All posts by cl@rks

Travelogue Cyprus 4: Paphos


10 – 12 April 2024

With only 61km to drive to Paphos, we were treated to a late and leisurely start in Omodos.

Donning our long running pants to brave the chilly morning (we were still in the mountains after all), we set off across town, intent on a 5km. Easier said than done, seeing as crossing town was only 250m. We circled the car park, the bus terminus and then took a right onto the main road to Linos Winery, which we knew to be 1km down the road from the previous day’s excursion.

The road was very quiet and from the reactions of the dogs (and one highly excitable donkey), we reckoned this road-running was not a regular occurrence in these parts.

Doing a U-turn at Linos, we then ran back past Omodos to the fancy winery, Vassiliades, on the other side.

Even with all that, we were still short a kilometre, requiring another couple of parking lot loops to make up the distance and conclude at George’s Bakery. Breakfast was thus a fresh baked cheese and ham pie. Like the previous, thick with layers and layers of light fluffy pastry (and not enough filling, truth be told).

Packing up, we left the cute little town of Omodos behind us.

A short podcast later, we were circling the block in Paphos looking for our Airbnb accommodation. It had us foxed because it was in a sweet little boomed off private-residents road. While a nostalgic taste of security-intensive home, the boom was clearly just to deter tourist traffic since there was no adjacent fencing or our familiar guardhouse with manned private security presence.

Our hostess was waiting for us and let us into the very neat duplex. The ad on the booking site had completely undersold the property and it was so so so much better than we had expected or could have hoped for. Tastefully decorated, neat as a pin, every accessory and extra you could imagine… and a front and back patio where long chats and new memories were willing themselves to be made!

Short tour behind us, our gracious host asked if there was anything else she could do for us. Of course we asked for restaurant recommendations. She said she would follow up via WhatsApp and before we’d even settled our bags in our en suite room, a generous list of options was in my inbox.

Released of the task of preparatory researching, we waltzed out and arbitrarily turned left down the beach road to see what our new ‘hood had to offer. A proper beach town, there was a mix of shopping, eating, drinking and open spaces to relax.

Looping back along the promenade revealed a posher picture than we’d expected, with shiny new holiday apartment blocks giving way to green lawns, wide walkways and the glinting sea.

With a little more time before we needed to leave for the airport, we overshot our house and walked almost the full length of the promenade to the harbour and Paphos Castle at the end. The waterfront was a buzz with holidaymakers – a good atmosphere, but more commercial than we were hoping to share on our first night.

Back at our holiday home in time to grab the car keys and whizz to the airport (only 15km away), we were at the gate and waiting in the Arrivals hall when Alex and Luke emerged.

It was only on the drive home, where we were catching them up on our adventures, that we realised how much we had already seen and done in Cyprus!

They too were super impressed with our digs, and quite content to sit on the back patio with a couple of cold beers that we had stocked upfront, and catch up.

Using one of our hostess’s recommendations, we headed out on foot for dinner at Hondros in the Paphos Old Town. We left at around 18h00 so that the newbies could appreciate the walk along the promenade and take in the harbour and its sights.

As the oldest traditional taverna in town, the  restaurant was a phenomenal recommendation. We feasted on a shared meze dipping combo starter and then our own respective favourite main courses that ranged from crispy souvlaki (Luke), to tender calamari (Alex), to beef stifado and lamb kleftiko (Chris and I to share).

Full to bursting, we made our way slowly back through the old town, with a couple of hours (and a few bottles of bubbly) to spend in our happy home before bedtime.


Always a pro traveller, Alex had booked us a walking tour for Thursday morning at 09h30.

Observing our respective morning rituals, we were all ready at the door at 09h10ish, as planned, to drive down to the meeting point in Paphos Old Town.

As an added bonus, there was a couple from Colchester – Chusa and Lee – meeting up with us at the tour so we became a Party of 6.

Our tour guide, Mary, gave us a brief history of Cyprus and Paphos, adding some colour to the spotty knowledge we’d picked up along the way. She told us that Paphos was made capital of Cyprus by the Ptolemy of Egypt because it was only 360km from Alexandria. Until then Cyprus was mostly inhabited in the East in Nicosia and Famagusta.

Fast forward many moons and in the 1920s the many tombs were discovered, then in 1960 the mosaics from the Roman civilisation were unearthed. Then came the airport and all the tourists.

In more current history, Mary proudly shared that their highly-motivated mayor transformed the city in preparation for their European Capital of Culture in 2017. There were crochet artwork installations around the city where older Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot ladies had shown they could work together peacefully to create items of beauty.

Mary also took us past the Ibrahim’s Khan. A Khan is an inn and was where the traders used to start overnight when coming to Paphos to sell their goods. It ran to wrack and ruin, until the mayor uplifted it to create a new place of interest and more jobs. Now it had wonderful shops and fancy restaurants. One of which was a recommendation from our host – Laona ‘great for lunch’, to which we resolved to return… after a tour of the old town that revealed the value of carob and its carat beans, used to make things like cinema film, X-rays and to weigh gold and copper.

We also saw examples of the many tombs, that were big underground chambers cut into the rocks. The amount of effort it would take to achieve such a thing was an indication that it was done for aristocracy. There were several around Paphos and we were able to see into one very clearly from the glassed-off barrier at street level. Mary advised that we visit the archaeological site in the afternoon to experience the full wonderment.

Mary concluded the tour outside the chapel of John the Baptist, from where we made our way back to the Laona restaurant to revel in oven-baked pork meatball and tender pork chops.

With a bellyful onboard, a visit to the Tomb of the Kings was exactly what we needed to move our meal.

These rich people would have been buried with their treasures, which are sadly long-gone from being looted over the ages. The cemetery was excavated by the Department of Antiquities and used during the Hellenistic and Ptolemaic periods.

We were able to enter the tombs and explore the chambers and the capsules where the dead would have been placed. Some of the tombs were impressively large with drommos (staircase passages) leading down 5 or more metres below ground level into these family vestibules.

There were QR codes outside the chambers, which Luke would click and either play the audio track or read the narrative to us so we had an indication of what we were looking at.

All cultured out for the time being, we retreated from the sun for a bit to enjoy ice-cold refreshments in Karlina’s, across the road from the tombs site. From there we plotted next steps, which included a fun ferrying of our new friends to the Castle in our rental car. They had not yet seen this primary landmark and all it took was me climbing into the boot so they could pile in like a clown-car for us to make their dreams come true, which was a very small ask in the scheme of things.

We returned to our house for a couple of hours of relaxing in advance of dinner, which was at another of our hostess’s recommendations; Pinguino, a casual terrace-style cafe that served phenomenal pork and seafood dishes.

It was essential to conclude the evening with an obligatory nightcap on our front patio as we were fast running out of time to take advantage of all the options in our happy home.


We were up bright and early to catch the bus for our Blue Lagoon tour. We were welcomed onto the coach by our hostess, Anna, and her driver, George. She outlined the plan for the day, which had us driving up the coast, through the mountains, up to Aphrodite’s Bath in the north and then transferring in Latchi on the return journey to a boat for a trip to the Blue Lagoon. There would be village stops in between for coffees, lunch and snacks.

Anna started her tourguide narrative telling us that Paphos is both a city and a region that stretches all the way up the West coast to the Blue Lagoon. The region is home to 38000 people, which can swell to double that in summer.

Moving through the wine region, Anna told us that Cyprus wine history goes back 5000 years – an accolade recognised in the Guinness Book of Records for the local Commanderia. They grow white Sinisteri grapes and black Mavro grapes. Traditional local wines don’t add sugars or alcohol, which makes them quite low in sulphites.

She moved from fact to fable, sharing that Aphrodite was a notoriously beautiful but unhappy goddess who – legend has it – had many affairs. She was the adoptive mother of Adonis, with whom she then fell in love. He was killed by a wild boar while hunting and she never got over it.

The Baths of Aphrodite was in a botanical gardens and washing in her waters was supposed to give eternal youth and beauty. The bus stopped to allow us a visit.

We followed the path to the grotto and had some laughs as we dipped our hands into the water and splashed our faces, taking ‘before and after’ photos to track the results.

There was still time to visit the viewing points to take some scenery pics. The sea was as clear as Anna promised and even from our raised vantage point, we could see straight through the sea water to the golden sand on the sea-bed.

We met up with a second tour bus to share the boat trip. There was a group of Alex and Luke’s friends from Colchester Bootcamp on that bus – also out for the Race but staying in a villa up the coast hence we’d not yet met.

They were a fun bunch, with cocktails flowing and selfies snapping. They welcomed us as friends-of-friends and we all soaked up the Mediterranean sun as the boat cruised to the Blue Lagoon.

Docking in the crystal clear bay, the boat-master inflated the water slide as everyone shed layers down to swim gear. Our English mates were more enthusiastic than we were; them coming from a long wet winter versus us coming from a long dry summer where the 16 degree ocean was a bracing prospect!

Nonetheless, we had a go at the slide and plunged into the water. It was a few seconds of sobering salty sea-ness before we acclimated and started enjoying the buoyancy. Luke threw us in a couple of U-shaped foam Pool Noodles which made it even easier since the water was easily 2.5m deep or more and treading it was quite tiring.

After a wonderful hour of slides and sun and socials, it was time for the boat to do the return journey. Well-oiled and warmer, it went by so much quicker.

Dropped at Latchi, we did a quick circuit of the little town before returning to the restaurant at the port, Moustakallis, for lunch. Delicious fresh calamari, seabream and moussaka was the order of the day. We passed the meal easily between friends, sharing stories of travels, life and everything in between.

The last stop on the tour was a banana farm alongside a shipwreck. Both were eclipsed by the fabulous ice-cream stand, where we queued to get a couple of scoops of the cold goodness to sample as we ogled the ship that it had seen its end in this cove, and was still jutting out from the shoreline at its awkward angle.

Back home, we had a couple of hours to would away before dinner time. Perfect opportunity to provide some coaching to Alex and Luke, who had recently taken up backgammon and had loads of questions about nuanced rules and strategy. They had come to the right place!

There was much hilarity as the dice chose their favourites and nail biting moments when the game looked like it could turn the tables. Lots of fun.

As our last meal in Paphos we chose… an Indian restaurant. Our friends Lee and Chusa joined us at the oh-so-creatively named Curry House and we had a long and leisurely meal washed down with a lovely medium-dry red wine.

Travelogue Cyprus 3: Troodos


08 – 09 April 2024

Heading into the Troodos mountains for the next couple of days, we were smart enough to learn from our excursion to Santa Irene winery the previous day and to wear jeans and have a jumper on hand.

Good thing too because as we climbed, it not only got chilly but clouds moved in and sucked away what little warmth the sun was bringing to the party.

By the time we arrived at our first stop, Everchou, it was drizzling. Fortunately, the excursion was indoors – the Train Museum. Completely unmanned (it was 13h15 so might have been lunchtime), it fuelled our ambitions to become Cypriot museum custodians. Best job in the world!

We let ourselves in and started our own self-guided tour. Fortunately the story told was largely graphic and there were English captions alongside the Greek ones. Details aside, the abridged version is a half century or so of lukewarm performance for the Cyprus Government Railway (CGR).

It ran from Famagusta on the East coast through Nicosia to Everchou at the base of the Troodos mountains. It was forecast to be a major mode of passenger transport, but locals preferred their camels and donkeys so it was only really the military that used it in any great numbers. The service was eventually discontinued on 31 December 1951 when it was deemed economically nonviable to continue maintaining.

Short on any other places of interest, we then concluded the day’s travel in the Troodos are with the short hop to Kakopetria.


