A Travellerspoint blog

Tiraspol – Causeni – Et Cetera – Romania

Three countries, three drivers


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After last night's debauchery, I am in a deep sleep when the alarm goes off this morning. Unfortunately not mine. Debauchery, that is; The alarm is sadly very much mine.

I notice a huge bruise has appeared on my wrist from yesterday’s encounter with the stocks at Bendery Fortress. That’ll teach me. Not.

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As we exit the lift at the ground floor on our way to the breakfast room, there is a burly security guard between the lift and the exit – maybe to stop guests leaving without paying?

We take breakfast in another retro-style dining room, and it appears that we are the first - and only - guests to surface this morning. I am not surprised.

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When Valeriu arrives to pick us up, we tell him about the girls last night. “Oh they are hookers” he shrugs.

Back into Moldova

From Tiraspol it is only about half an hour drive back to the border with Moldova, but we have to make sure we leave the country before 10:04:14! It’s been a memorable visit for sure, but I have to concede that Transdniestr is one of those places you visit in order to be able to say "you’ve been", rather than as a result of any attractions it may or may nor have. Unless you are after stunningly beautiful hookers, of course, then Transdniestr should be right at the top of your travel wish list.

The border formalities in this direction are smooth and easy. In no-mans-land Leonid awaits us and we say goodbye to our Transdniestrian driver Ivan. Soon we find ourselves back in Moldova, singing the old Beatles song “Back in the USSR” at the top of our voices.

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Church of Assumption of Mother of God, Căuşeni

The church is officially closed for restoration, but the curator kindly opens it especially for us and gives us a guided tour.

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The sign says: CLOSED FOR RESTORATION

The church, which dates from 1763, is set three feet below ground level as the Tatars only allowed the construction of churches on the proviso that the roof was no taller than the height of a man on horseback with his sword pointing up into the air.

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In 2002 the roof tiles of the church were all changed with the help of US funds in order to protect the frescoes inside the church from moisture damage. The curator explains how the tiles were made – the curved shape was obtained by forming the clay around the potter’s thigh, and on most of the tiles you can still see their fingerprint.

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Just like we’ve sponsored a plank at the zoo in return for a plaque; in those days the donors who gave money towards the construction of the church had their portraits pained on the walls.

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The first church on the site was made from wood; later stonework was added. In 1977 an earthquake caused a crack in the walls.

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The entire interior of this small, but impressive church – the oldest in Moldova - is covered in frescoes. These are the only preserved Medieval frescoes in Moldova.

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Excellent acoustics are aided by empty clay jars, and the early morning light that enters through the windows is said to create a symbolic cross.

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Three doors separate the nave with the altar area, but only men are permitted to enter this area.

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And now for something completely different...

Et Cetera Winery

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Our last stop in Moldova is the small family owned winery of Et Cetera, where we are greeted by Igor, one of the owners, who gives us a guided tour.

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Frustrated by the lack of high quality wines in Moldova, Igor and his brother Alexander bought the land in 2002 and subsequently planted 50 hectares of vines that they imported from Italy and Georgia. Today they employ 20 people in the production of an excess of 10,000 bottles of superior wines annually.

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The grapes will be ready to harvest next month (October) - they are all picked by hand. The grapes are collected in small boxes; then carefully sorted, with each berry checked to ensure that only the best are fermented.

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Next the grapes are placed on the vibrating table where the berries are separated from the stems and other unwanted bits.

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They then travel up this conveyor belt…

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… to the steamer where the skins are removed…

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… and into the presser. Only the white grapes have the skin removed before juicing; for red wine the skin is retained.

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We are given a glass each and head into the factory which is full of huge storage tanks for maturation of the wine.

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Degustation takes the form of opening a tap on the side of the storage tank!

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Today the bottling and labelling plants are devoid of any action.

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The wine is really excellent and we buy three bottles to take home.

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Back at the Winemaker’s Cottage, the sound of a piano fills the air and we discover Valeriu singing self-composed love songs. This trip seems to be full of surreal moments such as this!

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Lunch at the winery
Lunch is in the bright and airy conservatory, and starts with the unfortunately named ‘Bride’s Placinta’, a cheese and potato pie cooked by Alex and Igor's mother.

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A chicken and vegetable soup follows.

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I ask Valeriu what the main course consists of. “That’s rabbit casserole,” he tells me, “But…” he continues, pointing to the side dish, “That does not have an English name”. “Kasha?” I ask rhetorically (and to Valeriu’s surprise; he obviously isn’t aware of my great love – and knowledge – of food), “that is called buckwheat porridge in English.”

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Romania

After a big lunch with lots of wine, sleep is unavoidable on the four-hour drive to the border between Moldova and Romania; in fact only Leonid, the driver, (thankfully) manages to stay awake.

Exiting Moldova is smooth and easy, whereas entering Romania – and thus the EU – is painfully slow. First of all they want our passport and the car documents, then they check the luggage. Eventually, after queuing for nearly an hour, we are in; and meet up with our new (Romanian) driver-guide Andrei. It is very sad to say goodbye to Valeriu and Leonid, they’ve been such good company for the last five days in Moldova.

But now it’s time to explore new horizons with new people. Andrei is very different to Valeriu – where the Moldavian guide was our age and rather traditional (old fashioned even); his Romanian counterpart is a much younger 'free spirit' and a bit of an anarchist.

Again we doze in the car most of the way from the border, it soon gets dark, therefore making it hard to see anything along the way.

Dinner at Hanu Ancuţei Restaurant

Once we reach Târgu Neamț, we stop for dinner in a rustic and cosy restaurant, as we still have a number of miles to go today.

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Although the menu has a convenient English section, the choice is so great that we ask Andrei to pick something typically local for us. He orders a selection of three dips to start – zacusca (aubergine preserved in oil and spices - absolutely delicious! ), white bean pure with fried onion, and mashed beans with smoked meat.

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We follow that with a soup of veal with beetroot and soured cream, and for afters we share a plate of little pastries.

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Casa Felicia

After dinner, which was accompanied by an excellent botle of wine, we again struggle to stay awake on the way to Sucevita and our accommodation for the next two nights: the delightfully rustic Casa Felicia. By the time we arrive it is nearly midnight, so we merely collapse into bed after a long day with many miles - and three countries - covered.

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Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip to one of the least touristy parts of Europe.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:50 Archived in Romania Tagged church grapes romania winery moldova vinyard wine_tasting transnistria undiscovered_destinations bruise tiraspol transdniestr church_of_assumption_of_mother_ tirgu_neamt hanu_ancutei hanul_ancutei casa_felicia sucevita căuşeni et_cetera et_cetera_winery Comments (0)

Chișinău - Bendery - Tiraspol

♫♪♫ Back in the USSR ♫♪♫

sunny 38 °C
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That pesky lift this morning! Complete with our luggage, ready to check out, we press the call button. We can see the lift come up from the ground floor, then go straight past us to the top floor. It's the same on its way back down – it does not stop on the third floor for us. Five lifts whizz past on their journey either up or down, as our frustration grows. When one eventually stops, it is full. The same happens with the next two. This is getting beyond a joke; walking down the stairs is not an option with all our luggage. Finally an empty lift arrives and we manage to get in. Just. We feel like sardines pressed up against the mirrored walls of the miniscule lift.

Today we have a new driver, Ivan, to take us across the border from Moldova into Transdniestr. Valeriu pulls us aside before we get to the car and with a hint of drama requests that as Ivan hails from Transdniestr, we do not mention anything about the relations between the two countries or the political situation while in the car with Ivan.

Border Controls

The Moldavian side of immigration goes without a hitch and we don’t even have to leave the car. After travelling through a substantial stretch of no-mans-land, we arrive at the Transdniestr border, where we enter a small wooden hut on foot. Having heard stories about how previous travellers have had to bribe officials and even having their camera equipment confiscated at the border, I leave everything back in the car. Through the small window used by the immigration official, I spot a wall full of a ‘rogue’s gallery’ featuring artist impressions of ‘wanted’ travellers. We hand over our passports. Valeriu is travelling on an ID card, whereas Ivan has what looks like an old USSR passport, but is in fact issued by the government of Transdniestr. As Transdniestr is not recognised as a nation by most countries in the world, this passport is about as useful as a chocolate teapot: it cannot be used for overseas travel!

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The atmosphere in the hut is tense; with people shuffling about uncomfortably and speaking in hushed voices. Finally we receive our approval to enter the country. The border officials do not stamp passports; instead a loose-leaf permit is issued which we need to hand in when leaving the country. “Do not lose it!” Valeriu implores, and I guard this piece of paper with my life, fearing the consequences!

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We have permission to enter the country for 24 hours only, with the permit dated and timed TO THE SECOND!

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We’re in!

Transdniestr

So what’s the big deal with the border crossing between these two countries?

Transdniestr is a breakaway republic nestled between Moldova and Ukraine. Following the break-up of the USSR, conflict between Moldova and the Transdniestr republic escalated to some serious and bloody military clashes, which ended in an uneasy ceasefire. The territory of Transdniestr broke away from Moldova, who granted it the status of ‘Transnistria autonomous territorial unit with special legal status’. Although the ceasefire has mostly held, the territory's political status remains unresolved: Transdniestr is an unrecognised but de facto independent state with its own parliament, currency, flag, anthem and border controls. And passports.

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So why did they not want to be part of Moldova?

Unlike the majority of Moldavians who are of Romanian descent and speak a form of Romanian, the people who live in this small, self-declared republic are mainly ethnic Russians and speak Russian.

This is how the BBC describes Transdniestr:

”…one of the post-Soviet space's ‘frozen conflicts’. The international community does not recognise its self-declared statehood, and the territory, which remains in a tense standoff with Moldova, is often portrayed as a hotbed of crime. It has a reputation for corruption, organised crime and smuggling, and has denied accusations of illegal arms sales and of money laundering.”

That’s OK then.

Wikivoyage also warns tourists that:

”Visitors should note that they are highly likely to face demands for substantial bribes from the border guards either on entry or exit from Transnistria (or both). Despite official orders from the previous President Smirnov to act professionally and to decline such payments, bribery is rife and your passport may be destroyed if you do not pay. Indeed, you may be turned away from the border on the Moldovan or Ukrainian side if you are unwilling or unable to pay the border guards a bribe.”

Which is the reason we approached the border controls with some trepidation and distrust, and why I am terrified of losing my slip of paper.

Bendery Fortress

The fortress, also known as Tighina, dates from 1538 when it was built to protect what was then one of the most powerful cities in Moldova.

