and we had arrived at the Nairobi airport and were met by wonderful employees of Roar Africa, our travel agent. They made the passage through the airport easy. I had arranged an E-visa for entry into Kenya and this worked perfectly, very smooth and efficient, even though many folks were standing a long while going through Immigration. I was pleased that I spent the time to do this before we left for our trip.

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bedroom with see through window to bath at Hemingways

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flowers awaiting us on arrival at Hemingways

Once our bags were collected, again by the Roar Africa people, we breezed through yet another security point, and were met by our tour guide for the next few days, and our driver. Stephen is simply a delightful, charming, enthusiastic young man whose name in Swahili is Nzioti. I love languages and learned a few phrases so I could trot them out and try to please people. It also makes them laugh. But that is another story.

We were escorted to our hotel in the very lovely suburb of Nairobi, called Karen, after Karen Blixen of Out of Africafame. It is a gorgeous area and Hemingways is in the heart of it. We arrived late, close to 11:00 pm, and were greeted at the gated entry. There were two very large posts preventing our entrance, they looked like steel. After our driver conferred with the armed sentry the gateposts slid into the ground and we went ahead. The entrance to the hotel is impressive, and the doors in the front were open with a breeze blowing through to rear open doors. There were glittery white Christmas lights decorating everything inside, and massive white floral arrangements.

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beautiful gardens

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We were a bit hungry, so after check in we headed outdoors to the beautiful restaurant on the veranda, and ordered samosas and wine, and then headed to our lovely room and bed. Before we fell into the large four poster, I noted a birthday cake with my name on it, again a Roar Africa touch, even though my upcoming event was in February, this was the beginning of the celebrations, and it was great to start with a cake in Nairobi. Oh, and I forgot to mention a lovely bottle of champagne waiting in our room in London, both gifts from our travel people. Our room was also filled with tropical flowers, a delightful touch, and aside from a problem with the marble around the shower that Charles noted,  which we decided to wait until morning to deal with it, we both fell into a deep sleep.

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wonderful lobby with open ends

Charles is not fussy and hates moving rooms, but he insisted on further inspection in the morning.The bathroom should have been under repair and closed to guests. It is one thing to have a problem. It is the well managed hotel that deals with it right away, and we were moved to another room in the morning where we enjoyed the view of gardens and birds, and as our well planned schedule gave us free time until 2:30, we had a leisurely breakfast outside and wandered the property. Nzioti and George arrived  at the appointed hour and we met them in the lobby and headed off to our first destination in Nairobi, The Karen Blixen plantation.

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Karen Blixen portrait

I have so much to tell you about our time in Nairobi with the Giraffe Breeding Centre, Karen Blixen’s Plantation, and the David Sheldrick Foster Care for baby elephants, and then our trip to Tanzania, but I will stop for now. However, here are a few pictures to whet your appetite.

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just arrived at the Giraffe breeding centre

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baby foster elephants on their way to bottles at 5:00 pm they use human baby formula

Kwaheri

(or good bye in Swahili.)

Till next time,

Riki

 

 

 

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