Struggling to find our accommodation, Maritsa Lodge, we realised that Google Maps had gotten confused because our B&B was in the Old Town with its narrow cobbled pedestrian streets. We ditched the car and walked to the lodge on foot.

A charming 300+ year old house converted into flatlets, the landlady at Maritsa Lodge showed us to our suite at the edge of the property, overlooking the river gorge and the mountains rising opposite.

We also had a little wooden deck so made some hot bevvies to take advantage and admire the view while reviewing the circles and markings the hostess had made on the tourist map she’d given us.

We were ideally based at the end of the Nature trail that ran along the opposite side of the river into town. With a very grey sky, clouds billowing above the mountain tops and intermittent low rumbling of thunder, we decided that it would make the most sense to use this route to get to town while the weather still allowed. We then had the option of returning either up along the cobblestone street or the tarred road which we had driven in on.

We nimbly made our way down the wooden stairs and across the bridge. The trail was easy to follow and a wonderful piece of nature as we followed the river for some 1km.

Emerging at the far end, it started to rain. We took what we thought was the road into town, upping the pace as the drizzle turned into a full blown cloudburst.

Seeking shelter in a petrol station we consulted the map and realised we had taken the wrong split; we were supposed to turn right and cross the bridge into town!

With little choice we waited out the pelting rain until some 15 minutes later it had slowed to what we were prepared to walk in again.

Crossing the bridge immediately produced a couple of short streets of activity. It was still drizzling so we went into the first restaurant – the River Park, which was one our host had recommended – and waited out the last of the rain with a cold KEO.

As soon as the sun came out, so did we.

We reviewed the whole town as the sunshine dried our damp hoodies for us. Kakopetria was pretty while glistening in the remnants from the rain, but – based on the generous blossoms cascading from the trees and the grapevine veranda canopies starting to show hints of green – must be really pretty as Spring warms the town up.

With nothing but time on our hands, we also studied the menu outside each of the restaurants and decided on where to have our dinner, now only a couple of hours away.

A lot of the shops were closed, which could have been because it was Monday or because it was shoulder season, in between the ski activities on the mountains and the busy summer for Cyprus tourism. Still, it was nice to wander around and wonder.

We walked back to our hotel along the cobbled street, marvelling at how well-preserved the ancient buildings were – and how tiny some of the doorways were, barely our shoulder height!

After a short stop and grabbing another layer (presuming it would get quite cold along the river after dark), we made our way back to town on the road route that had seen our arrival. Much quicker (but less scenic) left us with 15 minutes to kill before our restaurant, Podji Poda, opened.

We visited the minimart (no fun Metallica stories this time) and got a takeaway Leon to have a makeshift sundowner at Couples Rock. This was an amusing landmark we had encountered on our walking tour; a large rock fabled to have rolled over a love struck couple.

Fortunately, no such similar fate befell us and we made it to dinner. A sumptuous meal of fresh whole Trout from the local river and a red wine bacon dish.


It was cold and drizzly in the morning, so we took our time over the complimentary Mediterranean-style breakfast buffet, confirming our route for the day.

Once in the car, we made our way up Mount Olympus. We climbed for 28 minutes as the temperature plummeted. Even though we were cocooned in the car, I got a chill as the dashboard chimed with the snowflake icon as the outside temperature reached 4 degrees.

We carried on forward and upward into the misty cloud we had seen from our deck at Maritsa Lodge. A few minutes later we were at the top; a cul de sac at the entrance of the army base where we could go no further.

We were in light snowfall! We got out the car to fully appreciate the novelty of being engulfed by mist and to feel the snowflakes falling on us! Not great for photos, but a good story to tell about our foray in the Troodos Mountains.

Unnerved that our next feat was intended to be a short hike through the woods to Calendonian Waterfall, we were relieved to be greeted by a balmy 10 degrees when we parked at the Psilo Dentro restaurant and trout farm at the entrance to the trail.

It was an easy and enjoyable walk to the waterfall; a little slippery in places from the recent rains, but nothing serious enough to slow the pace or the conversation. We took a few minutes to appreciate the end goal… and then it was back to the car and on the road again.

Our Paphos host had recommended a stop at Vassiliades Winery on our way into Omodos, so we did just that.

An elegant building gave us viewpoint to the magnificent landscape. The hills opposite clearly showed us what the sommelier at Saint Irene Winery had told us about the uniqueness of the Cypriot grapes growing on the steep and arid hills, defying the usual conditions under which grapes usually prosper. Sure, the harvests could be more modest, but the quality of the grapes was next level and the smaller yields unique in flavour.


Omodos was less than a kilometre further down the road. We had booked to stay in Katoi Holiday Home in the old town so discovered on arrival that that meant parking across town (some 250 metres away) in the village free parking. Chris dropped me off as close as possible with the suitcases and went to drop off the car.

His traverse of the town had given him a good lay of the land and we were wine-tasting at the Zenon rooms ten minutes later. The lady in the store was the granddaughter of the original wine farmers so most of her narrative  was about their history and the family members who featured on the labels of each of the bottles.

Then it was a quick visit to the monastery and its very impressive golden fresco in the church. The monastery was at the base of the town square so we did some menu checks to narrow down dinner options.

Secure in our sort-of plan, we were back to wine-tasting. We absolutely had to visit Linos Winery to find out about their blue wine; literally a bright aqua blue colour. The hostess told us that it is essentially a dry white and that the blue colour comes from the grape skins. She gave us the non-coloured variant and it was like a trick on the sense that the two tasted the same yet looked so different.

We also sampled their commanderia (sweet wine only made in Cyprus), Zivania (jet fuel 50% proof clear spirit, sunk as a shot) and a Pistachio cream liqueur that was very easy on the palate after its two predecessors.

Back into town, we did the final wine-tasting of the day at the Gerolemo coffee shop and wine bar on the square. After sampling a varied range, Chris got a glass of his favourite white and me of my favourite red and we took to a table outside to enjoy the fresh evening.

The barkeep had warned us that they were closing for the day but encouraged us to take our time on their terrace. He asked that we just leave the glasses on the windowsill for him to collect in the morning (they would never still be there back home!)

A short while later, the owner arrived. Concerned that we’d been left unattended (despite our assurances that we were quite fine), he unlocked the main door and emerged a minute later with a bag of chips and a Zivania for each of us.

During the short exchange over the shot, we asked him for recommendation on dinner venue. He chuckled and said that if we were up for it, there was a locals pub across from the cemetery which was good for ‘a beer and a game of cards… and then we eat’. Sounded worth a look.

We finished our wine and located the pub. It was a smoky den with older men currently enjoying Greek classic movies on the small TV mounted on the wall in the corner.

Committed, we entered and Chris organised us a couple of cold beers and a table.

Soon after, the chap who invited us arrived, gave us a friendly wave and a smile, and disappeared into the adjacent room to get down to some serious cards.

We moved to the bar where we were almost instantly engaged in conversation by the man sitting next to us. He was keen to hear about where we were from, what brought us to Cyprus, Troodos and Omodos and any other tales of our travels. We already had so many to share from our short time in Larnaca and Nicosia!

Settled and comfortable we ordered a meal to be served to us at the bar. A light Mediterranean plate with big warm wedges of halloumi that we doused in lemon, feeling smugly authentic in our evening’s outcome.

Travelogue Cyprus 2: Nicosia


06 – 07 April 2024

Having had our beach day in Ayia Napa cut short by a flat tyre, we rearranged our itinerary for Day 3 to include a couple of extra beachy things. Not hard to do by taking a jog down to Larnaca’s own blue flag Makenzy Beach and then adding a first stop in Pyla, 20 minutes down the coast, onto our road trip for a beachfront brunch.

As we entered the sleepy beachy town, we were drawn to a place called Gregory’s Coffee & Greek Bakery. We had high hopes there was a golden thread in the similarity of name to the brilliant Gregg’s experiences we had had in Newcastle and Belfast.

Grabbing the second-last available table, we soon had flaky Greek pastries in hand. A spinach and feta for authenticity and a bacon Stromboli (a pie that tasted like a pizza stuffed with bacon) for good measure. Basking in the moderate morning Mediterranean sun and peeping over flaky-pastry pies at the glistening sea was a worthy consolation for the circumstances that had led us there.

Back on the road, we set sights on Lympia; chosen for no particular reason other than a road trip necessitating stops and its position halfway along our short drive for the day.

Sadly there was little to see in the small suburban town so we followed the road sign to neighbouring Dali, which promised archeological ruins and an accompanying museum.

Two for two, we found both to be closed on Saturdays, much like we had missed the operating hours of the ruins and museum in Larnaca. Clearly Cyprus was for more fastidious travel planners than us in order to foresee such things.

With only 27km left to Nicosia, try as we might, there was not a place of interest to stop en route. We thought we might stop in “Lefkosia”… only to find that this was the alternate name for Nicosia – and seemed to be used interchangeably. A quick Google revealed that Nicosia was a Latin and English name used for the city post the medieval crusades. Lefkosia / Lefkosa where the traditional Greek and Turkish names respectively. Interesting.

We arrived at our destination a couple of hours ahead of schedule. The Kipros Accommodation hotel was, well, accommodating of our early arrival and showed us to our complimentary parking and then to our suite.

With a little extra time on our hands, we consolidated our map and Google searches to define a plan. We had the info on the stops on our intended walking tour the next morning, so mapped a route that would fill in the gaps of what else we could see and do in Nicosia.

This would be a short Nicosia walking tour of that would include the Liberty Monument, the UN buffer zone and the Famagusta Gate, as well as a smattering of religious buildings and museums.

We had chosen our hotel for its location, which paid off immediately. Hitting the streets, we were one road away from the famous Ledra pedestrian street, which took us right to the historical landmarks we wanted to see.

We were not really surprised to find that all the museums in Nicosia were already closed – some at midday and others not open on weekends at all – and again mused that dream job would be as a museum custodian in Cyprus. A 30-hour work week sounded like a winning plan!

Having fulfilled the possible cultural requirements, we were able to commit ourselves to a late lunch. Being so close to the Turkish border justified a donner kebab. We were quite smug sitting opposite the McDonald’s and the Starbucks with our legit authentic (massive!) meal at O Salonikios Gyros Stavros. Lovin’ every bite of fresh chicken and pork dripping with creamy garlic sauce and crunching from the salad garnish.

Finally finished and fully-fuelled, we were ready to approach the other side of Ledra. To our surprise, a couple of hundred metres down the road was the border crossing. And it was a free pass only requiring a flash of a passport. Which we happened to be carrying. So we went to Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

It wasn’t all it cracked up to be. Besides a lively market and handful of grill house restaurants, it didn’t have much of a vibe. We did a cursory wander around and then passed back across the border.

Back up the length of Ledra, we emerged at the far end to find a fabulous recreation area. The city of Nicosia had cleverly uplifted the centre of town at the base of the walls of the original medieval city.

Eleftheria (Liberty) Square now boasted ultra-modern chrome and glass bridge, ramps and walkways from the street level down to a streamlined and cultivated garden below with pretty water features and outsized surfboard-shaped benches for people to relax and enjoy the space. There were pop-up stalls under the bridge selling clothes and accessories, and music piped through the speakers. With the acoustics of the partially enclosed space, the energy was palpable.

Since we had been on our feet for hours and done more thousands of steps, we decided to take advantage of our hotel being so close to take a load off for bit before taking on the evening.

Googling What To Do in Nicosia revealed that there was a Blazin’ Vibes Street Festival at Eleftheria Square that night. What a win!

Emerging from the hotel, it was a quick trot down the road and round the corner. The Square was transformed after dark, with submerged lighting creating a literal glow around the whole area.