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The Military Historical Memorial is the cemetery where soldiers who died in the two world wars are buried, as well as those who lost their lives during the storming of the fortress by Ottomans, Ukrainian Cossack soldiers of Mazepa, and Swedish soldiers under the rule of Charles XII (who took refuge here), mostly from the 18th century.

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In 1710, Pylyp Orlik (a Cossack Hetman in exile) wrote one of the first state constitutions in Europe here at Bendery, and was named as the ‘Protector of Ukraine’ as a result. This open book celebrates the occasion.

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Busts of various Russian generals who liberated the fortress from the Ottomans in the 18th century.

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It looks like the Ottomans have returned.

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The fortress is pretty unusual in that each of the eleven towers has a different shape.

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In the small museum hangs a portrait of Carl XII of Sweden, who fled south after the Swedish assault in the Great Northern War in the 18th century ended in disaster and saw him badly injured. He and around 1000 of his men took refuge in Bendery Fortress where he was initially welcomed with open arms by the Ottomans.

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Also in the museum are relics from an ancient Greek settlement found here, old currency, and a cool model of the fort showing how it would have looked in its heyday.

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Outside in the courtyard we find a trebuchet and some stocks.

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We move slowly back to the car as the temperatures are already in the high 30s. It’s going to be a hot one today!

Tiraspol

Internationally this city is recognised as the second largest city in Moldova, but Tiraspol is in fact the capital of the breakaway republic of Transdniestr, and celebrates its Russian connections with a fairly modern statue of Lenin in front of its Parliament.

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Glory Monument

Monument Plaza features commemorations to those who died defending Transdniestr during both world wars, the Afghan War, and the Great Patriotic War (the breaking up of USSR and ‘independence’ from Moldova 1990-1992).

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The T34 Tank was brought from Hungary in 1945. Underneath it is a capsule with soil from Volgograd (site of the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942).

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Statue of the Sorrowful Mother

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Eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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A newish chapel

Dniester River

The river is used for a variety of leisure activities, such as boating, fishing, sunbathing, or swimming.

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Central Square

Here we find a statue to Alexander Suvorov, a national hero and city founder who liberated Bendery Fortress back in 1770.

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What I didn’t expect to see, however, is a group of Hari Krishna singers here!

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Independence Day celebrations

Two days ago – on September the 2nd – Transdniestr celebrated its Independence Day, and everywhere we go in Tiraspol, we see posters and decorations, including these banners in the colour of the Transdniestr flag.

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A statue to Catherine the Great, the Russian leader under whom Suvorov fought when he founded Tiraspol.

In-Line Skating

I am really impressed to see this guy, who must be well into his 70s, keep up with the youngsters in the skate park! Respect!

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City Hall

We stop to admire the City Hall and later Valeriu asks if we would like to taste some Cognac. We are both feeling the heat today, and I have an upset tummy, so we kindly decline.

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Kvmahëk Restaurant

Instead we continue to lunch, at a Ukrainian restaurant well known for its excellent food.

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When we arrive, we are presented with vodka shots accompanied by some amuse bouche.

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This will be 'kill or cure' for my upset tummy, for sure.

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I'll go with the 'cure.

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We start with the ubiquitous soup of course, this time traditional borscht – beetroot soup with smetana (soured cream).

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The restaurant specialises in varenyky – traditional Ukrainian pierogi - and we have a selection, filled with cheese, potato, and even cherries.

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Hotel Russia

After the late lunch, Ivan drops us off at Hotel Russia; he then has to drive Valeriu back to Chișinău for another tour this evening! Talk about being in demand!

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The hotel is very new and modern, with a retro style throughout.

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The A/C is very welcome and we take a long nap, followed by a refreshing shower and feel very much better afterwards – almost human again.

I start to snigger as I read the description of the hotel services, detailing how they offer “speed dating” in the bar. It certainly sounds like a euphemism to me, and I become even more convinced when I read about their “private room where you can relax in utmost privacy or conduct confidential business negotiations” I feel sure that there is more to this place than just a hotel.

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Dinner and ‘entertainment’

It is still very warm out when we go down for dinner, but thankfully there is a shady courtyard where we can eat.

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It seems they are expecting us, and a very pretty waitress brings us some water and later a salad, explaining that the ‘meat will be around 20 minutes’. Or at least I think that is what she is trying to tell us.

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Initially we are the only two people in the restaurant, but there seems to be a private party or something going on next door, and we watch guests arrive. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, the most stunningly beautiful girls arrive, wearing precipitously high heels, skirts so short that if they even slightly bent over I could see their breakfast, or dresses so tight they would have needed a shoe horn to get into them – usually with splits reaching for the armpits. When I say that these girls are glamorous, I mean it to the point that they would not look out of place on a red carpet in Hollywood. These are amongst the most beautiful and elegant girls I have ever seen!

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Watching the comings and goings. No pun intended.

The girls are truly conversation-stoppers. Or rather starters – we do wonder with so many flashy and seductive girls (and mostly scruffy corpulent men) if this is anything to do with the “speed dating” and “private room” we read about earlier…?

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David is bemused but enjoying the view.

They all disappear behind a wall at the end of the terrace, to what I presume is a private party, but being the nosy sort, I go to have a peek. The setting is equally sophisticated, with colourful drapes and a multicoloured fountain.

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Having taken what I had hoped was a surreptitious photo of the girl in the gold dress; the chap in the background comes up and starts to talk to me in Russian. Although I can’t understand what he is saying, I feel quite uncomfortable about his demeanour, so I shrug my shoulders, smile sweetly and hurry back to where David is sitting.

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Our main course soon arrives, a very tasty beef stew with potato wedges.

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The dining area is more like a café or bistro, and the first two courses were fairly plain and ordinary; the dessert is therefore all the more of a surprise when it arrives! It is almost as glamorous and dazzling as the girls!

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Not wishing to gatecrash the party next door, nor wanting to change money into Transdnistrian Roubles just so that we can have a drink in the bar; we retire to the room fairly early.

I’ve been asleep for a couple of hours when a sudden noise wakes me up. I hear the clippety-clopp of high heels on the hard floor of the corridor, then the slamming of a door. I look at my watch – it is 02:30. More clippety-clopp and door slamming follows, accompanied by giggling and laughter. It seems a number of guests are returning to their rooms a little worse for wear.

I have almost managed to drift back off to sleep by ignoring the noise from the corridor, when I hear shouting. Loud shouting. First a male voice, and then a female. A very loud door-slam follows, with the noise seemingly emanating from the next room. More shouting. They are obviously having a major ‘domestic’ dispute. At around 04:15 there appears to be a ceasefire, and I am just returning to a slumber when they start off again. At one stage the fight gets pretty intense, it sounds like things are being thrown around, and I am very much expecting to hear the sound of broken glass followed by sirens. Thankfully that does not happen.

At 05:15 the argument reaches a crescendo: the female screams what I can only assume are Russian profanities, slams the door and leaves him, running down the corridor with more clippety-clopps. It doesn't sound like he follows her.

Was this another "speed date" gone wrong, or did the "confidential negotiations" break down? Either way, I am extremely grateful for silence at last. and I collapse into a deep sleep.

And so endeth another 'interesting' day in Moldova / Transdniestr with Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:13 Archived in Moldova Tagged lenin fountain memorial museum party border_crossing fortress passport chisinau immigration moldova bender transnistria hookers hotel_russia tiraspol transdniester transniestra hotel_codru codru bendery tighina bendery_fortress tighina_fortress berder_fortress carl_xii glory_memorial Comments (0)

Butuceni - Capriana - Hincu - Chișinău

Our first canonisation


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The restaurant looks completely different this morning without the wedding party, decorations and DJ equipment.

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For breakfast we are on the same table as a group of eleven Finnish tourists, and like last night, there is way too much food.

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Some sort of rice pudding, doughnut-type pastries, feta-style cheese, yogurt and tomatoes more than fills us up.

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After breakfast we take a short walk around Butuceni Village, with its collection of cute old buildings, ornate gates and jumbled street furniture.

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I call in the village shop to get some water, and notice the elderly shopkeeper uses an abacus to add up the purchases. I don’t think I have seen one of those in use since we visited the old USSR back in the 1980s.

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I am also very surprised to see a British car in the village!

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Capriana Monastery

On our way to Capriana, we spot a number of police cars that increase in frequency and number the nearer we get to the monastery. The last bit of road leading to the complex is closed off with a police cordon, and parking is impossible anywhere near the area. There are people everywhere; most dressed in their Sunday best. The national TV station is present and there are food stalls and first aid tents set up. Somebody important must be visiting – other than us, I mean.

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Even from a great distance we can clearly hear the church bells and some beautiful chanting.

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Valeriu is as perplexed as we are, but his confusion soon turns to awe as he realises that the liturgy is being led by none other than the Patriarch of Moscow – who for those of us not in the know (including me and David), he is the 'head honcho' of the Moldavian Orthodox Church, held in the same esteem as the Pope is for the Catholics.

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The air is full of celebratory reverence, devoted admiration, and pious wonderment; and we soon discover the reason: Moldova is getting its very first Saint in the shape of Metropolitan Banulescu Bodoni who died 200 years ago. We, along with thousands of others, are in fact attending their – and our - very first canonisation. How cool is that?

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The Church of St Mary

The crowds are too great to do sightseeing justice, but we follow the throngs of worshippers into the church of St Mary. Dating from 1545, it is the oldest of the three churches that make up the monastery complex, and the oldest preserved church in Moldova.

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After falling into decline during the 17th century, the church was reinvigorated in 1813, and for a while thrived. In 1940, the whole monastic estate was confiscated by Soviet troops, the monks fled and the churches were desecrated and pillaged. During the 1960s and 70s, the monastery was used as a sanatorium for sick children and later as a dance hall. In 1989 reconstruction of the monastery began and Capriana once again became a place of religious services.

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It amuses me that a woman’s hair must be covered before entering the church, yet a tight, short dress is fine.

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Despite not being religious, I find the visit to the church quite emotional and very spiritual. Valeriu gives us a candle each as we enter the church, for us to say a prayer and then ‘plant’ the candle.

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The Church of St George

Dating from 1907, the church of St George is smaller and nowhere near as crowded.

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We leave the crowds behind and call Leonid to come back and pick us up for the journey to Hincu.

Hincu Monastery / Convent

Located in the picturesque Codrii Forest, reaching Hincu Monastery involves a very pleasant stroll up through the woods, although I didn’t expect to see a monk on a tractor along the way.