DJs had taken to the stage under the bridge so there was a bass beat drawing people in their droves down to the festival area.

There were more pop-up stalls, a big cocktail bar had been set up and there were people dancing and having a good time. Such fun.

We mingled and window-shopped, but not being cocktail folk, were not in for the long haul.

We were thirsty though, so headed into the kiosk opposite the festival area. The shopkeep was belting out classic Metallica so we lingered longer than necessary while buying our take-away drinks, amused that we were having more of a party in the mini-mart than at the mega-party!


Chris had found a guided walking tour of the DMZ and UN Buffer Zone online and although it said tickets were no longer available – which we took to mean sold out – we thought we would take our chances and pitch up anyway. With tip-based tours, people often don’t arrive and we could make up for the shortfall.

We were at the UN Checkpoint at 10h00 as required…. But there was nobody there. We waited 15 minutes and then gave up.

Now we had the whole of Sunday to kill since we’d put all our eggs in the walking tour basket. It was supposed to be 3 hours, and stimulate the ‘what next’ activities for the afternoon based on areas of particular interest and/or guide recommendations.

No point crying over spilt milk though. We did a quick Google for alternatives and soon realised that it was Sunday – a big roast lunch day in many cultures – and we had not yet eaten.

We decided to find a nice wine warm for a leisurely lunch excursion.

Santa Irene Winery had rave reviews for its buffet and wine tastings, so the die was cast and we were soon off in the rental car.

It was wonderful to exit the city (even as tame as it was compared to our hometown and all its urban chaos) and enter the countryside, into the more mountainous region.

I will admit to being concerned as the digital thermometer on the dashboard dipped below 20 degrees. In our haste, we’d jumped in the car still in T-shirts and shorts, not packing any warmer layers.

Although quite chilly and now starting to drizzle, it was warmer in the winery building. We were the first to arrive for the lunch sitting, which was served in a large hall with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, offering spectacular views of the surrounding area.

We were advised that we were too early and the buffet was not yet ready. We could, however, use the time to sample a few of the wines to decide what to have with lunch. Splendid use of time!

We were led to the large L-shaped stone counter. Our enthusiastic sommelier pulled bottle after bottle out of fridges, off shelves and from far reaches on the counter. He expertly screwed out corks and rubber re-sealed bottles as he seamlessly trickled tasters into glasses, shared wisdom about the variant and educated about the local grape, Mavra.

It was a lot on an empty belly! But we enjoyed it immensely and, as an added bonus, the owner came over to talk to us and was delighted that we were South African as he’d lived in Pietermaritzburg for many years, and his son still did. Small as the world is, Christian’s sister’s family was friendly with the son and his family!

Our sommelier endorsed our choice of red wine for the lunch and was so pleased that we ordered another 4 bottles to take with us that he spontaneously offered us a private viewing of the production cellar below the tasting room. There would be a group tour after lunch, but narrated in Greek and he wanted us to take the full story away with us and our collection. It was quite a bit colder downstairs so thankfully we could do the walk-through at pace in our ill-suited attire.

Quite giddy from the wine and the experience, it was finally time for lunch.

The buffet lived up to promise, with a wide range of Greek and Cypriot traditional food. We feasted on roasted lamb and pork souvlaki, a delicious pork and onion stew which I vowed to remember the name of (and have, of course, forgotten), light and tender calamari, cod and another white flaky fish of sorts, roast potato wedges and pasta dish that was similar to lasagne but with layers of macaroni, pork mince and a thick layer of béchamel on the top.

As full as we were, we still had the cheek to sample ALL of the desserts, which included two milk tart type things, cheesecake, chocolate cake, crème caramel, little doughnut/koeksuster crunchy syrupy balls and, our favourite, orange cake.

First to arrive and almost last to leave, we virtually rolled out of Saint Irene.

The 50 minute drive home was full of ideas about what to do with our evening – that would most certainly not include another meal!

Returning to our hotel, we allowed ourselves a couple of hours of feet-up to let the massive meal settle. But then it was back out into the Nicosia night for a nosey around.

Almost as busy as Saturday night, Ledra was swarming with people enjoying a meal, a drink or a coffee in any of the many restaurants.


Closing off the sightseeing checklist, we returned (on foot, now easily navigating the twists and turns of the unsignposted city) to the Struggle Museum that we had tried to see on the first day.

It revealed that the history of Cyprus began in 1500BC through the Venetian and Roman Empires. Cyprus was then absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1546 and then ceded to Britain in 1878.

The British tried in 1915 to force the union of Cyprus and Greece to bring Greece into the First World War; Greece refused and maintained its neutrality. Similarly the British offered once again at the start of the Second World War, but retracted the offer once Greece was overrun by the Axis Powers.

Post WWII, many territories were keen on independence from the Commonwealth, as was Cyprus. They made a couple of applications to Great Britain to allow them to join union with Greece; both refused. They then organised a paramilitary force called EOKA to start campaigning civil disobedience, as well as ambushes and attacks on the British occupationary forces in Cyprus. The fighting continued from 1955-1959, when Cyprus finally got its independence (and did not form the union with Greece).

It looks from the exhibits in the museum to have been quite bloody skirmishing. The displays include numerous graphic boards showing the dead and dying up close, complete with emotively labelled names, eg ‘Hero XYZ who died after being tortured in {date}’.

There was a primary school tour in the museum at the same time as us and interestingly the small children were not sheltered from viewing the boards with the close-ups of the bullet-ridden bodies, the glassy eyes staring lifelessly from the corpses or gruesome dismembered victims of bomb explosions. Hopefully the brutal honesty of the destruction of war encourages the children of Nicosia to create a more peaceful future for their beautiful homeland.

Travelogue Cyprus 1: Larnaca


04 – 05 April 2024

It was a bumpy start to the holiday with heavily backed-up traffic en route to the airport (fortunately we had left early so this was little more than a minor inconvenience) and a power failure at OR Tambo shortly after our arrival.

Besides sitting in the near-darkness in the lounge, it meant that the check-in computers weren’t working. The manual process took considerably longer and with our seats being upfront and the embarkation being managed in blocks from the back seats first, we finally got to our seats about an hour behind schedule.

To top it off, the pilot shared the disconcerting news that 81 pieces of luggage were unaccounted for. It took another couple of hours to locate and load those… and then we were finally off.

The delay in take-off required a very hasty flit between terminals in Dubai to catch our connecting flight. The planned 3-hour stop worked in our favour and we arrived at the gate almost in synchronicity with the start of boarding.

We both managed to get some shut-eye on the second flight and felt almost human when we landed and collected our rental car to start our holiday.

The airport was really close to the city of Larnaca so barely 10 minutes later we arrived in our new neighbourhood.

Our hotel, White 11, was one road in from the beach and by stroke of good fortune, had the unmissable Medieval Fort at the end of said road as landmark to help us find our way back from our adventures.

We were soon to find that the Medieval Fort was the meeting point of the Finikoudes promenade that stretched out to the left (toward the town centre) and Piale Pasa promenade to the right (lined with restaurants). We decided that first order of business was to stroll each, to get our bearings.

A short distance along Piale Pashia revealed that we were in for a culinary treat this trip with an amazing selection of seafood platters and set menu meals for a very reasonable (relatively speaking, compared to our previous European trips) €30 for 2 people.

Comforted that we would be spoilt for choice for dinner, we did a U-turn to hit Finikoudes Promenade to start ticking off some of the sights and cultural drawcards of Larnaca. This would require a Tourist Office to get a map; both easily achieved, although by now it was well after 15h00 so we’d have to motor to see some things with most already closed or closing soon for the day.

The Archeological Museum was still open so we poked a nose in.

Larnaca, which was originally known as Kition, is the oldest city in Cyprus, having been founded by the Greeks in the 14th century BC and continuously inhabited for some 6000 years ago. It was known as Salines in Medieval times because of the salt lakes on the edge of the city, and only became Larnaca in the 18th century. This name was from the Greek word ‘larnax’ meaning ‘sarcophagus’ because of the numerous excavations.

Larnaca was an important commerce centre of copper before being used as a fort by the Phoenicians. Besides the archeological treasures, monuments and churches, Larnaca is now known for its beaches and accessibility via its international airport.

After our whirlwind ‘7000 years in 15 minutes’ tour, we made our way to the Archeological Site of Kition. Although only 15h45, the 16h00 closing time was already being observed. A shame really, since 15 minutes would have no doubt been more than enough time for us.

Still, it was very pleasant to retrace our steps along the commercial beachfront, with the hotels and restaurant chains (a combination of local and all the major American fast food chains) on the right and snack bar and curio pop-up shops on the left, on the edge of the beach.

Being Spring in Cyprus, it was warm (maybe 22 degrees) with a light cool breeze coming off the sea. This accounted for an amusing mix of some people in bathing suits and others in long pants and jumpers. We were in shorts and slops and doing well until after we stopped for our sundowner (at a Rock bar called Savino to log a €6 pint on our Guinness Index) whereafter we could have used closed shoes.

It wasn’t serious enough a situation to warrant a return to the hotel. But we did change our dinner choice.

The mission to find the rock bar had revealed a lively area one block in from the seafront. The vibe and the shelter from the sea breeze made for a far more sustainable evening.

We picked a kebab restaurant called Takis based on a cursory scan of the customers who, to us, looked like locals. The hostess offered us a cosy table for 2 inside and our fate was sealed.

We were served menus with a tableful of complementary small meze plates and warm toasted pita strips. We nibbled on the feta, cured bacon, tzatziki, spicy beans and a local delicacy called kolokasi (Taro root), while avoiding the very salty olives.

We ordered kebabs in pita for mains, to be washed down with a shared quart of KEO local lager. My sheftalia (herby pork sausage) and marinated pork mix was sublime! Chris had the chicken wrapped in bacon, which was also a guaranteed win. The pitas were enormous and not an easy ‘pick up and eat’, so we stole glances at how others were managing them and lent from their experience. My favoured method was tearing bits from the top of the pita to fill and make mini bitesize pockets of goodness.

We were surprised and delighted with complementary dessert pastries as well. Crunchy syrupy 2-bite pie with an unrecognisable and delicious spongy centre.

Exhausted from our trip and Day One exploring, we made our way back to the hotel. As tired as we were, we wished we had a little further to walk off the massive dinner!


Using our Strava sports app as our guide, Chris mapped a 6km running route to start the day off right.

In no particular hurry, we stopped a few times to take snaps of interesting things and to admire the blue ocean and Larnaca’s shoreline.

We also spotted a small church square a couple of blocks from our hotel, which had a selection of bakeries. We decided that we’d need to return at the end of our run to reward ourselves with breakfast pastries. We did so and drooled over the choices in Artemis bakery! Having so enjoyed our dinner the previous night, we banked on sheftalia and feta pie being a sure-fire hit. And it was!

With just enough fuel in our tanks to see us through to lunch, we showered and hit the road for Ayia Napa, 41km down the coast.

Our neighbouring town had become famed as a Brits Abroad party and holiday destination. From the very arrival it was chalk-and-cheese with our homebase. New, slick and glossy, we could have been anywhere in the world. Wide golden sidewalks with shiny silver bollards preserving the walkways for the pedestrians that must stream to and from the beaches in the summer months.

Our tourist map (from the Larnaca tourist office the day before) had revealed that our places of interest were concentrated in the town centre, around Seferis Square. We located a parking lot and stowed the car so we could start our self-guided walking tour.

First photo was at the huge ‘Love Ayia Napa’ sculpture, which most certainly would make it into the holiday album. It was outside the Medieval Monastery, so an easy ‘two-fer’ on the To See list. We were unable to enter the 14th century monastery as it was being transformed (slowly by the looks of things) into a museum.