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Founded in 1678 by the daughter of the High Steward Mihai Hincu, Hincu is one of the richest monasteries in Moldova. The convent was then known as Parascheva. After the wooden church and cells were destroyed several times during Tatar invasions in the 18th century, the nuns left. The care of the convent fell on monks from a nearby monastery, who repaired the cells and eventually moved in.

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With the arrival of the Soviets in 1944, the monastery closed and the monks were 'asked' to leave. In 1978 the monastery was taken into use as a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers, while the church was turned into a club. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990, Hincu once more became an active monastery, albeit short lived: in 1992, the community was abolished and the monks moved out. Later the same year, a few nuns returned and started the reconstruction of the monastery / convent – which just proves that if you want a job done, get the girls in!

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Next-door a new church is in the process of being constructed, but apparently they have run out of funds, so the interior is still fairly basic, without any of the usual adornments normally associated with orthodox churches.

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The grounds are beautiful, with beds bursting to the seams with brightly coloured flowers. I guess this is the female touch that comes from it being a convent now rather than a monastery.

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The nunnery has one of the best tended and colourful cemeteries I have ever seen!

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From Hincu we continue the short distance to the official visitors area of Codrii Forest.

Codrii Nature Reserve

At the reserve head quarters we have a picnic in a specially constructed ‘pavilion’, set in a serene and tranquil location in amongst the trees.

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Founded in 1972, it is the oldest scientific nature reserve in Moldova, and boasts some 1,000 species of protected plants, 43 species of mammals, 145 species of birds, 7 species of reptiles and more than 8,000 species of insects.

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Natural Museum

Guided by the curator’s daughter Doina - who is keen to practise her somewhat limited English - we are shown around the small museum detailing some of the species found in the area.

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While David goes with Doina for a hike down to the lake, I join Valeriu in the ‘pavilion’, listening to Deep Purple and discussing palaeoanthropology. As you do.

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We leave the countryside behind and return to Chișinău, taking a nap in the car on the way.

Chișinău

Back in Chișinău we drop the bags off at the hotel and continue to the National History Museum.

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Chișinău National History Museum

The museum's large, bright, clean and modern rooms feature exhibits dating from pre-history, through various occupations to independence of this small country.

The visit feels a little rushed, but to be honest I am not at all unhappy about that as I am tired, it is uncomfortably hot and my back is hurting.

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Hotel Codru

As it is only a couple of blocks away, we walk back to the hotel (rather than let Leonid drive us) to pick up the luggage we dumped earlier and check in. We’re back in Room 313, and yet again we negotiate the tiny lift, just about 1m², where there is barely enough room for two (large) people with two backpacks, two wheelybags and two camera bags.

Dinner

After some chill time and a welcome shower, we wander downstairs to have dinner. The restaurant is closed for of a wedding reception (another one? That’s exactly what happened to us last night!), and the outside terrace is out of bounds because of a private party; which leaves us the bar. That suits us fine, as we really just want a small meal and a glass or three of wine.

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Chicken stew with branza (feta type cheese), smetana (soured cream) and mămăligă (polenta)

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Moldovan style roast beef in a clay pot
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Side dish of grilled vegetables and country style potatoes

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Wine!!!!

The food is delicious (especially the cheese) - and we are both very impressed with the wine - very, very smooth!

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for another great day in Moldova!

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:49 Archived in Moldova Tagged trees food flowers nature hotel cemetery museum woods wine monastery forest saint convent chisinau moldova nunnery natural_history codru_hotel pucari pucari_wine capriana capriana_monastery hincu codrii codrii_forest canonisation moldovian_food Comments (0)

Chisinau - Cricova - Lalova - Orcheiul Vechi - Butuceni

A varied day for sure - city walking tour, wine tasting, boat trip and cave monastery

semi-overcast 34 °C
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Day ONE of our private tour of Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

As we weren't served any food on either of yesterday’s flights, it has been a long time since we last had a meal, so we head straight for the breakfast buffet this morning. And very nice it is too.

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Any place that serves champagne as a regular item on their breakfast buffet gets my vote.

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For holding the bread hygienically while cutting it, the restaurant provides plastic gloves. Very different - I have not seen this in any of the 650 or so hotels we have previously stayed in.

The Repulic of Moldova

And so it is time to start our exploration of Moldova, yet another of our trips to draw a response of “where’s that?”

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Until 1991, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union, and it sits between Ukraine and Romania in Eastern Europe. It has a chequered history, but now appears to be very stable, politically. The name ‘Moldova’ comes from the river of the same name, which again is said to have been named by a 14th century prince whose dog called Molda drowned in the river.

Itinerary

We are amused to receive a very detailed itinerary from the local agent, setting out our days minute by minute. I see the old Soviet regimented precision style is very much alive and well.

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Chișinău

We start our sightseeing in the capital. Dating back to the 15th century, most of the older buildings in Chișinău were destroyed by extensive bombing during WWII. Rebuilt on a typical Soviet grid system of streets, the city now contains one of the highest proportions of green spaces found in any large European city.

Cathedral

Built in 1936; the cathedral suffered serious damage during WWII, but has since been reconstructed to its current state and today it is the main Russian Orthodox place of worship in Chisinau, as well as the biggest church in Moldova.

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As we enter the church, we can hear singing emanating from inside. There is a service on, and we are not permitted to take photographs of the gilded and highly decorated interior.

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Arc de Triomphe

Built in 1841, the Triumphal Arch was constructed to commemorate the victory of the Russian Empire over the Ottoman Empire in 1829.

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A bell was made by copper smelted down from cannons captured from the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish war, to be installed in the arch. Unfortunately, when the bell was completed, they discovered that it was too big to fit in to the space allocated, so a separate belfry had to be especially constructed nearby to house the bell (hence the tower between the arch and the church). Doh!

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Belfry

The current bell tower is a replica and was built in 1961 to replace the original, which was destroyed during the Soviet era.

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Parliament

During the civil unrest in 2009 that caused some serious damage to the building, the parliament moved out, to return in 2014. Today we see preparations in place for tomorrow’s celebrations of Army Day, including lines depicting an outline map of Moldova. This national holiday was established to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of Armed Forces of Moldova in 1991 after the country declared independence from the Soviet Union.

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Ştefan cel Mare Monument

Stefan The Great is a national hero who defended the country against an Ottoman invasion in the 15th century. This sculpture replaces a previous statue to Alexander II (destroyed in 1918 by the Romanian authorities).

It’s a well-travelled monument: being moved to Vaslui (East Romania) in 1940, then two years later returned to Chisinau. A couple of years after that it again travelled to Romania, to finally be returned to Chisinau in 1989.

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City Hall

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Giant chess set

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Monument to popular folk musicians who died in a car crash.

Complexul Memorial Eternitate

Commemorating the Soviet soldiers who fell for the liberation of Chişinău and Moldova during the Second World War, this striking memorial is made up of five stylised ‘rifles’ coming together in a pyramidal point some 25 metres above a central eternal flame.

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Cricova – an Underground Wine City

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Who knew Moldova was famous for its wines? Not me for sure.

Moldova is in fact a country full of wine, vineyards and wineries, with 360,000 acres of the stuff, mostly for export. 250,000 acres of that are commercially grown vines, the rest are smaller family businesses, with grapes strands and recipes that have been handed down through generations.

A very commercialised and slick operation, our visit to Cricova Winery starts with a ‘train’ journey into their cellars. And what cellars they are!

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The wine cellars of Cricova are the second largest in Moldova (after Milestii Mici, which are the largest in the world), boasting 75 miles of underground labyrinthine roads descending to a depth of 100 metres).

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In the 15th century, mines here were excavated for limestone to be used as building materials in the construction of Chisinau; the tunnels were later converted to an underground wine emporium in the 1950s. During WWII, wine barrels were used to hide Jews from the Nazis, and Putin is said to have celebrated his 50th birthday here.

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Pictures of some of the famous people who have visited Cricova Winery.

We are taken on a journey through some of these cellars, first by ‘train’, then a short walk amongst the barrels accompanied by an informative talk about the winery.

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Later, after another little ‘train’ journey, we see an English film about Cricova and its history.

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In the bottling room the guide explains how six workers – all female – spend their days turning the bottles of sparkling wine. One woman can gently twist 50,000 bottles in two days. That sounds like a soul-destroying job to me.

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Part of our group consists of a 13 strong stag party from Israel, who do seem to have already been drinking rather a lot. Despite the guide frequently requesting: “Please do not touch the bottles”, they seem unable to restrain themselves.

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The first time they burst into patriotic songs it is amusing, the next dozen times it just becomes plain annoying. The guide is having a hard time trying to control them, with the rest of us becoming increasingly frustrated by their lack of respect and general disruptiveness.

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Around 50% of the roads are used to store the 1.25 million bottles of wine, the oldest dating back to 1902. I wonder if they would miss a couple? The porosity of the limestone creates a perfect environment to store wines, where the temperature is about 12 °C all year round.

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Not only is the winery full of underground 'streets' where wine is stored, there is a whole little city here, complete with meeting rooms and lounges for relaxing, and it is very popular as a wedding venue.

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The Presidential Suite

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Meeting Room

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Working fireplace with a 60m high chimney!

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Map of the underground city!

At the end of the tour we are shown in to a nautically-inspired Tasting Room. Thankfully the Israeli stag party have not paid for tasting, so we manage to lose them. There are eight of us: a delightful couple of Asian-Africans from London who are here for a friend’s wedding, a young couple from Poland and their friend who have hitch-hiked their way here, a lone Italian guy and us. It is all very civilised.

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Each table setting has two wine glasses plus one for champagne and another for water. There is also a selection of snacks to help clear the palate and soak up the alcohol.

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Four wines are being offered: a very fresh white wine, a light rosé, a very drinkable red and a rather enjoyable sparkling wine; with each one being explained to us.

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Wine making is certainly not a new thing to Moldova – the tradition dates back 5000 years, and is a major contributor to the country’s economy: 25% GDP and 50% of total export earnings. Not only that, this small country (4.5 million inhabitants, about the size of Holland) ranks as 7th amongst the top wine exporters of the world. And to think I have never before tried a Moldovan wine! Until today, that is.

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Before we leave there is the opportunity to purchase some of the wines, at a cost of ca. €2 per bottle. Bargain! We get a red and a rosé, and the couple from London buy a whole case of sparkling wine to take to the wedding.

Moldovan Countryside

Heading out of town, the surroundings change dramatically, from a modern post-Soviet big city, to an eastern European peasant society with donkey carts, one-storey wooden houses in desperate need of modernisation, and frequently-used wells along the side of the road.