Then it was up the short hill (which in itself could have been marked on the map since this neck of the woods was so flat!) to what was marked as ‘Local Delicacies’ so we were expecting a market of sorts. Not so, it was 2 locally-legendary tavernas, the older of which was established in 1976 so got itself a photo anyway since we could both relate to the auspicious year.

The next stop, the Ayia Napa Aquaduct, was a little more tricky since it was not on a road marked on the map and very few of the roads had any signage so there was high risk of taking a wrong turn. We persevered and found the walking path to the historic construction.

Having seen several aqueducts around the world on our travels, we were no less amazed at the simple but effective technology that these civilisations were using over a thousand years ago… meanwhile back home the current-day government was struggling to literally keep water flowing through our taps!

Then it was back the way we came, down to the Liminaki port and Fishing Shelter where we’d initially planned on lunching. Being on a bit of a roll with sightseeing, we decided instead to drive to the nearby Sea Cave and Love Bridge that we’d planned as an after-lunch walk. We would then eat at either Nissi Beach (listed as one of the Top 25 most beautiful beaches in the world) or Makronissos Beach which paired with a necropolis archeological site of underground tombs.

It was not to be. Once again, our tyre curse struck. When we returned to the car, we discovered we had a flattish front right. This was a fully-flat tyre by the time we got to the nearest petrol station. Pumping with air didn’t help, so Chris set to work changing the tyre.

The spare was only an emergency tyre. One of the thin one’s –  referred to in South Africa as a ‘Marie Biscuit’ – on which you can only travel at a limited speed for a limited distance. With our ensuing roadtrip the next day that would see us travelling to Nicosia and through the mountains – very far from the car rental agency – we dared not risk starting on anything but the strongest footing possible.

So our wonderful beach-hopping plan had to be shelved in favour of returning to Larnaca Airport so we could get the tyres fixed good and proper.

Fortunately, the staff at the Sixt desk were both accommodating and efficient so we were back on our merry (not really, brave face) way about a half an hour later. By this point we were starving, so dropped off the car and hightailed to check out ‘Oh My Cod!’, which had caught our attention with its 5/5 rating on Google Maps from 195 reviews. Based on the simple principle that you can’t please all the people all the time, full marks never happens and we simply had to see for ourselves.

Highly motivated, we were there mere minutes later. Arriving at what could best be described as an elevated takeaway, we were seated at a plastic table in the ‘eat in’ section. There was a buzz of activity around us as the hostess managed reservations for the handful of tables, as she barked orders that kept the kitchen producing fabulous fresh fish at breakneck pace.

Definitely a case of ‘right place, right time’ as we only had to wait a few minutes before being presented with the platter we’d ordered so we could sample everything.

The Best fish croquettes we have ever tasted! Magnificently crunchy tempura prawn! Light and tender calamari! Perfect hand cut chips! Well played, Oh My Cod. Definitely full marks for review #196!

Full to bursting, we took a walk to the part of town we’d not yet explored. Our intended destination was The Oak Tree which offered tastings of a selection Cypriot wines. We figured this would be a good grounding for our intended wine routing excursions inland… but with a bellyful of dinner we opted to rather continue walking it off.

We discovered the glitzy glamourous shopping district, with a generous collection of top-end brand names and upmarket cafe lifestyle vibe. Quite a contrast to the atmosphere on the seafront…. Which was more our speed, so we completed our loop and stopped in at The Navy Marine to wet our whistles.

We rounded off the evening with another Larnaca 5/5 Google review, Bowlers Pub (although only from 22 reviews this time). It was quite quiet when we arrived with a couple of lads playing pool and an older gent propping up the bar, talking to the bartender.

Up until this point we had been drinking local beer, KEO, so we thought we’d give the other local brew, Leon, a try. As is quite common, our accents on ordering stimulated a flow of questions about where we were from and what brought us to Cyprus.

This got the ball rolling for a couple of hours, a couple of beers and lots and lots of anecdotes and factoids about Cyprus, its history and some of its current challenges. The bartender was the owner, Petros, who clearly earned his bar’s great reviews through his personal touch (and his playlist apparently; he was flipping CDs in between serving rounds and holding court). He and another local propping up the end of the bar (a Brit who had grown up in an RAF base in and now had retired to Larnaca) kept us entertained until home-time beckoned.

Travelogue Cyprus 5: Limassol


13 – 16 April 2024

We had the main event of our trip right at the end. Said event was a half marathon, so it was a touch counter-intuitive after all the feasting and festivities in the warm-up fortnight.

That said, Saturday’s tasks were to get from Paphos to Limassol (where the race would be held the next morning), get our race packs and try stay off our feet and as well rested as a holiday weekend would allow.

Luke and I did a morning jog along the Paphos promenade as a warm-up in the and to get a photo of the Castle at the end of the Port that had proved elusive in our sightseeing. Alex and Chris went on a different, but equally important, mission to Starbucks to sort out their caffeine fix and to the supermarket to get bread, cheese and ham to make toasties… which Alex was already busy doing when I arrived home.

Very sorry to say goodbye to our fantastic holiday house, we set off to explore new places.

Chris had planned our route to take us past Aphrodite’s Rock and through the town of Pissouri. Snaking and climbing through the narrow streets of the latter got us to a viewing point that offered a spectacular panoramic view of the coastline below.

It was a bit of a culture-shock pulling in to Limassol, which was by far the biggest city we’d seen on our travels. Cresting a hill on the outskirts revealed a sprawl of buildings hugging the coast as far as the eye could see. With a population of 154000 compared to Paphos’s 35000, it certainly felt like we’d arrived in the big smoke (although still nothing compared to Johannesburg’s 6 million!)

We had chosen our apartment for its location, an easy walking distance from the Limassol Marathon start line in Molos Park.

It took some doing to find the building in the narrow streets and one-way roads that satellited from the main road that ran alongside the promenade and that housed our entrance. Once we’d honed in on it, finding parking was another story!

We needed to go get our race numbers anyway, so did a very quick bag drop-off and kept moving.

Who should we bump into at the ticket office? The entire UK contingent (Alex and Luke’s Bootcamp buddies) who had also come to collect their tickets. We’d told Chusa and Lee we would wait for them (they had come from Paphos on the bus), so the whole extended group made ourselves comfy in the lounge area under the marquee to be the welcoming committee and got group photos to commemorate the occasion.

We decided on a late lunch at the marina, so dropped off Chusa and Lee at their apartment (about 800m from ours) and then succumbed to a paid parkade a couple of blocks inland from us so we knew our car would be safe – and accessible the next day if we needed it since our area would all be blocked off for the race.

Once our party was reunited, we walked along the promenade to the marina. Chusa and Lee had been to Limassol 6 years prior (also for the marathon) so had a traditional taverna in mind.

We were marginally waylaid as we encountered the Colchester Boot camp crew, who had established Drink Camp on the terraced steps at Ventuno Aperitivo on the Square at the Old Port. Katie had commandeered a hobby-horse of sorts and was cantering up and down in front of her jeering buddies. We checked in briefly, before making a concerted effort towards lunch.

Time had only done Kipriakon taverna proud and we all committed to the traditional menu, with Moussaka (aubergine bake), Pasticio (oven-baked pork and bechamel pasta), and Tsavas (lamb and onion stew) being the order of the day.

We had told the Boot Camp crowd that we would meet them after our meal, but since we had languished somewhat, they were already gone when we passed back through the square.

Either Limassol is a small world, we were predictable or fate intervened, but we still ended up passing them en route back to our neck of the woods… Where we had already set our sights on an Irish bar called Rums Pub, so we passed pleasantries as each headed in the opposite direction.

With a big race the next day, we took it very easy and nursed a Guinness to within an inch of its life while chatting with our mates. We also didn’t want a heavy meal or a long night in a restaurant to contend with, so Alex made the suggestion that we ‘carbo-load’ with 2-minute noodles at our apartment, which was pure genius!

So much for being ‘off our feet’; we had almost 20,000 steps clocked!


And then it was Race Day!

We were up at the (relative) crack of dawn, each observing our own prep protocol. Then it was off to the Cafe Nero across the road to meet our race buddies and walk slowly and gently to the start line.

I took my place in Block 1, waiting for the starting gun… BANG! We were off.

Left, right, left, right, look at the scenery, grab a water bottle, left, right, left, right. It was a long 21km! With sea-level air and a flat there-and-back course on our side, both Chris and I set a Personal Best on the course. Hooray!

Since some of the Colchester Boot Camp squad had run the 10km and finished before us, it was fabulous to have a welcome committee at the finish line to cheer us in. They were a spirited crew, so even though we had only known each other for a matter of hours, they cheered like we were old friends.

Once our group had gathered, we took time to return to our apartment (since it was so conveniently across the road) for a toilet stop, shower and change, and then it was off to lunch.

Everywhere was busy. There were still Limassol Marathon runners on the field so the roads were still closed and the promenade blocked off for participants approaching the finish line. A band had struck up on the Old Port Square, and a crowd was starting to gather with jubilant finishers celebrating their achievements.

We scored because the Boot Camp crew had once again assumed the position on the same terraced steps we had met them on the day before. With the size of their group, we were easily able to pull up chairs, share war stories about our race and commiserate about the tricky bits on the course.

Hunger will out though, and we had to leave our thirsty friends behind in order to refuel our very-empty tanks.

Being Sunday and with all the extra race traffic, the lunch sitting was full to bursting along the whole marina. We were very lucky to catch the eye of the host at the same spot we had lunched the previous day and he made a plan to bring an extra table into play for us. It meant that we had half of us in the sun and half enjoying the shade at any point – and we tried to circulate so nobody got too fried.

With a second go at the all-round-tempting menu, we were able to sample the halloumi ravioli, calamari and the biggest pork chop you have ever seen! It reached from end-to-end on my rectangular plate, gently cupping my chips and sauce above its shiny smile shape.

The service wasn’t great because the restaurant was so busy so we were there much longer than planned. And really needed to get a bit of a walk-around in before our tired legs seized and said that they could not!

Moving inland, we did an explore of the Old Town. There was a medieval castle surrounded by cafes, bars and restaurants that we probably should have lunched in, had we had the energy for risk-taking on our earlier forage.

Always game, the troops found space for an ice-cream and we soaked up the atmosphere from a park bench in the middle of the action before retreating to our respective quarters for some downtime after a very long day.

Our regroup for dinner was at the Limassol Agora food court in the original market in the Old Town. With a broad selection of street food stalls and a variety of entertainment options, it sounded like ‘something for everyone’.

However, it was very noisy and we were beyond shouting at each other to be heard, so we swiftly moved on.

I had spotted a locals souvlaki take-away that scored off the charts on Google Maps. Since it had a dine-in area attached, we figured it was worth a shot. We ordered a broad selection off the menu at Souvlaki Livadeias and ate like kings at a fraction of the cost of a high street restaurant equivalent. We vowed to try copy the roasted feta parcel on the braai when we got home!


There was so much pressure on our last day to live up to all the antics and adventures of the rest of the trip.

Alex and Luke had requested some beach time, to make the most of the sunshine which was not as commonplace on their side of the pond as on ours. So Chris planned a bit of a road trip that would take us to some nearby beaches with a few stops along the way.

The first was The Cyprus Wine Museum in Erimi. We had sampled so much local wine over the course of our trip that it seemed prudent to add the theoretical education to our practical one.

The custodian seemed surprised to have customers and scurried from her feet-on-desk position to open the entrance doors for us.