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After the pre-lunch snifters, it is time for a siesta in the car until we turn off the main road on to a washer-board effect dirt track. The scenery is picturesque with rolling hills, blue-domed churches and far-reaching fields of sunflowers.

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Lunch at Hanul lui Hangana

Our next destination is the village of Lalova and the Hanul lui Hangana Guest House where we are taking lunch in a beautiful rural setting overlooking the Dniester River.

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Soups are customary for every meal in this part of the world, and we start lunch with a chicken noodle soup called zeama, which is served with smetana (Russian style soured cream) and a whole fresh chilli for nibbling.

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Valeriu is horrified when I pick up the chilli and go to take a bite from it; shouting out the warning: “it is very hot, be careful; it is REALLY hot”. I just smile and carry on, while David reassures our very caring guide that “she will be fine, don’t worry”. Which of course I am.

Branza, the home made brined cheese, reminds me of feta cheese – it is very salty and absolutely delicious, way better than its more famous counterpart! Out of politeness I take one of their home grown cucumbers, despite this being just about the only food I do not like the taste of. I try it to see if my tastes have changed. They haven’t. I eat it out of courtesy, but make sure I have plenty of tasty cheese and the scrummy tomatoes to take the taste away afterwards.

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Stuffed cabbage leaves is another popular dish in this region, where it is known as sarmale.

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Just as I think we cannot possibly eat any more, a dish of cheese-stuffed pastry, called plej placinta, is brought out. They are really fresh and doughy and I wish I could have room for more.

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Throughout the meal, home brewed wine is flowing freely for us with freshly made peach juice for Leonid the driver and Valeriu the guide.

Boat trip on Dniester River

As we walk from the guest house down to the river, we notice a Land Rover parked in the water and muse whether it is a local car wash. It seems a rather odd sight, but we soon forget about it.

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At the end of a small naturally made ‘jetty’, a speedboat is waiting to whisk us off for a trip on the Dniester River.

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The boat is fast, and skims the surface as it speeds past fishermen and fishing birds.

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Many fishermen spend considerable time on the river, staying in specially constructed floating cabins, some of which are quite elaborate and look rather comfortable.

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The opposite bank of the river is Transdniestr, the breakaway nation that sided with Russia during the disbanding of the USSR, despite being officially part of Moldova. A self-declared republic, relations with Moldova are tense after bloody skirmishes in 1992, followed by an uneasy ceasefire.

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Tipova Monastery

From the river we get a good view of Tipova, the largest cave monastery in Eastern Europe. The monastery dates back to the 10th century AD, and is best known as the place where Stefan cel Mare, the local hero who defended Moldova from the Ottomans in the 15th century, got married. The caves have now been turned into a museum.

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In the distance we see what looks like a lighthouse, but as we get nearer we discover that it is in fact the sun reflecting on the gold roof of a church, creating a bright beacon of light! Totally surreal!

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The boat trip is serene and exhilarating at the same time, as we watch eagles soar above and the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the river.

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On returning to the shore, we discover why the Landrover is parked in the water, as the captain floats his boat on to a submerged trailer to pull it back on land.

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For me, one of the highlights about the boat trip is listening to Valeriu in the car afterwards. I am assuming from his exuberant comments that it was his first time in a speedboat, and he is waxing lyrical about the experience, exclaiming that is was the highlight of his day.

As we continue on our journey, Leonid tells me that the owner of the guest house where we had lunch was convinced I was from Romania, because I "spoke fluent Romanian" (the language of Moldova). My conversation with her consisted of the only four words I know in Romanian: “hello”, “please”, “thank you” and “goodbye”. I feel flattered and amused in equal parts.

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David talks to the locals.

Orheiul Vechi (‘Old Orhei’)

The name ‘Old Orhei’ comes from the word ‘orhei’, meaning ‘fortification’; referring to the original (ie old) city built in this place. The position - on a ridge overlooking a valley on one side (now a village) and the river on the other, is certainly strategic.

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The earliest discoveries in this ‘smorgasbord of civilisations’ is a Late Palaeolithic camp site, believed to be some 25,000 years old – give or take a few thousand years. Other settlements date from Copper Age (4,500-4,000 BC), Iron Age (1,200-100 BC) and the medieval period (500-1,550 AD).

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Today Oheiul Vechi is an open-air museum, showcasing a number of man-made caves that pre-date Christianity in the region, created some 2000 years ago by the Dacian tribes. Orthodox monks turned some of the caves into a monastery in the 13th century; and occupied the site right into the 18th century. In 1996, a handful of monks returned to the cave monastery and have since been working on its restoration.

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Here you can see the caves hewn out from the limestone rock underneath a much later chapel (as well as people standing outside the cave on a ledge). We climb up a number of stairs to reach the chapel, followed by a number of stairs down to reach the cave.

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The evening service is just finishing off as we arrive, with solo chanting creating a spiritual atmosphere. We are the only people here, apart from three monks.

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The cells where the monks stayed are very spartan – they would sleep on the hard concrete floor without the use of any mats, and the ceiling was kept deliberately low so that they would have to stoop. The current monks are no longer living here.

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There is a great view over the valley from the ledge outside.

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Ascension of St Mary Church

Built in 1905, the church has recently been restored after it was shut down in 1944 and abandoned during the Soviet era. Services resumed in 1996.

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Butuceni Agro-Rural Pension

Situated in the small village of the same name at the bottom of the ridge, Butuceni Agro-Rural Pension is a collection of traditional peasant houses set inside mature gardens. We are warmly welcomed by the owner, whose English is only marginally better than my Romanian.

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Our room is large and comfortable, with the traditional style under-bed heating!

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In the grounds we find an adorable and playful kitten who keeps us occupied for some considerable time.

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As the light fades, dozens and dozens of house martins hang around on the telegraph wires before retiring for the night.

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Dinner is scheduled for 20:00, but when we wander around the grounds a few minutes before, we are unable to locate a restaurant. Or any sign of human life inside or outside the building.

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After much searching we discover a faded sign on the outside wall of the pension, directing us to the restaurant 200 metres along the road.

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We find the restaurant but it seems to be full of a wedding party, who all stare at us as we walk through. As there doesn't seem to be any other rooms where food is being served, we ask a girl in a national costume (who looks like she works there) about the ‘hotel restaurant’. She speaks no English and my Romanian doesn’t stretch that far; so David holds up the room key while I make eating motions with my hands. She gestures towards some stairs at the back of the hall, and we clamber through a pile of DJ equipment to reach them.

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At the top of the stairs is a very unwelcome closed door that we reluctantly open, leading into a room with one long table full of tourists, who all turn around and stare as we stand there somewhat lost and bewildered. We find a small table suitable for two people and sit down, not quite sure what to do next.

After what feels like a long, awkward period (but is probably just a few minutes), a waitress walks in, and while she initially looks at us quizzically, her face suddenly lights up and she flashes us a lovely warm smile before rushing off again. OK… now what?

She returns with food. Lots of food. Bottles of water and a jug of home made wine. Then more food.

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I love the home made cheese, the tomatoes are really tasty too; and there is enough Placinta du Branza (cheese pie) to feed a large family.

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Friptură de porc (stew) with smetana (soured cream) and branza (brined cheese); served with mămăligă (polenta) which the waitress cuts into segments using a thin string.

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For dessert there is Placinta cu visine, a delicious sour cherry pie.

We feel really bad for leaving so much of the food, and hope there are some very well fed pigs around (in addition to us). All the dishes are delicious, but we had a very late lunch, and there really is way too much food for two people!

We waddle back to the accommodation and retire to bed after the long and varied first day in Moldova.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging our trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:42 Archived in Moldova Tagged food fishing boat travel river adventure rural wine lunch pie winery tourism speedboat chisinau vinyards cheese moldova pastry boat_trip polenta orheiul orheiul_vechi dniester_river spee_boat placinta hanul_lui_hangana bryndza plej_placinta sarmale zeama moldovan_food butuceni butuceni_agro_rural_pension mămăligă cricova cricova_winery smetana branza Comments (0)

London - Chisinau

We're here!


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Thankfully the flight is not early this morning, so we can have a leisurely start to the day, with a full English breakfast in the hotel. Probably just as well, as we won’t be getting any food on either of the flights today.

Gatwick Airport

At the Ukraine International Airline desk, the check-in girl weighs my backpack and frowns. It is nearly 10kg, and I am only allowed seven. She tries her best to help me out by asking if I have a laptop in there that I can take out. No. She wonders if I can transfer any of the contents to my ‘handbag’. I explain that both are full of camera equipment that I really don’t want to check in. “It is not safe” she agrees. Finally, after establishing that David’s backpack is only 5kg, she reluctantly lets mine go. Phew.

Security is very well organised, with slots marked on the floor next to the conveyor belt, each person having an area to unload their stuff before it actually goes on the belt; rather than a free-for-all that usually ends in chaos. It works well and seems to be much less stressful, as you are not holding anybody up even if you take your time.

The first flight from London Gatwick to Borispol, Kiev is not full and we are able to spread out a little. We both sleep most of the way anyway.

Kiev Borispol Airport

The airport looks brand new, and has certainly been built since we were here last in 2008. Our flight lands at the furthest gate, so we have a long walk to Security, where – after very slow processing - we just turn around for another long walk back to the next gate. Which is in fact the same gate we landed at, and the same plane. We sleep on the next flight too, which is only around an hour.

Chisinau Airport

Moldova’s main airport is also brand new – in fact it is still under construction. A flight from Istanbul arrives just before us, so there is a long and slow queue at Immigration and chaos at the baggage carousels. Sharp elbows are a must, even more so when trying to exit the Arrivals area through a long thin corridor where passengers stop to greet their friends and family, completely blocking the exit. Arghh. I easily lose patience with people who have no consideration for others; and I ‘may’ have ‘accidentally’ shoved someone suitcase into their shins and knocked into them with my backpack…

Tatiana from the local agents waits for us just outside the Arrivals Hall. She has fairly limited English, but is very sweet. Leonid, the driver, is parked right outside the terminal building, and he soon whisks us off to our four star hotel in the centre of Chisinau.

Codru Hotel

I didn’t expect a long queue to check in to our hotel after 22:00 on a Wednesday night. I guess these other people arrived on our flight too, or maybe on the one from Turkey.