She gave us a brief running order for the tour, where she would give us an intro and overview, then orientate us to the two rooms of exhibitions, then set away an 11 minute video for us to watch before taking us to the cellar where we could taste one wine for €5 or the range for €10.

The exhibits told the story of the value of wine to Cyprus, allegedly being the birthplace of wine in the form of its sweet Commanderia variant. The wine was so envied that it made Cyprus the target of invasions by the various global-domination empire-builders across history.

The video was awful. 11 long minutes of PowerPoint presentation with slides of artefacts like clay wine pots animating in and out to grossly mismatched ominous piano music. We giggled as we tortured ourselves to complete the show so as not to insult our hostess.

Sapped of the will to wine – and since we hadn’t yet eaten – we skipped the tasting and moved on to Kourion Beach.

By now starving, we settled at a deck table at the quite-swish Chris Blue Beach restaurant to enjoy the beach view over a lovely lunch, which we then settled with some downtime on the sand and frolicking in the sea.

We had discovered on the map that there still existed two British enclaves on the island, as agreed in 1960 when Cyprus got independence. We had missed the one in Famagusta when we’d visited Nicosia, but could still get bragging rights for a flit to the UK by visiting the peninsula near Limassol.

Taking the opportunity en route back from the beach, we drove through the sovereign area. From the swathe of pylons and telecoms lines, it was clear that this base was used for surveillance. With Cyprus being so close to the Middle East, there were a couple of likely suspects of whom that might be at any given time.

We would not be getting mixed up in all of that though; we would be crossing a Salt Pan to get to the Lady’s Mile beach.

With no actual road, Chris deftly navigated between the orange cones that – we presumed – indicated the preferred route on the golden sand. The water in the salt pan was twinkling on our right, bright cyan from the shallow highly salinated water. The sea was directly in front of us, with the Limassol shoreline on the horizon. We could clearly cross-reference the landmark highrise buildings to spot (more or less) our proverbial neck of the woods.

Last tourist stop on the agenda was a visit to the blue flag beach at the far end of the Limassol promenade. We hazarded a guess that we had run close to there the previous day… but there was no way we’d manage it on foot two days in a row!

We made the most of the warm late afternoon sun lazing on towels on the soft sand and then celebrated the sunset with a sundowner on the terrace restaurant.

Our last supper choice had been an obvious one. A fabulous restaurant called Meze that we had all noticed on our way into town and that scored very highly on Google. It was also conveniently two blocks from our apartment, so an easy walk on stiff legs.

We invited Chusa and Lee – who had gone on a day tour to Nicosia – to join us, so we could swap stories about our respective adventures.

Meze was, obviously, a specialist in meze-style meals which comprise of several small dishes that are shared by the table. We were served warm pita bread with little bowls of olives, peppers, hummus, tahini, tzatziki and so on… and then more dishes with grilled lamb souvlaki and chops… and then a selection of sausages… and then crumbed and deep-fried haloumi with buttery grilled mushrooms… the food just kept coming!

By the time the waiter finally announced that he was serving the last dish – a crunchy syrupy dessert course – we thought we would burst!

Fortunately the restaurant wasn’t in any rush to push us out the door, so we had time to sip it wine and let the enormous meal settle a little. While making the most of our last memory-making Limassol moments together, giggling and happily snapping last photos.

Travelogue Namibia 6: Windhoek


2 October 2021

Very quickly not used to early mornings and waking up to alarms, it was a necessary evil in order to get our Covid PCR tests done in time to get the results before our flight out the next day. Deemed mandatory for us to get home again, the labs would take anywhere between 6 and 48 hours to produce results – depending on what you’re prepared to pay. With Namibian towns being as spread out as they are, and the nearest testing station to our camp at Okaukuejo being 3 hours away (and in the wrong direction), we reasoned that it made sense to get up a bit earlier and get to Windhoek in time for the 14 hour one, at the R900 per person rate.

We kept to time, bidding final farewells to the watering hole and its exhibitionist wildlife residents just after 07h00, and still had time for a buffet breakfast (and the now-obligatory tyre check) before departing at 07h30.

It was tar road all the way, so the 4 hour estimate was accurate, and allowed for a leg-stretch midway.

We had booked our Covid tests at a “roadblock” station and, not sure exactly what we were looking for, we were fortunate that the little pop-up shop in a shipping container was both exactly where we expected it to be on our online map and adjacent to a matching pop-up Police station with loads of signage or we might have blinked and missed it.

Despite having completed the laborious online booking forms, the attendant was not expecting us. It didn’t matter though, there was no queue and so a quick clipboard and form later, he was poking swabs up noses and down throats, as per preference.

30km later we arrived at the APS Guesthouse on Robert Mugabe Avenue in Windhoek. We had lovely big en suite rooms… Not that we needed them for much since we left almost immediately.

We walked to the Heinitzberg Castle, a beautiful old building from the turn of the last century. Count von Schwerin had built the elegant castle in 1914 for his fiancee, Margarethe von Heinitz, and it would serve as a great location for our welcome drink, with its panoramic views over Windhoek and its old-world charm.

Our next stop was quite the opposite; a very down-to-earth locals’ pub called Andy’s, where we had to line the stomach with the chips platter with its thick cheesy, garlic and bacon bits sauce. 

Our highlight for the day was a trip to Joe’s Beerhouse, which by all accounts was a ‘must do’ when in Windhoek, for its combination of bric-a-brac decor and delicious menu. Inspired by both German and Namibian influences, the secret sauce in the menu was traditional favourites with a twist, like the Eisbein burger (that Michele had), the game lasagne (that Chris had) and the Oryx schnitzel (that I had, obviously). With great service and a very relaxed atmosphere, it was easy to pass more than a couple of hours relaxing at our table in the gardens. 

It started getting a little chilly in the evening, so we headed back to our guesthouse, which had a lovely pool deck and some very exuberant guests who kept us entertained as we shamelessly eavesdropped into their conversation.


On our very last morning of what had been a very eventful week or so, we were able to sleep in a bit, and still get in a run before breakfast.

Having made no effort on the previous day, we felt it worthy to do a short circuit of some of the basic sights, that were fortunately all very easily accessible on the grid of landmark roads where we were staying.

We ran down Jan Jonker Street, named after a Namibian tribal leader from the 1800s, far enough to be able to cut across and back to our road to see the famous Christuskirche (built in 1896) and some monuments to Namibian government. A very easy 5km loop, nice and flat.

Breakfast was a treat with the a la carte menu offering both French Toast and Canadian Flapjack options, among others. With the long journey home ahead of us, we filled our boots to see us home.

Travelogue RWC 2023 5: Perpignan


02 – 04 October 2023

A 3 hour train ride south from Marseille – and right in the heart of Catalan country – we’d picked Perpignan to be our eye in the storm between the Rugby World Cup game in Marseille and our Blink 182 concert in Barcelona. Home to USA Perpignan rugby union and the Catalan Dragons rugby league teams held appeal for the chaps. The historical significance appealed to all of us.

Though settlement in the area goes back to Roman times, the medieval town of Perpignan seems to have been founded around the beginning of the 10th century. Shortly afterwards, Perpignan became the capital of the counts of Roussillon. It then became French in 1659, by the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Perpignan was a city of refuge in the 20th century – after 1936, for refugees from the Spanish Civil War.

Meanwhile, back in La Ciotat we were managing battles of our own. Having returned home in the early hours of the morning following the 9pm South Africa vs Tonga game in Marseille (and the ensuing traffic jam to get out of the city and back to La Ciotat) the previous night, it was less than optimal to be awoken by a message that our morning train connecting us back to Marseille for our connection to Perpignan was cancelled due to strike action.

We sprang – relatively speaking – into action and started reviewing other options. If we either caught the next train from La Ciotat or caught the bus from the Tourist Office at the end of our road straight into Marseille, we would be just too late for our connection. We tried calling the taxi from Saturday but struggled to get commitment on availability of a car. Our plans were up in the air and we were too tired to worry…

Distracting ourselves with making mega sandwiches with the last remaining groceries (a whole baguette, packet of bacon, thick country ham, sliced cheese, butter, sauce sachets), the plans made themselves when John the Taxi Man called and confirmed he could collect us from the Tourist Office in 5 minutes.

Timing was tight, but he was up for the challenge. Putting foot and swearing ‘Bloody Frogs’ (comically, as a local pure Frenchman in his thick French accent) out of the way, he got us to the Station in Marseille with 11 minutes to spare.

Relieved, we sank into our reserved seats on the train, ready for the next stage of our tour.

Our Airbnb host had advised that she would be dispatching her parents to meet us at the apartment since she’d be at work. Not wanting to keep them waiting, we emerged at the Perpignan Gare with Google Maps at the ready to guide us through the 10 minutes walk.

Our fantastic apartment was situated alongside a canal, which made for an unmissable landmark. Les Parents were waiting at the doorway to our building, ready to welcome us.

Trundling up 3 flights of stairs to our penthouse apartment, we were impressed by our spacious and tastefully decorated home for the next 2 nights. Besides the open plan living area that overlooked the canal, there was a bedroom with small outdoor terrace for Robbie and a massive loft room for Chris and I that ran the length of the apartment.

Les Parents gave us some very basic instructions (to suit our very basic French) and pointed us towards the Old Town.

Following the canal, we were only a few minutes from the historic centre. We would need to self-navigate because there were no walking tours on offer in Perpignan. We easily located the Tourist Office thanks to excellent signage, and procured a trusty city map.

A cursory review of the map told us that our tour would be a quick one. The centre ville is very small and majority of the sights are churches, which for us means a quick photo of the beautiful building and move on. Enough to entertain us for the remainder of the afternoon, but certainly not a two-day affair.

We chatted to the tourist office agent for suggestions for the next day. Of the recommendations, we liked the idea of a short bus ride to a nearby coastal town the most. Armed with info and the bus schedule, we began our city tour of Perpignan.

The agent had warned us that Monday in Catalan country is like a Sunday and not to expect too much to be open. Combined with siesta time, the town was very quiet. Consequently, our walking tour was concluded exceptionally quickly!

Never at a loss for things to do when a meal could be had, we followed directions to the central Place where we’d been told that restaurants serve all day everyday.

We’d worked up quite an appetite, so were sold on the first approach. The host at Hippopotamus only had to get eye contact to seal the deal thanks to the illustrated menu boards at the entrance that promised it to be an excellent grillhouse.

Being a ‘Sunday’ warranted a fantastic roast chicken and roast potatoes feast served in a hot skillet with a rich savoury gravy. And with fresh bread and butter, obviously.

After our leisurely late lunch, we headed in the other direction to explore the new town. Now toward the end of the working day, there was a lot of traffic and people on the move.

Once we’d visited places of cultural interest, we indulged in a visit to the local Irish pub, O’Flaherty’s. En route we noticed – Monday or no Monday – how the city had come back to life again.

Sign boards outside pubs showed operating hours to commonly be 5pm to midnight or beyond every night of the week, so Perpignan clearly has a vibrant and social nightlife culture. Nothing rowdy; mostly tables of 2 or 3 people, sipping drinks and nibbling tapas.

It was really pleasant to pass a couple of hours soaking in the atmosphere and planning our next steps. And it was always appreciated to be able to walk home, taking the long way around to walk along the canal.

Almost home, we walked past a Tibetan sidewalk cafe (of no more than 4 tables) that smelled so good, we had to stop.

The owner effortlessly convinced us to try his dumplings and sushi. Although the menu was a combination of traditional Tibetan fare and other Eastern crowd-pleasers, the owner  was completely authentic. He’d been a monk in his homeland, Tibet, before he made his way as a refugee to Perpignan in the late 90s.

He told the story quite casually and was more interested in us enjoying the dumplings and a good glass of rosé than being impressed by his life story.


As advised, we would be spending the day in Colliore, some 30km away on the coast. Situated in the Roussillon province, the area had been of consequence as a medieval administrative court and been home to royals from 1659 to around the 1790s.

There was a bus every hour or so that could be caught at the Gare. We made our way up to the station in good time to catch the 11h15 bus. It was only when the wrong bus arrived at the bus stop that we realised we were at the wrong bus stop entirely. Fortunately I’d checked with the driver as we boarded the bus or who knows where we would have ended up!

The driver directed us to a bus terminus on the other side of the train station and we killed the remainder of the wait with a coffee in the station.

After a very scenic bus trip – a bargain at €1 each! – we alighted in a precious seaside town. With a selection of seaside eateries, we set about the now-urgent business of lunch.

Mussels and calamari and prawns were the order of the day to match the setting. Collioure being in the heart of Catalan country and very close to the Spanish border, the menu had influences from both countries. A great combo!

From our vantage point on the promenade we could see the bowl of mountains that cupped Collioure, just as the agent described. We could also see the impressive Royal Castle that stretched around the left side of the harbour and hid the old town behind its massive wall.

Finishing up our lunch, we took a stroll around the old town, down to the harbour and along the jetty to the entrance of the port. This allowed a wonderful view back on the charming hamlet and the mountain range backdrop.

Mission accomplished with our relaxing afternoon, we caught the bargain bus back to Perpignan. We disembarked in town to gather some supplies and allow for a stroll back to our apartment.

Having procured a bottle of wine and a bottle of cava, we enjoyed sundowners on the small terrace adjoined to Robbie’s room.

We would probably have been there for a lot longer had it not been for the neighbour cooking up a storm. The delicious wafts of onions and garlic teased us to the point of action and motivated us to find something cheap ‘n cheerful for dinner.

We’d seen signs for naan kebabs on our travels and were curious about the combo since we loved both but had never experienced them together.

Not hard to find, we finally solved the mystery at a place called Cheese Naan.  The result was a soft round naan rolled into a cone and piled high with delicious fillings ranging from tandoori to kebab to cordon bleu. A real mash of cultures!

It was still relatively early so there was time for a spot of Cava in the Catalan Dragons’ home bar and bistro. And, of course, making a little time to stop in for a final glass of rosé with our Tibetan friend.

Travelogue RWC 2023 4: Marseille / La Ciotat


29 Sep – 02 Oct 2023

Our drive from Montpellier to Marseille was particularly festive because Chris had prepared a playlist of Blink 182 songs. This was intended to warm us up for the impending concert we would be attending on the last night of the trip. He’d based it on the set list of one of the previous concerts on the same tour, so it was a good indication of what we could expect!

We chatted and sang along, admired the countryside and the little towns dotted on either side of the motorway. Chris gave accolades to the sensible toll system that dispensed a ticket at origin and then tailored the charge for you when inserting the ticket again at your destination toll booth. All fully automated, super-efficient and a fair fee for just the value you’d enjoyed on the perfect roads.

Arriving in Marseille’s St Charles Station, we completed our Awesome Foursome group as we reunited with Michele, who had emigrated to London some 6 months prior.

We put the 30 minute train journey to La Ciotat to good use, catching up on what had been happening on our respective ends of the ocean.

Robbie had recommended our stay in the seaside town just outside of Marseille based on a previous visit he’d made to his friends who lived there. One of the friends, Ricky, was even at the train station waiting to greet us. He packed all our suitcases and selves into his station wagon with a smile.

He dropped us at our Airbnb apartment, in prime location one road in from the seafront, with the new town to the left and the old town to the right.

Our apartment was quite mysteriously architected, opening into an ample dining room / kitchen combo with 2 mismatched arches at the back leading to a twin room and lounge that in turn led to a slender bathroom at the back. Chris and I would be staying upstairs, accessed by narrow steep wooden steps on the right of the dining room into a loft that required us to crouch from the waist because the roof was so low. It was quite entertaining trying to figure out how this apartment had been constructed – or deconstructed from its neighbours.

Slip-slops on, we hit the beach. It was very pleasant to enjoy the warmth of the late afternoon sun while soaking in the glistening sea with all the yachts and sailboats bobbing along merrily. The beach was soft sand that you could see disappear into the clear waters.

We were easily able to walk the manageable couple of kilometres on the new town side, and rewarded ourselves with cocktails and cold beers in the tented shade of a sidewalk restaurant at the far end.

The return journey saw us overshoot our house to go onto the old port side. Also lined with bars and restaurants, we couldn’t resist going into O’Bullrock to gauge the price of a local Guinness. The usual €8 was marginally less shocking but no less frightening as we acclimated to life in Euros!

Hopelessly distracted from our French Seafood dinner mission by a few pints and a cheeky charcuterie board, we somehow ended up back at our house having a picnic and tucking into our supplies of sparkling and red wines instead.

Arrangements had been made to meet up for the 9pm Italy vs New Zealand game. We made our way back to O’Central in the Old Port (no more than a couple of hundred metres from our house) and arrived just before Ricky, his lovely wife Marjorie and their friend Marine. Clearly regulars, the owner moved people from the rockstar front tables to make space for our group.

The Kiwis easily took the game, so we decided on pizza for our midnight snack to commiserate Italy’s beating. The Crown Pub had an adjoined annex still serving fresh-from-the-oven pizza. A few minutes later we were happily munching on fresh crusty pizza with lavish portions of ham and pepperoni on top.


Chris had booked us on a Marseille free Walking Tour with the same company as we’d had in Montpellier. Ricky arranged a black van taxi to come and collect us and drop us off in town to minimise the guesswork under pressure to meet for the excursion.

We met Angie (and about 50 of her guests) at the Metro Station at the fish market. It was very noisy next to the Rugby World Cup Fanpark, so we set off on our way as soon as Angie was happy the group was complete.

According to Angie, Marseille is the oldest city in France – some 2600 years old – and was founded by traders from Greece who pulled into the port to escape the infamous Le Mistral which brings up to 80kmph winds.

We properly started the tour at the Greek ruins. There are very few remains from its early history because, as a sought after trading point in the Mediterranean, it’s seen more than its fair share of conflict. Consequently, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times by conquerers and settlers.

The point where we were standing had actually been part of the original port which the Greeks had built, with city wall and towers. Further, Grand Rue is the oldest street in France, which you can still walk down today. Authentic Starbucks ‘n all.

Moving along the road, Angie shared how Marseille was rebuilt into 1851 under Napoleon in order to insert a sewerage system, widen roads (for lifestyle and army access) and trees to line the roads. And, most importantly, connecting the old port with the new port, required to manage the volumes of traffic now coming to Marseille. Having struggled with epidemics like Black Plague and Cholera, the buildings were built with lots of long high windows to maximise light and ventilation.

Not all the stories were of glory and progress though.

During the Second World War, the Vichy Government collaborated with the Nazis in the form of an agreement that the south of France would remain free while the North was occupied. However, once the Allies collected in North Africa with intention to enter Europe via Marseille, the Germans broke the agreement and moved down to the city to defend the territory that they had gained.

Marseille was a cesspit and known as the Sty of Europe. In January 1943, by way of collaboration with the Nazis a large troop of French policeman cleared all the residents out of their houses – some 20 000 people – and gathered them on the port. The majority were trained to a transition camp for a week. A couple of thousand (mostly Jewish) people were taken to Poland and executed. The few that returned arrived back to rubble; the policeman had blown up 1500 buildings with dynamite as a radical solution to clean up the city. Only 7 buildings remained standing. This has been recognised quite recently as a Crime Against Humanity.

One of these surviving buildings, a beautiful old Renaissance structure built in 1535, was actually slowly (very slowly, over 3 months) moved 10 metres and pivoted 90 degrees in order to better fit the new city planning for Grand Rue!

Modern Marseille has been depicted as a dangerous place. While it has had a notorious criminal element from as far back at the 1950s (‘The French Connection’) there had been a concerted effort in the last decade to clean up the city and restore a more attractive connotation.

There are than 2000 Pétanque strips around the city – and even a nightclub that has 7 Pétanque strips inside where ravers can exercise their one arm with the boules and the other with Pastis.

Marseille is also famous for its olive oil soap, crafted since the Middle Ages. Constituting 72% olive oil, it is traditionally presented as an unscented cube in the natural olive green colour. The soap is supposed to be all you need to keep your skin clean, youthful and hydrated. Angie (who couldn’t be more than 30 years old) joked that it was all she, as a 72 year old, had been using for the last 50 years.

Concluding the tour at the majestic Byzantine Cathedrale de la Major, we broke from the group to grab some lunch. All 4 of us had earmarked the same place for different reasons as we’d walked past so it was an easy choice.

We had a veritable feast of local-flavoured goodness. Charcuterie boards to start, with salmon tartare and tuna steak for mains. Lots of fresh baguette and butter too, of course. We’d earned it, having done a good few kilometres in the baking Mediterranean sun on this perfect day.

Marseille was heaving with all the tourists and rugby fans in for the weekend, so we decided to head back to our neck of the woods for a slower pace. Public transport is easily accessible and inexpensive so catching the train back to La Ciotat and connecting with a bus to drop us off at our door was a lot simpler than expected and cost less than 5 Euros apiece.

Somewhere along the way we uncovered that Robbie had never had a Katemba; a refreshing mix of equal parts Coca-Cola and red wine. We popped into our local supermarket to get some Coke and the cheapest red wine available. Less than 20 minutes later, another First was chalked up on our adventure scorecard!

Keen to make the most of the sunshine, Michele and I grabbed our flops and went for a walk along the promenade to dip our toes in the sea. Such a beautiful stretch of coastline and the perfect time of day, with sun on our backs and clear cold water on our legs.

The chaps meantime were watching Fiji vs Georgia. We’d managed to miss most of the match by the time we got back at sundowner o’clock.

Tucking into a selection of cold meats, we sipped on some of the nicer red wines (sans Coke) that we’d brought from Beaujolais. Never short of conversation, we shared stories and laughs around the kitchen table for hours in our homely home.

Time, in fact, ran away with us and we were caught by surprise when Ricky and Mark arrived at our front door to ‘pick us up’ (on foot) to go watch the Scotland vs Romania game at the pub.

Resuming our positions in our now-local O’Central, our group delighted as their home nation team easily took the game from the Romanians. The Scots went on to celebrate into the early hours of the morning while the Saffas went home to get a good night’s sleep in prep for the big game the next day.


It had been a long week of festivities and we were glad we’d left the Sunday open, as a free day with no arrangement.

Chris and I went out for a morning run and saw there was a market open all along both ports. The streets were buzzing with vendors and shoppers. Noting there were a lot of clothing and accessory stores, I encouraged Michele to do a return visit with me assuming it would be of little interest to the chaps.

We ambled along, browsing the silky cottons, light wools, fluffy angoras and soft leathers. The clothing stalls were punctuated with food vendors encouraging us – me with little resistance – to sample their meats, cheeses and Mediterranean accoutrements. Delicious!

Lured out by the taste for a coffee, Chris and Robbie had settled at the local Tabac and were sipping on espresso. Admiring the yachts and watching the day go by, we unfolded our plan for the afternoon.

Far from ambitious, we picked a seafront seafood restaurant and had spectacular salmon and cod fish ‘n chips. This left enough time to get dressed and take the patio furniture out onto our stoep to share the last of the wine while we waited to be collected at 5 to go to Marseille for the rugby game.