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We finally get in to (the very pleasant) Room 313 (once we have negotiated the time lift which barely fits two people with bags), and crash out.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:09 Archived in Moldova Tagged airport kiev ukraine flights airline chisinau moldova borispol gatwick airport_security uia ukraine_international_airline codru_hotel hotel_check_in Comments (0)

Home - Gatwick

On our way to yet another trip

I hadn’t originally planned on including this day in my Moldova blog, but as a couple of amusing incidents happened, now that it is time to write it all up, I have changed my mind; so here goes:

In order to avoid an early start and any hassle associated with long distance motorway travel in the UK, we decided to drive up to Gatwick the day before and stay in a hotel. After checking in to the Premier Inn near the airport, we head straight for the outside bar to enjoy a pint of cider (or two) in the warm summer’s evening.

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Also in the beer garden are a table of ‘virgins’ - air stewardesses from a well-known airline. They completely freak out when a few wasps are attracted to their food; screaming, waiving their arms about and running around like demented beings. Their hysteria is complete when the resident cat saunters over to check out their dinner. The girls abandon their table, complete with plates of half-eaten food, and seek safety from the dangerous beasts of Surrey inside the pub. Hmm. This is the calibre of people we have to rely on to be calm, efficient, and business-like in the case of an emergency on a flight?

This is our third visit to Gatwick Manor, and we are not sure whether to be flattered or worried that the restaurant manager still remembers us, especially as it is four years since we last came! We must have made quite an impression.

I often find appetisers are more interesting than entrées on the menu; so like many times before, I choose three starters rather than a first and second course.

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STILTON & PEPPERCORN MUSHROOMS - Sautéed button mushrooms on a garlic toasted muffin with peppercorn & buttermilk sauce. Topped with crumbled Stilton.

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KOREAN-STYLE PULLED CHICKEN dressed in a hot red pepper sauce. Served on noodles with red onion, soya beans and red pepper in a soy, lime & chilli sauce. Finished with sesame seeds and a honey & chipotle dressing...... and ..... CARIBBEAN-STYLE PORK MINI RIBS, slow-cooked and served in a sweet and spiced jerk marinade. Accompanied with cooling kale coleslaw and a jerk barbecue dip.

David is more of a traditionalist, and after his Stilton and peppercorn mushrooms, he has SLOW-COOKED LAMB SHOULDER, cooked for 8 hours and served with mashed potato, buttered seasonal vegetables and a rich red wine sauce.

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For dessert, David predictably chooses the apple and blackberry crumble with custard and ice cream.

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I, on the other hand, go for the cheese plate.

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Having eaten – and drunk – too much, and with the room being way too hot, sleep evades me, and I toss and turn throughout a restless night.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:54 Archived in England Tagged food restaurant airport drink cat pub virgin cider gatwick wasps premier_inn gatwick_manor Comments (2)

Arusha - Kilimanjaro - Nairobi - Dubai - Birmingham - Home

The long journey home


View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Kilimanjaro Airport

At Kilimanjaro Airport we join a long queue just to enter the departure building, caused by the first of many, many security checks. Bags are X-rayed, as are the passengers. My watch has to come off (it’s plastic, so I don’t understand why.), and they thoroughly check my memory cards from my pocket.

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Once we are inside the building, we join another long queue for check-in. There are three desks open; one has a problem with someone who has left their passport back at the hotel; a larger-than-life African woman is giving the staff at the second desk hassle, and someone is trying to check in a huge South African group at the third desk. Groan. This could take a while.

Eventually we make it to the front, but for some reason the attendant is unable to print our luggage tags (the boarding cards were fine), so it has to be hand written. Our final destination is Birmingham, England, which the girl has no idea of the three-letter airport code for. We rummage through all our paperwork and finally find it.

The African woman and girl whose partner has gone back to collect his passport, have been asked to wait to one side. They are both sobbing quietly. The large South African group is still there.

We proceed through the passport and boarding card check, to wait in some sort of pre-lounge, before being called through another X-ray. Shoes off, watch off, SD cards checked, dung beetle examined. Heads shaken.

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The small plane to Nairobi offers very little legroom, but as it is nowhere near full, we are able to spread out. It’s only an hour flight anyway, so no big deal.

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My last African sunset. For this time.

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Nairobi Airport

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At Nairobi Airport we go through another X-ray (hand luggage) and scanner (people) and make our way to the transfer desk to get our boarding cards.

The officer at the boarding gate security check (more X-rays and scanners) confiscates my loose safety pins! My passport and boarding card details are recorded in the ‘naughty people book’. The whole thing is pretty ridiculous as David’s safety pin goes through fine! Doh!

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We have to endure another passport and boarding card check before being allowed into the gate waiting area, and again on boarding the plane. I am not really complaining – I would rather go through hundreds of security checks if it means that we are safe from people with ill intent.

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Again the flight is not full, so we take a row each, and manage to catch a bit of much needed sleep (it's the middle of the night after all).

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Approaching Dubai

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This journey seems to have been one long queue - here we are waiting to get off the plane

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On the transfer bus

Inside the terminal there are immense crowds waiting for the X –ray and security. The machine beeps at me, so I am pulled aside to be frisked in a private room. This is a great opportunity for me to practice my extremely limited local language skills; but my “Salaam Aleykum” is met with a huge smile and the question “You speak Arabic?”

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All shopped out!

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Sunrise over Dubai Airport

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We have great seats on this A380-800, just behind the cockpit – they appear wider and longer than usual. Yet again we have a whole row each, making the seven-and-a-half hour flight considerably more bearable.

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The approach to Birmingham Airport gives me a chance to photograph England’s Green and Pleasant Land from above.

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And Birmingham.

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The not-so-happy ending

The landing is extremely smooth and all is going well until we come to collect our luggage! Part of David’s case is missing. We’d both strapped an extra day-sack on to the back on the main bags, but someone has obviously stolen David’s and were interrupted taking mine off as one of the fasteners have been undone.

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There is no way it would fall off by itself, so this is deliberate theft! We go to Emirates Customer Service desk to report it, but they refuse to lodge a report as only part of the luggage is missing. They send us to the Lost Luggage desk, who refuse to lodge a report, suggesting instead that we send them an email to report it. They send us to the police station to report it, as it is theft, not loss.

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The police don’t want to know as it “could be just lost”. We explain that there is no way it would accidentally fall off, and eventually they very reluctantly take a report, but can’t give us a reference number for some stupid reason or another.

We come away feeling extremely frustrated as no-one seems to want to take ownership, we are being passed from pillar to post, which is the last thing you want after a 32 hours journey!

POST NOTE: When coming home I try to contact Emirates to claim for the lost items – guess what: they don’t want to know because we don’t have the ‘Luggage Irregularity Report Number’ from the original people who didn’t want to know! Grrrrr

Three lessons learned (thankfully there was nothing of any real value in the bag):

1. Don’t attach anything to the outside of the bag that can be removed, even if it takes a lot of effort.

2. Get the checked in luggage cling-film wrapped, especially if we are travelling through Nairobi Airport.

3. If we do suffer a loss of any kind, INSIST on a report!

The final insult

Lyn and Chris have been patiently waiting for us to finish dealing with the Emirates counter (10 minutes), Lost Luggage desk (10 minutes) and police (45 minutes), but we can finally call the Valet parking company and get them to deliver the car for us to drive home.

After just a few minutes the car arrives – complete with two scratches that were not there when we dropped it off. Chris very politely points them out to the delivery driver, who brusquely replies: “You have to prove it wasn’t scratched when we received it” and hands us an email address. Great! Another person with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude.

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Please take me back to Africa where we constantly received excellent customer service!

SECOND POST NOTE: The parking company’s photos taken at the time of delivering the car to them proved inconclusive (so they say), but they offer to pay for restoration of the paintwork as a ‘gesture of goodwill’. The good news is then scratches come off with some T-Cut and they refund the entire parking charge.

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Back home we all agree what an amazing time we have had – and we start planning the next one

Posted by Grete Howard 06:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged police home_sweet_home emirates theft kenya_airways lost_baggage kilimanjaro_airport nairobi_airport birmingham_airport baggae airport_theft police_report Comments (1)

Arusha

Culture, shopping, charity, and coffee


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Cultural Heritage Centre

Each previous time we have come to Tanzania for a safari, we have passed this place along the side of the road just outside Arusha, and each time we have thought it looks expensive and touristy but interesting; with its futuristic architecture, metal animals sculptures in the grounds, and impressive entrance.

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Today we are making a visit, and I am glad we do. Yes, they do have some expensive, but truly beautiful art, but they also have crafts at prices to suit us mere mortals.

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The Centre is a cross between a museum, an art gallery and a craft shop, and we are given a guided tour of the exhibits.

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Said to be the world’s largest ebony carving, this sculpture was carved from a single piece of ebony wood and took 14 years to complete. The carving depicts the (now banned) Maasai culture where a young warrior has to prove his manhood by killing a lion.

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Ujamaa

The Ujamaa (Family Tree) is carved from one piece of rose wood and took 38 years to complete. Ujamaa is a Swahili word meaning extended family and refers to a kind of communal living where people work together and are united regardless of tribe, ethnic background, religion, gender or language. Each figure represents a different trade or skill.

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Tanzanite

This fabulously coloured gemstone was only discovered fairly recently (1967) and is unique to Tanzania. In the upmarket on-site jewellery store, we are given a thorough explanation of it grading, sizes, clarity etc, even though we make it perfectly clear we are not in a position to buy.

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I have to admit that the rings made from this gemstone are absolutely gorgeous.

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Shopping

Prices here at the Cultural Centre are supposed to be fixed, but with a little bargaining we get a discount on our purchases: a Maasai shuka (the blanket they use to wrap around them), a dung beetle and a lizard. As you do.

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David is left carrying the heavy bags. And believe me, metal dung beetles weigh a ton!

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Mount Meru Markets

Apparently the market burnt down since we were here last, so they’ve had to rebuild all the small individual stalls selling paintings, carvings, crafts and clothes to tourists. We are the only visitors here, and as such are the attention of all the sales people. “You come and see my store” “No charge for looking” and so on. David and I have absolutely no intention of buying anything, but Chris gets a really good deal on a couple of leather passport covers.

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Shanga Shangaa

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This successful socially conscious for-profit enterprise employs people with disabilities to create unique, high quality, handmade jewellery, glassware and home ware using recycled materials. These products are sold in Tanzania and all over the world, with profits bring reinvested back into development of new products and further employment of disabled people.

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It all started back in 2006 with a local girl making beads for the Christmas market. The necklaces were so successful; they now have a serious and sustainable operation employing 36 deaf, mute and physically disabled people supplying retail outlets across Tanzania and beyond.

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We are given a guided tour of the five different workshops, each team staffed by highly talented craftsmen and women.

The Weaving Team

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The Sewing Department

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Jewellery making

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Glass blowing

It's all about recycling at Shanga Shangaa. Wine and beer bottles are collected from local tourist lodges and hotels in Arusha, as well as broken window glass; and this is then melted down to make new glass items, including the beads for the jewellery and mosaics.

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.

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Metal work

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Plus, there is also this guy, who was paralysed aged 17 when he fell out of a tree; and did not have any opportunities in life until he was offered a position here, painting brightly coloured wall plaques with themes from Tanzania and the African bush.

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Jikoni African Restaurant

Shanga has moved its location since we were last here 18 months ago, and is now set within the grounds of the Arusha Coffee Lodge. Next door, still within the same complex, is Jikoni African Restaurant.

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Obviously aimed at the high-end tourist market, there is a large group of Americans there, plus us. A band plays African tunes while we wait for the lunch buffet to be ready.

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Although somewhat too touristy for my liking, it is a great opportunity to sample local food, the likes of which is not generally served at safari lodges; and each dish is explained in detail.

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Banana Soup with Beef

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Makanda (Corn and Beans)

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Pilau

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Kachumbari (Tomato and Onion Salad)

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Mchicha (Spinach and Peanut Curry)

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Kuku Baka (Chicken 'painted' with spices)

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Salad

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Ugali

We are shown how to make the East African staple known as ugali - millet flour cooked with water to make a dumpling-type dough, which is traditionally eaten with your hands, scooping up the sauce.

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Dessert

'Doughnut', rice flower cake and butternut squash in coconut milk with cardamom

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The food is tasty, the music enjoyable, the company fun and life is good.

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Coffee Tour

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Arusha Coffee Lodge offers tours of their plantations, which are strangely set in the lodge grounds amongst the guest cottages.

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Our guide, Nassoro, has a notable laugh, but is very knowledgeable, and good at imparting information about the coffee plantation, and the life story of that hot, steaming cuppa.

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Established in 1899 by a German settler, it is the oldest plantation in Tanzania and they grow two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta.

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Beans take 25 days to ripen, before they are hand picked.

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Dark beans means they have been left for too long.

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After the walkabout amongst the coffee bushes, we are shown what happens to the beans once they are harvested.

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Following the hulling and polishing you are left with green beans, which smell like grass. The amount of roasting time dictates the colour of the finished bean, and also the taste of course.

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Nassoro grinds some beans and brews coffee for us to taste. The grinding process should not be done any longer than 15 minutes before the coffee is brewed, otherwise it will lose some of that lovely taste.

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Water should be added at exactly 97 °C, and the resulting foamy coffee should be left for seven minutes before straining.

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We are finally allowed to get our hands on the finished product!

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Farewell Tanzania!

With no time to relax, we have to leave Arusha, head to the hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to Kilimanjaro airport to start the long and tedious journey home.

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It goes without saying, and I am sure that those of you who have been following us on this trip from the start will agree, that we have had the most incredible holiday. We have seen more game on this trip than any other safari, it has been such fun to share it with our best friends, and Calabash Adventures have yet again done us proud! As for our dedicated, courteous, funny, kind, knowledgeable, caring guide Malisa – you are the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:14 Archived in Tanzania Tagged art weaving gallery market shopping sculpture africa safari tanzania painting jewelry coffee carvings demonstration charity gems crafts jewellery mosaics arusha workshops haggling bargaining ugali tanzanite african_food coffee_tour dung_beetle calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company best_safari_operator which_safari_operator wood-carving ebony ujamaa shuka precious_gems semi_precious_stones maasai_market masai_market shanga shanga_shangaa tinga_tinga_paintings tourist_buffet jikoni arusha_coffee_lodge tinga_tinga glass_blowing mount_meru_market cultural_heritage_centre art_and_crafts craft_centre art_gallery Comments (1)

Serengeti - Arusha

Goodbye 'wilderness', hello 'civilisation'.


View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Having been awake from 03:30 this morning scratching my insect bites, it's going to be a long day.

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It is still dark when we leave the lodge at 06:00.

Brown Snake Eagle

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Spotted Hyena

A cackle of hyenas congregate on the road, and seem a lot less timid than the ones we have encountered previously, some are even bold enough to come right up to the car.

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Not my favourite animal (sorry Malisa), but I will admit that this seven-month old juvenile is almost bordering on being cute.

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Sunrise

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Topi

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Wildebeest

A confusion of wildebeest are waiting to cross the Seronera River

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Vultures

A committee of vultures are waiting in a nearby tree for the wildebeest to get eaten by crocodiles while crossing the Seronera River.

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I see no crocodiles…

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Martial Eagle

The biggest eagle in Africa, the Martial Eagle can kill a baby antelope! He will grab it, lift it up and drop it until it is dead.

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Hot Air Balloon

We are right in the flight path of the balloon as it glides across the savannah.

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Watching the balloon

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Goliath Heron

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Grey Heron

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Hippo

Usually hippos only come out at night to eat and go back to the water in the morning. During that one night, they can eat as much as 150kg of grass; followed by three days merely digesting the food: just lying around farting, burping, pooping.

”I know someone else like that” says David, just prior to being whacked around the head.

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This hippo seems a little premature: although it is still eating, the smell of ammonia is so strong it makes Lyn gag, followed by a severe coughing fit.

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White Browed Coucal

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Olive Baboons

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Lions

Close to the road, on a flat open area, we see two brothers with one female. It makes a nice change for them not to be half-hidden by the long grass.

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The female is on heat, but the male isn’t the least bit interested at this stage. Dirty girl!

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“Come and get me…”

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Tart!

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“Not this morning dear, I have a headache”

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Even threats don’t work!

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Other than to make him back off further.

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As she is obviously not going to get her wicked way with him this morning, she walks off in a huff.

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It looks like she has had her nose put out of joint at some stage, and not just figuratively speaking. I am assuming that she got her deformity from a fight rather than a birth defect.

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It seems the king has food - rather than sex - on his mind this morning.

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Normally, the male lion will not let the female anywhere near his food until he has had his fill, as we have seen on a couple of occasions on this safari. When the female is on heat, however, it’s a different story: he will allow her to eat alongside him. Typical man! The only time he treats his woman to a meal is when he thinks there is something in it for him!

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Why does this picture remind me of the spaghetti scene from Lady and the tramp cartoon?

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Meanwhile, brother Leo comes to check out what all the fuss is about.

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There’s no room for another diner, so Leo skulks off, complaining loudly.

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Then goes for a drink instead.

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Black Backed Jackal

A jackal waits nearby; ready to move in on the leftovers once the lions have had their fill. I think he'll have a long wait.

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As we seem to be running out of time, we eat our boxed breakfast ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. We have to be out of the park by a certain time – the permits are purchased in blocks of 24 hours, and they are quite strict in enforcing the fines if you overstay.

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Tawny Eagle

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Elephant

A lone elephant is walking across the savannah, presumably to catch up with the large herd we can see in the distance.

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Road Maintenance

Months of rain (we are right at the end of the rainy season now), tourist traffic, heavy trucks and the huge numbers of animals who also use the roads have taken their toll on the unsealed tracks.

By scraping off the top layer, the surface is smoothed out, getting rid of the washboard effect that is typical in this region.

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Simba Kopjes

Named after the Swahili word for ‘lion’, Simba Kopjes are the tallest kopjes (rocky outcrop) in Serengeti and as the name suggests, a good place to spot lions.

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Lions

And guess what? There is the aforementioned simba!

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And another.

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Migration

We come across a breakaway crowd who have obviously been dawdling on their journey up north.

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Look at that long line meandering in from somewhere beyond!

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Secretary Bird

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Naabi Hill

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This marks the end of our safari in Serengeti, as we have now reached the entrance / exit gate at Naabi Hill. We have a coffee while Malisa completes the formalities.

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While Chris goes off to use the facilities, I prank him by hiding his coffee, putting an empty cup in its place. With hindsight it was not a good move, as anyone who knows Chris can attest for his love of coffee. Unfortunately Lyn gets the blame as he accuses her of drinking it. Oops. Sorry Chris. Sorry Lyn.

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On a positive note: they have upgraded their toilets since our first visit in 2007 (PS these are the old ones)

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Kori Bustard

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We’ll be back!

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Just because we have left the Serengeti behind, does not mean our adventure is over. As soon as we enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Malisa drives off-road. Because he can.

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White Stork

Just like us, the White Stork is not a resident in Tanzania, he has flown in from Europe and is just here for his holidays.

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Vulture Feast

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The zebra died of natural causes, and now the vultures are having a banquet!

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I love the red-necked vultures – no, they are not a new species, that is blood from where they have stuck their heads right inside the carcass.

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It’s a chaotic and grotesque scene, yet morbidly fascinating.

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You can’t hear it too well in this short video clip because of the wind noise, but the sound is deafening: like a huge mob of bleating sheep!

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Giraffe

It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down as it makes them extremely vulnerably to predators. Here it seems every tree has one.

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Dust

As we rejoin the main ‘road’, we also meet up with traffic. And traffic means dust. Lots of it.

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Ngorongoro Highlands

The road to Arusha takes us back up into the highlands, and at this altitude David soon starts to feel the cold.

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This area is farming land, and we see many herders with their livestock and small stock along the side and even on the road.

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More Giraffes

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Malanja Depression

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Ngorongoro Crater

Not the worst view I have seen from a toilet stop.

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But David is still feeling the cold.

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Family Planning

The Maasai have an ingenious way of temporarily stopping their goats from reproducing. It is uncomplicated, cheap, safe for the animal and easily reversible – a simple flap physically stops the goats mating! I love it!

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Maasai Village Elders’ Weekly Meeting

Beats a day at the office any time.

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Picnic

We have our lunch in a picnic area within a camp ground between Ngorongoro and Arusha. We are all very sad that the safari part of our holiday is now over. Apart from maybe Malisa, as he now gets to see his family again and have a few days off.

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Makuyuni

Coming back into ‘civilisation’ again after eight days in the wilderness seems almost surreal – markets, shops, saloon cars, motorbikes, noise, traffic, and even a political rally!

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Traffic Check

We also experience the ugly side of ‘civilisation’: Malisa is pulled over for ‘speeding’. Being totally secure in the fact that he was most definitely NOT speeding, Malisa argues the case, asking them to prove where and how fast he was going. Knowing they haven’t got that sort of evidence, the police eventually back down and let him go! Cheeky! I bet they were looking for a bribe!

Arusha

Back in the big town there is a hive of activity as usual.

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Sugar Shortage

Due to some political agenda, there is a temporary shortage of sugar and we see long queues at the few stores that have any left.