Marjorie collected us and as an avid rugby fan was very excited to be attending the game with our South African contingent for authenticity. She chatted animatedly as she drove, pointing out things of interest as we passed. She had grown up in La Ciotat so had lots of interesting information to share.

Marseille was pumping! There was a sensory-overload of activities; French pub anthems booming out of speakers, people everywhere, beer flowing, flags flying. It was strange (and awesome) to see so many Springbok shirts in the hordes of people streaming up and down the Main Street that led up to the Stadium.

We knew of a few people that were also attending the game, one such a friend from Joburg who had emigrated the year before and now lived in Manchester. We’d been messaging back and forth over the weekend in an attempt to catch up but our paths had not yet crossed. This was our time!

We found Justin and his friends outside the Stadium and spent the next couple of hours together, reminiscing with our old friend and making new memories with the new ones.

Stadium access was very well organised and it was a pleasure to share the South Africa vs Tonga experience with 59996 the other spectators the Stadium was designed to hold. Sitting next to a Frenchman who was wearing an old Boks jersey, I managed to practice a little of my French as we exchanged stories of how he’d come by his jersey on a trip to SA and what my friends and I were going in France.

Cherry on the cake was our team winning the match and getting the bonus point required to move us closer to being promoted from our group into the quarter finals.

Travelogue RWC 2023 3: Montpellier


27-29 September 2023

Our holiday was going much too quickly, but the one advantage was that it was now time to meet up with our friend Robbie. We’d be in Montpellier for a few days before going to Marseille for the South Africa vs Tonga game in the Rugby World Cup 2023.

Robbie was coming in by train from London and would meet us at our shared Airbnb apartment just outside of the Montpellier city centre. We were driving from Nimes and had chosen an apartment with a garage so we could stow the car and explore with more freedom on foot.

We pulled into the road to see Robbie on the doorstep; we could not have timed it better!

Our host came down to greet us. Jean-Pierre spoke less English than we did French, so we slipped into Frenglish to get the basic instructions (keys, wifi, city map) and headed towards town. Walking and talking to catch up with our old friend.

We were all very pleasantly surprised, having done very little research on Montpellier, when we arrived at the one recommendation that Jean-Pierre had made that I had recognised – La Place de la Comedie. A vast pedestrian square surrounded by ornate buildings and with the obligatory fountain, we knew at first sight that we were in for a treat for the next few days!

We did a rudimentary lay-of-the-land check and decided that since we had already booked a walking tour for the next morning, there was little point duplicating efforts. It was too busy for comfort on the bustling square, so we randomly picked one of the roads that lead off it and agreed to stop at the first shady area that offered a welcome beer.

An easy ask, it would seem. We found ourselves on a more intimate square with shops along the left side and a long tented seating area in the middle, servicing the row of restaurants and cafes along the right. Picking one at random, we sat down, barely taking a breath on the conversation that had started at home.

Once seated and acclimating, we noticed the radical difference in price for a pint of beer… and so began the quest to beat the price. With an opening of 7.50 Euros, there was a lot of room for improvement. By the time we moved on from the square a couple of hours – and a few cafes – later, we had already slimmed down the price tag to 4.50 Euros!

With the sun a little lower in the sky, the temperature was far better suited to sight-seeing, so we did a loop of the old town and made our way up the hill to the obviously-important arch at the top of the slight incline that didn’t quite qualify as a hill.

Consulting the map, it was discovered to be Montpellier’s very own Arc de Triomphe. The gate was dedicated to Louis XIV The Sun King with emblems that have the King standing on a lion (the English) and an eagle (the Germans). This symbolised how he’d concluded the 100 years of wars ‘with difficult neighbours’. And made for most excellent photographs.

Our valiant effort on the culture front was rewarded when we spotted the proverbial black swan – walking down the incredibly elegant high street, we spotted a 3.90 Euro pint in a dingy pub just off one of the side roads. Small round tables squeezed under the shade of an umbrella of a tree, we simply could not refuse Le Foch.

The waiter – yes, one waiter for the whole bar – was a young Zimbabwean chap. Information he volunteered on hearing our accent, which he said was not very common in these parts. We were just happy to be here together and having a wonderful time.

With a well-kitted Airbnb apartment at our disposal, we decided to do a quick grocery shop at the local supermarket for a picnic-style charcuterie dinner of roast chicken, hams, cheeses and baguettes to wash down with some of the wines we had brought with us from our wine route. Delicious!


We’d bought enough supplies to start the day with a homemade bacon baguette sandwich, anticipating it would be a vigorous day with the walking tour and satisfying whatever other curiosities we had for the city.

We met our guide, Luis from Venezuela, at the fountain at La Place de la Comedie and minutes later were off on our way.

As is commonplace, the tour began with a history of the town. Montpellier is relatively young in European terms, having been formed in 985 AD and not having the ancient Roman Empire background that the nearby cities had. The settlement was founded by the Guilhem family, a feudal dynasty from Toulouse, who built a castle and defensive walls and ruled it until the 12th century. Two of the towers are still surviving and we saw both.

By the 13th century, Montpellier had established itself as a centre of trade, thanks to its fortuitous position on the route between Spain and Italy. It was also established as a centre of education because of the schools of Law and Medicine that had been set up in the late 12th century by Willam VII.

In 1349, Montpellier came under the control of King Philip VI of France. It was thought to be one of the most important cities in France at that time in history, although towards the end of the 14th century, life became very difficult for those who lived and worked here. Successive plagues killed many people, perhaps as many as a third of its population. By the start of the 15th century, however, Montpellier had managed to recover some of its former status and economy.The city is still known for its Faculty of Medicine and is applying for UNESCO City of Heritage which will help fund the renovations for their bid for Capital of Culture in 2028.

Luis shared some interesting facts with us:

  • The local language is Occitan, which was almost extinct but is trying to be revived through the school system.
  • There is no mountain in Montpellier, despite the ‘mont’ in the name.  Clapas is an Occitan term meaning pile of rocks and refers to the origin of the site where the city of Montpellier was developed around the 10th century, on elds of stones covered by Kermes Oak.
  • In the Middle Ages, Montpellier was an important city of the Crown of Aragon (and was the birthplace of James I), and then of Majorca, before its sale to France in 1349
  • La Place de Comédie used to be known as ‘the Square of the Egg’ because of its oval shape around which cars would pass through into the city. Now it’s pedestrian in the city centre to be quieter and more eco friendly.
  • St Roch is the patron saint and is always depicted with a dog. There is a shoe shop in town called Erbe Chausseur which is opened each Holy Day, 16 Aug, so that pilgrims can come and taste water from the well from which St Rich drank, which is still intact today and happens to be at the back of the shop.
  • The Jean Monnet Square (where we’d begun our beer quest on the first night) commemorated the achievements of its namesake; a Socialist who introduced the separation of church and state, the right to Sundays off and the concept of paid leave.
  • The Amphitheater of Anatomy was revolutionary in its time. Designed for observation, it is octagonal on the outside but circular inside with 8 windows around the circumference to prevent shadows. Condemned were dissected for students to watch and learn (like the Gallery in Gray’s Anatomy).
  • Montpellier is currently a mix of 40% students and 30% retirees, thanks to the legendary education credentials and the 300 days a year of sunshine.
  • The city has their own street artists. Their most famous are Mr BMX who affixes parts of bicycles onto city walls and Invader, who makes Space Invader mosaics above street names… and if you plot all the Space Invaders onto a map of Montpellier, they are all in the shape of a Space Invader!
  • One of the surviving towers has 2 pines on top. Michel de Notre Dame (Nostradamus) was at the University of Montpellier but flunked out. It was when he left and went to Italy that he started writing his prophecies. He predicted that when the pines die, the city of Montpellier will be destroyed. Since he had already correctly forecast the fall of the French kings 300 years after his death, the city hires two full-time gardeners to tend to the pines… just in case.

The tour concluded within spotting distance of the Best Bakery in France 2015, which seemed like a sign. I joined the queue and agonised over what to order as the long string of people in front of me edged closer to the door and disappeared into the small shop to get served. I got us each a feuilleté saucisson (sausage roll) and we wasted no time tucking into the layers of flaky pastry with porky herby centre.

With map in hand, we plotted a route to cover the sights not included in the tour. This led us back to the Aquaduct we’d seen on the tour that had brought water to Montpellier from St Clements some 18km away though the aqueduct and then 17km of lead pipes. We walked along the full 800m length of the impressive aqueduct structure before turning back to visit the Jardin du Plante (Botanical Gardens).

The Botanical Gardens are the oldest in France, founded by Henry IV in 1593. They are now owned and run by the Medical faculty, thus are a collection of plants that are useful rather than the conventional, largely superficial landscaped beds. Sort of disappointingly, one of their accomplishments is a large collection of grasses and succulents from South Africa. A long way to travel to see a garden from home!

We worked our way back around into the Old Town through the Arc de Triomphe, which was thirsty work and warranted a stop-in at the trusty Le Foch pub. It was already buzzing, and again, remarkably, there was a single waitress managing all the tables.

Last stop was to cross to the corner of town to investigate the archaeological site. A bit ordinary compared to the splendour of the rest of the Old Town.

We had booked dinner on The Fork at a steakhouse just around the corner from Le Foch. Conspicuously early it would seem, based on the fact that the host was at the door of the empty restaurant waiting to greet us. I finally got to try the steak tartare I had been after the whole holiday, opting for the Parmesan and sundried tomato variant. Delicious!

The chaps wanted to watch the rugby at 21h00, which was a bit late to be out on the town with an early start the next day. So we made our way home and enjoyed the game with a very civilised glass (bottle) of red (or two) from the comfort of our wonderful apartment.

Travelogue RWC 2023 2: Wine Route, Avignon, Nimes


25 – 27 September 2023

Our hearts sank as we arrived in the rental car depot.

We had efficiently traversed Lyon on the public transport and navigated pour way around the Part Dieu Gare to find the car rental company with whom we had pre-booked the car for our wine route roadtrip… but the queue was snaked around the lobby and out the door!

More than an hour’s wait threw us off course a little, but we still had the afternoon to make our way slowly up North to our resting place for the night in Chenas, at the top end of the Beaujolais wine route.

Beaujolais was the Kingdom of Beaujeu from 950 AD. The people were devoted to kings of France and planting of Beaujeu vineyards for clergy as ‘vines of the Lord’. But these magnificent grapes did indeed lead into temptation and they soon became ‘vines of the Lords’.

Our first stop en route to Beaujolais was Villefranche-sur-Saône, for lunch. Running a bit behind schedule we arrived for lunch just after 13h00… as the good people of Villefranche were closing for lunch. Although it made for a very efficient walking tour of the town, able to whip up and down the high street in record time, it would appear that lunchtime was the worst time to arrive for, well, lunch.

All was not lost though and we found an open supermarché where we bought some local wine (we could do a self-guided wine tour later). We also found an open sandwicherie and were, as always, enchanted with the quality of bread, butter and meats that made a simple sarmie (as the French would say) génial.

On our way out we found the tourist office was open and popped in to get a map of the Beaujolais wine country. The lady behind the counter penned a few circles on the map for us and, with several brochures for wine farms in hand, we took comfort from her loose instructions (to be said in a French accent) ‘you just follow the red route and zere is wine everywhere’.

I learnt from the map that Beaujolais was recognised as a UNESCO Global Geopark for its geological diversity and its preserved natural and cultural sites. Wines were intimately linked to local terroirs and there were more than 12 appellations, including 10 Crus.