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The Surprise

“Do you need anything from town?” asks Malisa, “if not, Tillya has a surprise for you”.

Avoiding the centre of Arusha, Malisa turns off the main road and weaves his way through the middle of Tenguru weekly market.

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Lake Dulutu Lodge

Surprise! Our original itinerary had us staying at Kibo Palace in the centre of Arusha, but Tillya felt that we needed to finish the trip in style; and he was worried that we might not sleep well as the area around Kibo is very noisy. The service we get from Calabash Adventures never ceases to amaze me.

And neither does Lake Dulutu Lodge. Wow!

The entrance drive is long, with vegetation either side, and the car park is empty when we arrive. Nothing particularly awesome so far.

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While the receptionist performs the registration formalities, we are invited to sit down in the lounge. This is where the wow-ness starts. The lobby is like something out of Harper’s Bazaar and I feel decidedly scruffy in my dirty safari gear.

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Our room is an individual cottage in the grounds, which look nothing much from the outside.

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Once we get through the front door, however, its opulence is evident.

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And the moment I enter the bathroom I am extremely impressed: despite having been lucky enough to stay in some pretty luxurious properties over the years, I have never seen a bathroom like this before.

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Only two other tables in the restaurant are taken, so I guess the hotel is pretty quiet at this time of year. The service, food and wine are all excellent.

Vegetable Spring Roll with Chilli Sauce

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Chicken with Rosemary Sauce

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Beef Medallions with Pepper sauce

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Wine

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Banana Tart with Chocolate sauce

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After all that we should sleep well, especially knowing we don't have to get up for a 6am game drive tomorrow morning.

Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for the last eight days of safari, and for Malisa's expertise, knowledge, sense of humour, excellent driving and caring nature.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wedding travel market elephant police balloon sunrise holiday africa safari lodge zebra eagle luxury picnic coffee donkeys lions maasai hippo cold lioness ballooning giraffes cows serengeti ngorongoro dust hyena heron stork vultures cattle goats topi wildebeest hot_air_balloon arusha ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard hippopotamus african_safari grey_heron bustard family_planning political_rally speeding calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company opulence olive_baboons maasai_cattle ngorongoro_conservation_area naabi_hill kopje coucal seronera babboons spotted_hyena brown_snake_eagle snake_eagle seronera_river martial_eagle goliath_heron white_browe_coucal lioness_on_heat tawny_eagle simba_kopjes simba elephant_herd confusuion_of_wildebeest speed_check white_stork off_road_driving tower_of_giraffes feeling_the_cold malanja_depression goat_family_planning makuyuni weekly_meeting wedding_car sugar_shortage tenguru tenguru_market lake_dulutu_lodge best_safari_operator which_safari_operator safari_in_africa tanzania_safari safari_in_tanzania Comments (1)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part II

Rain doesn't stop play, it creates photo opportunities


View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Lake Magadi

After leaving the ‘Lion Tree’, we try to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch. Malisa’s initial plan is to park down by Lake Magadi, but there is no shade whatsoever and the sun is relentless.

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Terns

On the shores of the lake, a number of terns are congregating: Whiskered, White Winged Black and Black.
As we get closer, they all take off en masse.

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Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling

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Grey Backed Shrike

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We finally find a tree to take our picnic under, listening to the grunting of hippo as we eat. When Lyn comments to Malisa that the sounds appear awfully near, his reply doesn’t exactly re-assure her: “This is leopard country…” Seeing the paw prints in the sand, Lyn makes a hasty retreat to the car.

Banded Mongoose

This is an enormous family!

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Cape Buffalo

A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.

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Ostrich

A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.

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Moru Kopjes

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Gong Rock

On top of one of the kopjes is a strategically placed, strange-shaped rock. This large rock with holes emits quite a gong when hit with a stone. In the old days – before the Maasai were relocated to make this an animal-only national park - it was used as a form of communication, to call together clan members to meetings. These days I guess they use mobile phones.

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Maasai paintings

The kopjes here at Moru also hide a number of rock paintings believed to be several hundred years old. The colours used are similar to those on the Maasai shields, so it is thought that they were painted by a band of young Maasai warriors who wandered this area for several years before settling down to their pastoral life.

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The colours used were created from plant matter: the black from volcanic ash, the white and yellow from different clay, and the red from the juice of the wild nightshade.

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I am intrigued by the bicycle.

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Rock Hyrax

The area around the kopjes is supposed to be home to Serengeti’s last remaining black rhino and is a favourite hangout of leopards apparently. But all we see are a few rock hyraxes.

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My tummy really is in a bad way now, causing me quite some concern; and I beg Malisa to find me a proper toilet. “We are very near” he tells me.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre

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Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.

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Phew!

Mostly as a result of poaching, the black rhino population has declined to a critically endangered point, with an all time low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Serengeti being home to around 30 of them.

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Named after the German conservationist Michael Grzimek who devoted his life to the Serengeti, the Visitors Centre has displays about the rhino and how the conservation strategies are being employed to ensure the continued survival of the rhino.

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The exact location of the park’s rhino population is a well kept secret, with a small army of rangers and wardens looking after the animals 24/7.

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One of the reasons the crocodile is often found with his mouth wide open, is to attract insects, who are drawn to bits of meat left in the croc’s teeth. The insects again attract birds, and as soon as an unsuspecting bird enters the mouth – slam! The bird is no more.

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For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.

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Squacco Herons

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These enormous nests take the birds up to three months to build, and are the height of sophistication, with three rooms inside. The nests can weigh up to 90kg, measure 1.5 metres across, and are strong enough to support the weight of a man! These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing three to five nests per year whether they are breeding or not. When the hamerkop abandons a nest, Egyptian Geese move in.

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Many local people believe the hamerkop to be a ‘witch bird’ because they collect all sorts of stuff for their nest building, including human hair!

More Ostriches

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Giraffe

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Rain

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In Africa, rain is a blessing, for humans, animals and the environment.

♪♫♪ I bless the rains down in Africa… ♪♫♪

"Africa" by Toto

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say: "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

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Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.

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Lions

Seeing a herd of Lancruisers in the distance, and knowing that they always hunt in packs, we surmise there must be a suitable prey around.

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We are not disappointed. Wet and bedraggled, there is a pride (or sawt) of lions in the long grass, with what’s left of a dead wildebeest.

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Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.

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The rain is persistent now; so we put the roof down to stop everything in the car getting wet. Although, looking to the west, it does seem that it might clear up soon.

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Actually, almost as soon as we put the roof down, the rain eases off. Typical. We leave it down for a while to see what happens, but as the rain seems to hold off, we raise it again to allow for more movement and ease of photography.

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One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.

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She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.

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Followed by a quick roll on the ground.

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Before continuing her stroll.

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The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.

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And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!

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Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.

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The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.

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I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!

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Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!

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Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”

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"But muuuuum..."

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Sunshine

Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.

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It seems mum number two has also had her fill for the day, leaving the kill behind; licking her chops as she wanders off through the long grass.

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She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.

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Aha! So, that is what she could smell!

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Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.

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Just like mum, dad is not amused either and growls at the playing cubs, who have been jumping up and down on his back and rolling around all over him.

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The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.

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She is still having none of it.

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I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.

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Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.

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Time to get a move-on

We reluctantly leave the playing kitties to head for camp. It is already 18:15 and we have another 45 minutes drive from here. "Depending on what we see on the way", as Malisa always says when we ask him how long it will take to get somewhere.

The roads are wet and slippery and in his rush to get to camp before we get into trouble, Malisa starts to skid on the muddy track, then over-compensates. For a brief moment we are hurtling sideways at some speed before he manages to skilfully correct the car. Well done that man! Although I found the ‘Serengeti Drift’ quite exhilarating!

Hyenas

This weather seems to have really brought out the hyenas, as we see a dozen or more during one particular stretch of road. Or perhaps they just like this specific area.

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Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.

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Rainbow

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Seeing the rainbow, I ask Malisa to find me a giraffe for the foreground. Not too demanding then!

The nearest I get is an elephant and a tree. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

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Sunset

This evening’s stormy clouds have created one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in Africa, with moody, threatening clouds and ever-changing colours.

I hang out of the window with my camera all the way to the lodge; constantly changing the settings (mainly exposure and white balance) to try and achieve different effects. You can see some of the end results below.

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Serengeti Serena Lodge

Just as we arrive at the lodge – in the dark – a long tailed mongoose crosses the road. A very rare animal to spot, it is a first for us. Even Malisa is exciting about it!

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The car park is full and very dark; and we have to negotiate lots of obstacles to get to reception. They are busy and check-in is the slowest we have experienced so far. Eventually we are taken to our rooms – it is a great shame that we cannot see them, as they look very unusual and rather fancy from the post card!

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The design of this hotel is based on traditional Maasai dwellings, with a number of thatched-roofed rondavels dotted around the ground. We give it the nickname of the ‘Nipple Hotel’ due to…. well, I am sure you can figure that out yourself.

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The restaurant is disappointing, with no available tables when we arrive, and most of the buffet food is finished. I am feeling quite weary this evening, and I can’t even finish my one bottle of beer. I must be tired!

As he walks us back to the room, the escort points out a bush baby in the trees.

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Lyn and Chris' room.

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The room is much too hot despite a fan, and I cannot bear to be surrounded by the mosquito net, so I remove it. I am covered in bites anyway, and they itch like mad in the heat this evening so I struggle to sleep.

Despite an unsatisfactory evening and night, we had an otherwise excellent day on safari. Again. Thank you Calabash Adventures and guide Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds sky rain beer sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel roads museum cute holiday fun africa safari rainbow tanzania crocodile mist moon unesco birding tourists picnic wet photography buffalo lions giraffe hippo roadtrip lion_cubs ostrich conservation serengeti hyena heron terns starling misty mongoose hyrax jackal skidding rock_art stunning bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive backlit road-trip adorable safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company hammerkop lion_kill serena_hotels long_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje stormy_clouds rock_hyrax banded_mongoose moru bedraggled black_backed_jackal nile_crocodile squacco_heron lions_in_the_rain serena_serengeti seronera rhino_project muddy_roads mud_on_road controlled_skid lake_magadi hamerkop hamerkop_nest rhino_conservation cape_buffalo moru_kopjes gong_rock maasai_paintings mosquito_bites rim_lighting Comments (0)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part I

Zany zebras, baby baboons, eccentric elephants and lounging lions


View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Another early start in the dark today, complete with luggage as we are moving on to pastures new. Leaving Mbuzi Mawe this morning, we are all feeling the cold.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Much as I really enjoy leaving at the crack of dawn to make the most of the day on the savannah, this first hour or so is not conducive to photography. Darkness = high ISO = grainy and dull images.

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Wildebeest

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This morning we appear to be in the heart of the migration, with wildebeest all around us. Unfortunately, with the animals come the tse tse flies. Nasty little buggers and they are particularly numerous and bothersome where there are trees, such as here.

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Hot Air Balloon

A hot air balloon glides gracefully over the savannah as we make our way through the park.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Flooded River

I think it must have rained heavily during the night, as the river is flowing over the causeway this morning.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Zebras

Everywhere we look there are zebras. A huge herd – or dazzle – of zebras. Long lines of zebras. Adult zebras. Baby zebras. Lactating zebras. Mating zebras. Eating zebras. Zebra crossings. And more zebras. And then some.

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Cheetah

Two young brothers can barely be seen above the long grass. Having just eaten (we missed it), they saunter off into the distance.

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Olive Baboons

We follow a troop of baboons along the road for a while.

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The baby is very young - no more than two or three days old at the most.

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But I still think he looks like an old man.

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Such a tender family moment!

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That moment when your dad has got you by the scruff of the neck but mum is looking out for you.

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Giraffe

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Located in Seronera in Central Serengeti, the visitors centre is a good place to stop for several reasons:
1. they have new and very clean / modern toilets (I have a problem again today)
2. there is a nice picnic area with lots of semi-tame birds, hyraxes and mongooses
3. an intersting exhibition displays information about Serengeti in general and the wildebeest migration in particular
4. there is also a nice little nature walk on elevated wooden walkways.

Banded Mongoose

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Sadly the boardwalk is closed for crucial repairs today, but we are given a guided tour of the information centre.

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Hippo Jaw

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Buffalo Skulls

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Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning, will know that I have a wish list, and that aardvark is on that list (and has been for the last four safaris here in Tanzania - it became a running joke with our previous driver Dickson). I still haven’t seen one, so I have to make do with a mural on the wall.

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Rock and Tree Hyrax

It is very hard to tell the difference between these two different animals – the tree hyrax has a lighter stripe down the back, but it is not always obvious.

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And I guess the Tree Hyrax is more often found in …. yes, you guessed it … trees.

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But not always.

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Although the hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, are similar to the guinea pig in looks, its closest living relative is the elephant! They are present throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some places they can become quite unafraid of humans and are considered a pest!

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A hyrax with ambition: pretending to be a wildebeest.

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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The Gowler African Adventure

On previous holidays with Lyn and Chris (canal barge cruising) we have always had a themed day where we all dress up for a bit of fun, so this time I made these T-shirts for us all to wear, with the ‘team logo’. This safari has been in the planning stages for well over a year, and along the way we have had a lot of fun.

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After our usual packed breakfast at the picnic site here in the Visitors Centre, we continue our game drive, exploring more of the Serengeti.

Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Hippo

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Although we can only just see the tops of their backs, we can certainly smell them!

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Black Headed Heron

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Spotted Flycatcher

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Giraffes

Q: What do you call a group of giraffes?
A: A tower, journey, corps or herd.

There’s a bit of trivia for your next pub quiz.

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Suddenly they all turn to face the same direction and continue staring that way for quite some time. I wonder what they have spotted?

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We'll never know.

Olive Baboons

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Elephants

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They’re everywhere. So many of them – we count 31!

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One of the older ladies appear a little ‘eccentric’, carrying grass on the top of her back.

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Having a good scratch.

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You know the grass is long when you can lose a couple of baby elephants in it.

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For the next half an hour, the herd of elephants (also known as a memory or parade) slowly meander all around us – sometimes very close - as they munch their way across the savannah.

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Lion

A lone male lion tries to hide in a prickly bush.

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Giraffe

Earlier we saw an almost white giraffe, whereas this one is very dark. I had no idea giraffes vary so much in their colouration!

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White Browed Coucal

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Impala

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Tse Tse Flies

This area seems to be teeming with these pesky little flies, and I get bitten around fifteen times in as many minutes. They hurt when they bite you and itch like **** afterwards.

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Lions in a tree

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Just like I was complaining about the tse tse flies a few minutes ago, lions sometimes climb onto tree branches to get away from them, but as you can see from the photo below, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

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On the other side is another lion in another tree.

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After a while, another car pulls up. As usual, we can hear the Americans before we see them. They take a few shots with their mobile phones and numerous more selfies before they move on again. They are not even here for three minutes.

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We, on the other hand, stick around to see what the lionesses might do, and are rewarded with a bit of action. If you can call it that – at least it is some movement rather than just photographing sleeping lions. Or photographing ourselves with sleeping lions in the background.

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The lone lioness from the other tree decides to join her mates.

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There is a lot of shuffling going on, they never seem to find a particularly comfortable position. I can see why you'll never see a male lion in a tree!

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Look at the number of flies on this poor girl's face! It's no wonder she is not comfortable.

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Well, that was certainly worth enduring the tse tse flies for!

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Time to stop for lunch, and a convenient time to break this blog entry. This afternoon’s game drive will feature in a new entry

Thank you so much to our guide Malisa and Calabash Adventures - the best safari company by a long shot.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes trees animals birds monkeys road_trip travel elephants roads scenery cute holiday africa safari tanzania unesco birding cheetah photography lions giraffe hippo baboons roadtrip ballooning serengeti vulture memory flycatcher impala kingfisher mongoose wildebeest shrike hot_air_balloon hyrax bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive tented_camp lilac_breasted_roller road-trip adorable safari_vehicle calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys tower_of_giraffe serena_hotels central_serengeti tse_tse_flies lions_in_a_tree mbuzi mawe grey_headed_kingfisher lappet_faced_vulture serengeti_visitors_centre wildebeest_migration rock_hyrax tree_hyrax banded_mongoose swallow barn_swallow coucal grey_backed_shrike moru Comments (0)

Serengeti Part II

Finally! The BIG FIVE!


View The Gowler African Adventure on Grete Howard's travel map.

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As we arrive at our lunch stop, a memory of 29 elephants wander past in the distance. As they do.

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We are the only humans here and have a choice of tables – we pick a couple in the shade.

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What a delightful picnic area – there are so many birds here I am too busy photographing to eat!

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Silverbird

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Grey Headed Sparrow

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Magpie Shrike

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Superb Starling

White Headed Buffalo Weavers

A family of White Headed Buffalo Weavers amuses me for quite some time with their antics.

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Giraffe

All the time we’ve been here the giraffe has been standing perfectly still, staring at something in the distance. However much we train our binoculars in that direction, we cannot fathom out what is grabbing his attention.

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With full bellies we continue our afternoon game drive.

Leopard

We see a couple of cars in the distance, near a tree, and go off to investigate. It’s a leopard and she has something up in the branches with her that she is eating.

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On closer inspection, we can see that she is trying to pull the fur off some skin, most likely from a baby wildebeest.

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On a branch the other side of the tree is her cub, a one-year old male, fast asleep.

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Mum is making sure nothing is wasted, pulling and tugging at the hide.

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When nothing edible is left, she takes the skin off to a hiding place for safekeeping.

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Making her way down the tree, she calls out to her son, then jumps down to the ground.

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The cub wakes up and follows his mum down into the long grass where they disappear from our view.

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How exciting! Being nocturnal hunters and solitary animals, leopards are the most difficult of the cats to see on safari.

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This now completes the BIG FIVE on this safari - a term coined by big-game hunters, referring to the five most difficult – and dangerous - animals in Africa to hunt on foot: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo.

As I have said a couple of times before, Lyn and Chris are having such incredible luck out here – we’d been on several safaris before we saw all the Big Five on the same trip!

Olive Baboons

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More Elephants

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And a couple of giraffes

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Vultures

Spotting a tree full of vultures, my first thought is “what’s died?”

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They are also circling above in great numbers, but however much we look on the horizon, straining our eyes through the binoculars, we cannot see anything of significance.

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Hippo

During the day hippos generally wallow in shallow water such as rivers and lakes, coming out at night to graze. It is therefore quite unusual to see them on land in the day.

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This guy cannot stop yawning – he is obviously dazed and confused. Maybe he just flew in from Europe and is jet-lagged?

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Formed at the meeting of three rivers, Retima Pool attracts a great number of hippos, who are believed to crowd here in order to protect their calves against crocodiles.

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The noise of 200 hippos (the American guy next to me claims he counted them) belching, grunting, farting, pooping and splashing, is a sound I won’t forget in a hurry. I am just very grateful that videos don’t record aromas. Yet.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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‘White’ Giraffe

Having read about a white giraffe (appropriately named Omo) that had been spotted a few months ago in Tarangire National Park, I added that to my wish list this year. We didn’t see it, but I am quite excited to see a rather pale baby giraffe this afternoon.

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Not an albino, the giraffe is suffering from leucism, a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting in pale or patchy colouration of the skin.

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More Hippos

We see more hippos as we cross the river again making our way back to camp.

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Kimasi Kopje

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The sun is getting low now, painting the sky with yellows, pinks and purples.

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Our tented camp is built in amongst the rocks that constitute the Kimasi Kopje, and we can just about make out the tents in the failing light.

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Mbuzi Mawe

Amazingly it is still not completely dark when we reach the camp – it’s the first day we have had some real chill time since we arrived in Tanzania: we actually have half an hour spare this evening!

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When we go to into the bathroom, we discover that while we were out, squatters have moved in, clinging to dear life on our shower curtain.

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Mbuzi Mawe is a super place, and the restaurant is intimate, friendly and relaxed, yet luxurious. The general manager walks around the tables this evening, making sure everyone is happy. Tonight they are celebrating a honeymoon couple, with more singing, clapping and cake!

Yet again the food comes out under shiny domes, but there is some confusion as to which plate is which. I guess it is not so easy to see when it is all under wrap like that.

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That's magic!

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Starter of garlic salami, Waldorf salad and balsamic reduction.

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Main course: Rajma Masala - a 'curry' of red beans in s spicy sauce - absolutely delicious!

We retire to bed and a restful sleep after another amazing day in the mighty Serengeti! Calabash Adventures - and Malisa of course - have done us proud yet again.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:13 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys restaurant travel views hotel elephants adventure roads scenery holiday africa tanzania lodge lunch birding tourists giraffe hippo baboons roadtrip serengeti leopard heron memory gourmet glamping impala good_food spicy stunning bird_watching sundowners game_drive tented_camp road-trip african_food canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys mbuzi_mawe serena_hotels central_serengeti kopje retima_hippo_pool leucism Comments (1)

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