An appellation is a geographical indication identifying where the grapes for wines were grown, although other types of food use appellations as well. Cru is a wine term used to indicate a high-quality vineyard or group of vineyards and its wines. And yes, there were vineyards and caves (tasting rooms, where you enjoy a degustation) everywhere in Beaujolais country.

We stopped in at the recommended Cave de Clochemerle. Famed for its historic public ablution (‘la pissotiere’), it is also highly photo-worthy with the fresco mural wall of colourful characters from Gabriel Chevallier’s famous (in these parts) novel ‘Clochemarle’, painted onto the balconies and pretend-windows.

We tried the flight of red wines and the bubbles in the cool cellar, piecing together the story of each from the attendant in our becoming-familiar Frenglish. We bought of a bottle of our favourites of each, quite chuffed with the Beaujolais experience.

A bit behind schedule we took the scenic route and soaked in the sights along the way. The hilly Beaujolais vineyards stretched 55km northward encased by the foothills of the Massif Central in the west and the Saône in the east. The landscape unfolded like a painting as the route took us through wine country and pretty little Beaujolais-Villages where we imagined a simpler life for ourselves.

Our destination was one of the pre-planned highlights of our trip; an overnight stay on a working vineyard in the heart of the Beaujolais wine route – in a town called Chenas – with farm-to-table pairing dinner.

All we knew about Chenas was what the map had told us ‘Chenas stretches across rolling hills and valleys. Its wine is generous, tender on the palate and intended for laying down.’ That didn’t give much away.

We climbed steadily up to Chenas, which allowed spectacular views over the winelands and pretty little villages dotted in the distance. Soon we were crunching our way up the gravel path to our destination, Auberge des Hauts de Chenas. It was almost 18h00 but still very light so we were able to soak in the view before unpacking and making ourselves at home.

Dinner was to be served at 19h15, which allowed enough time to explore the wine museum. Chris was disappointed that the exhibition was more about farming implements than wine itself… but that would come with dinner.

We were seated in the cosy dining room. Filled to capacity, our host had 13 guests including us to take care of for the evening. Astoundingly the one lady – owner of the wine farm, having inherited it from her founding grandfather – did the cooking, serving, clearing and wine-tasting duties for all of us!

She prepared us with a paddle of 6 of the vineyard’s wines and presented course after course. Soup, charcuterie and sun-dried tomato relish; fish goujons and samoosas; snails in a white wine sauce and puff-pastry cap; bœuf Bourgogne and veal medallions; chocolate fondant, caramel slice and crème brûlée; cheese platter. What a treat!


With a relatively long drive back from Chenas through Beaujolais to Avignon (3 hours), we had the quandary of how to leave early enough for a leisurely drive… without endangering our passage with (too much) wine-tasting.

Our solve was to start with a little cultural excursion to see us through until the proverbial planes flew overhead, which we had a feeling might have to be earlier than usual for us with all the temptation in Beaujolais.

Château de Corcelles fit the bill; a medieval castle 18km down the road and only 7km from the A6 freeway, with an English audio guide so we’d know what we were looking at.

It was built as a fortified house in the 11th century for Beaujolais from Burgundians. The rebuild in the 15th century added the turrets and towers which would make it all rather fairytale if it weren’t for the lethal ramparts with arrow slits and canon holes.

Originally more than 200 hectares, the estate was now 90 hectares requiring 150 handpickers to harvest the variety of terroirs. Le Chai – where the grapes are stored – was built in the 1800s and still has its original freestone wall and wooden roof frame. From there, Crus Brouilly, Fleurie and Morgan are the most famous wines produced on site – although it was still a little early for a tasting with quite some road ahead.

We had decided to break the drive with a stop in Vienne, 35km south of Lyon. The city was steeped in history, having been transformed into a Roman colony in 47 BC underJulius Caesar and becoming a major centre in the Empire thanks to its prime trading position at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Gère.

Remains of the Roman constructions are widespread across modern Vienne making it an ideal candidate for our preferred ‘open air’ and ‘living history’ excursions.

First order of business in Vienne was to find parking. We’d learnt from previous trips that it was a fool’s game to trawl for free bays, so we followed the signs to the Gare (train station) paid parking figuring that they’re usually central in these smaller towns.

Greeted with the ratecard signboard at the entrance advising that parking was charged at €1 per half hour, thoughts of leisurely strolling through Vienne evolved into ideals of a flash speed-walking tour.

We followed the signs to the Tourist Office, hoping to procure a map to rationalise our choices and cut out uneconomical dilly-dallying. We arrived at 12h41… 11 minutes into the Tourist Office’s 2-hour lunch break.

Not sure why the French need all this time to make a sandwich, but quite envious of the lifestyle nonetheless. Joie de vie in France indeed.

We took a photo of the map encased at the shut-tight entrance and set upon our way.

There were 8 points of interest on the map. First was the World War II commemorative Garden, which we’d already walked through as a shortcut to the Tourist Office. Bonus!

As tends to be the case in relic towns, the sights of interest are heavily religion-skewed.

Even the archeological museum (Sight 3) was an ancient building that had begun as an abbey in the 8th century. It was the primary burial place of the bishops in the 12th century and only in 1867 became a museum (presumably when they started digging up all the Roman stuff). Signboards outside illustrated a massive restoration and addition to the currently-dilapidated building that would soon make it a worthy visit.

Happy-snapping a trifecta of cathedral, temple and chapel (Sights 4-6), we made record time across the suspension bridge (Sight 7). We saw the Valois Tower (Sight 8) and, oddly not on the tourist map, the Museum with the actual open-air digging site of the ancient ruins. Since it wasn’t even on the map and was €10 each to get in, we opted for a quick gander from the free viewing deck above the ticket office.

And then a bee-line back to the car.

And there you have it, folks. That’s the 1-hour €2 tour of Vienne!

Chris wanted to check the tyres before hitting the road again; a warning light had flashed up briefly and we have a long history of bad luck with tyres so worth being cautious.

He dispatched me to get us some bottled water for the journey and, of course, since the shop adjoining the petrol station was a Boulangerie, I added a discretionary sandwich to the shopping list. Saucisson and Brie in a crunchy baguette. Mmmmm.

We’d done well with our Avignon accommodation. The A7 deposited us right at our doorstep as we took the turn-off from the freeway. Added bonus that there was a free parking bay right alongside our hotel, Au Saint Roch. And then, stars further aligning, there was an entrance to the old town right there too.

This was remarkable because medieval Avignon’s original walls are still in place (so highly unlikely that the primely-located gated arch had been planned for our convenience).

Our receptionist had a tourist map at the ready so we were out like a shot.

Into the old town, along the boulevard on the interior of the city wall and onto the main drag. The Rue de la République was spectacular! Old school elegance in a high street, with crazy history on every façade and hinted from side streets and narrow arcades, peeping over the rooftops.

With 8 cultural sites, 11 religious heritage buildings, 13 museums and monuments – and almost every other building something ornate or quaint – all contained in a 4.3km ancient wall, Avignon is a square kilometre of jam-packed tourist value for money! And, as Christian proved, easily doable in flip-flops, cobbled streets ‘n all.

We’d been directed that the piece de resistance was the Palais de Papes (Palace of the Popes). Pope Clement V (a Frenchman) moved the Papal residence to Avignon in 1309 on invitation of King Phillip of France because he refused to move to Rome. It remained the seat through the next 7 Popes.

Understandable that the ensuing Popes were happy to stay in Avignon. The Palais was beyond palatial; it was freaking enormous! 15 000 square metres under roof! 1.5 hectares of absolute opulence! This was a result of 20 years of building through the first 3 Popes, with Clement VI (Pope #3) forceably removing peasant housing surrounding the palace to improve defences through visibility around the borders.

A lousy thing to do to the peasants in the 1300s, but once they started clearing the rubble from the demolition (some 250 years later) and laid down the smooth stone pavers and whatnot, it made for a cracking square! Seemed fitting to have cafés and restaurants on the square for today’s mere minions to admire the largest medieval Gothic palace in the world.

On a high from some premium sight-seeing, it was high time to tackle the Guinness Index. We’d seen an Irish bar called O’Collins on our way into the Old Town so we retraced our footsteps and were delighted to find they celebrated Happy Hours – from 4 to 6pm daily – and we were smack-bang in the middle of the slot. We procured ourselves a pair of pints for 6 Euros apiece and secured Avignon #15 on the Index (which would have been a #4 had it been any other of the Unhappy Hours!)

We left our dinner plans in the hands of fate, saying we would trust The Fork app to choose our meal, based on the highest ratings in a 1km radius. This chose a burger joint for us, called Maimana. We stucks to our guns and booked a table for 19h00 to allow time to amble the cobbled streets to get there.

It was one of a few sidewalk eateries side-be-side on a narrow street. There was a pleasant atmosphere in the cool evening with a light breeze carrying the mixture of languages and laughter towards us on arrival. Once our respective steak and chicken burgers were served we could see what the fuss was about and how this humble hole-in-the-wall restaurant had earned a 9.5 from so many people. Yum!

We walked back to our B&B along the wide (maybe 5 or 6 metres wide) sidewalk path on the outside of the city wall. It was incredible that this medieval structure was still standing, let alone in such perfect condition. It stretched on along side us, with 8m high smooth walls topped with ramparts and interjected with square towers.

We Googled when we got back and discovered that the wall was over 1000 years old and, granted, had had maintenance done… mostly in the 15th and 18th centuries!


We had traded our night in Nîmes for the whirlwind wine route tour. Less than 45 minutes from Avignon and directly en route to Montpellier, there was still time for a stop and quick self-guided walking tour.

Emerging from the parking lot, we saw our first site, a regal statue in a beautiful square. The signboard revealed him to be Antonin who was from Nîmes, the son and grandson of Senators and who became one of the Emperors of Rome.

From there, we could also see signposts indicating the direction of sights of interest with the distance to each marked alongside. We chose the direction of the tourist office first.

By the time we had gotten a map of the town, we had already happened upon marvellous things!

It was such a pleasure just walking around Nîmes. Everything is beautiful. Everywhere is so clean. The buildings are elegant and magnificent. The pavements are smooth, honey-coloured stone. The roads are tree-lined and it is welcome to walk in the shade as the sunlight mottles through the trees while you move through one spectacular sight to the next. Truly awesome in the most literal sense of the word.

We stumbled upon the Maison Carrée, built in the first century A.D. and one of the best-conserved temples of the Roman world. Very impressive with its stature, elegant columns and Corinthian capitals on the facade decor. It was mind-blowing to see student-types casually lunching on the steps and on the ledge around the building, dangling their legs and chatting away like it was an everyday thing to lounge on an ancient monument (which for them, I suppose, it was).

We were also caught by surprise by the Arena, which was also built in the first century A.D. shortly after the Colosseum in Rome. It could entertain more than 24 000 spectators enjoying the likes of gladiator fights. It was converted to a fortress in the 6th century, when some of the arcades were bricked up. But that does not detract from the architecture, and it is still considered one of the best-conserved amphitheatres from the Roman world. It is now used for bullfights, congresses, concerts and sport events.

Procuring the tourist map, we filled in the gaps. We made our way back to the top of the town to see the Castellum aqueduct. Amazing that in the first century they were already able to transport water 50 km via aqueduct into this circular basin, from where it would be dispersed to thermal baths, fountains and districts around the town.

We wrapped up the walking tour with a visit to the Temple of Diane on the far side of the tranquil Jardin de la Fontaine. The first inhabitants of Nîmes had settled near this spring in the 6th century BC and the Romans had beautified the area as a sanctuary in 1AD. The current magnificent formal gardens were designed in the 18th century to respect the layout of the archeological remains, and were added to in the 19th century to finish off the gardens as they can be enjoyed today.