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A slow start to our Scotland Adventure

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View In search of the Hairy Coo - Scottish Highlands 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Although we booked this trip some months ago, it wasn't until the very last minute (two days before departure to be exact), that we actually decided we were going to go. As many of you will know, my dad was very poorly recently, and we were unsure whether we were going to be able to get away at all.

Anyway, here we are, setting off for the long drive to Bonnie Scotland.

Apologies for the quality of today's photos, they are all taken with my mobile phone.

Motorway Madness

It doesn't start well. Just outside Birmingham we hit the first traffic jam. We see two fire engines, an ambulance and the Incident Manager go past. Oh dear, I hope it is not serious. At least we are just delayed, we are not involved in the 'incident'.

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Without notice, the traffic starts to move again and within seconds we are up to normal speed, with no sign of the incident that slowed us to a stand-still in the first place. How very odd.

It doesn't last long, however, and soon we are slowing right down again. This is when motorbikes come into their own – we see the whole chapter of Satan's Slaves go past, some 50+ bikers, weaving their way in and out of the lines of slow-moving cars.

Leaving the M5 and joining the M42, we arrive into another stationary traffic jam.

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Once we're on the M6, the story is the same – another load of slow moving traffic! There is one benefit: we may not be going anywhere fast, but at least we are getting in excess of 75 miles per gallon.

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Picnic lunch

The plan was to come off the motorway to find a small, rural place to have a leisure lunch in the countryside, but as we are making such slow progress, we are concerned about the distance we still have to travel, so pull into a Motorway Service Station where we have a car-picnic in the car park. Not quite the same.

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Without notice the Sat Nav decides to give up the ghost, forcing us to get out an old-fashioned map. Thankfully, the further north we go, the less traffic there is, and David is a master navigator anyway, with a non-rivalled memory for routes.

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Premier Inn and Beefeater at Carlisle

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Finally, after over eight hours on the road (the journey should have taken us 4½ hours), we eventually arrive at our overnight stop in Carlisle, where a very welcome drink awaits the driver.

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I ask for a pint of Morgan's Spiced and Coke (four measures topped up with Diet Coke). It goes down well.

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We both have fillet steak, mine with a salad and David's with chips.

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I'll drink to that!

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So much for being good and only having a salad with my steak: a churros sundae with a large Tia Maria isn't going to do my diet any good!

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When it comes to paying, we are really pleased when the waitress lets us use a discount code from an out-of-date voucher that doesn't even include steaks! Double success!

Full of good food and drink, we retire to bed ready for another long drive tomorrow.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:45 Archived in Scotland Tagged map cider birmingham steak sat_nav beefeater carlisle traffic_jam premier_inn churros_sundae tia_maria morgan's_spiced Comments (1)

Birmingham - Dubai - Nairobi

We've finally arrived in Africa!


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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As we approach Dubai Airport after seven hours or so in the air, the sun rises and we get a brief glimpse of this modern metropolis from the air.

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On exit from the plane, a series of transfer buses are waiting to take us to the terminal – it’s all very well organised, with a different bus depending on your onward flight destination or whether you are stopping in Dubai. We board a bus for Nairobi. Not literally of course.

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We have a three-hour layover here in Dubai, so we spend a lot of time sitting about in the airport lounge.

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Eventually we are called for the flight and moved to another lounge at the departure gate, where we learn that the flight is delayed for over an hour – more sitting around, waiting.

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The next flight is also very comfortable, with space to spread out. I spend most of the time sleeping, only waking for food and again just before landing at Nairobi.

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At the immigration control in Nairobi, David is berated for having a Transfer Visa and is told that he should have a ‘proper’ visa if he is to leave the airport and stay overnight. This, of course, is quite contrary to the information on the Kenya Immigration Website, and the three of us go through the passport check without a single comment. David must have got the grumpy one this afternoon. Thankfully he is let through and we have finally arrived in Africa!

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The luggage is very slow to turn up, and as more and more bags arrive but ours are nowhere to be seen, we start to get a little twitchy. Eventually the last one appears on the luggage carousel and we breathe a sigh of relief. I suppose someone’s bag has to be the last one.

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At customs I am questioned at length about commercial filming due to all my camera equipment, but we finally make it through to the outside world, where William is waiting to take us to our hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi.

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As usual, the Nairobi traffic is appalling despite the fact that we are not even entering the centre of town, and we sit in one huge jam as the road improvement works causes major diversions and delays as we make our way to the suburb of Karen. Eight months ago when we came this way on the way back from Lake Turkana, the road was pot-holed, rutted and chock-a-block with traffic. It is comforting in a way to see that some things never change.

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As we pull up at the hotel, we are delighted to see our friend Abdi, who has travelled down from North Horr to meet up with us.

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Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages

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Tillya (of Calabash Adventures) came out to Nairobi last month to personally check out our rooms here at Karen Blixen Cottages, and as we are shown to our room, we concur that he has made a good choice.

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Each room is set in an individual period-style cottage designed after the historic Swedo House in the so-called first generation style , and comes complete with a four-poster bed, a seating area with a fireplace, high-beam ceiling, a dressing room and a large bathroom with separate shower, toilet and bathtub. There is also a nice verandah (with a very friendly resident cat) for relaxing with a pre-dinner drink. The room evokes a taste of the past with yesteryear historic ambience from Kenya's early pioneering days.

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History

Much history is attached to this place - Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages (that is the longest hotel name we have come across since the 'Best Western Premier Amaranth Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel' in Thailand) is set in one of the largest and oldest formal gardens in Kenya, in what was once the estate of Karen Blixen (the author of the best selling book 'Out of Africa' which was later made in to an award-winning film).

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Meandering paths lead through the gardens, connecting the cottages with the main buildings, gym and swimming pool. It is hard to imagine how the original house was surrounded by indigenous forest, bush and grasslands at the time of its construction in 1906 – the 5½ acres of formal hotel gardens are now full of ornamental trees such as candelabra cactus, jacaranda (my favourite tree when in bloom) and bottle brush, as well as numerous (over 200 species I am told) exotic flowers.

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I am a little disappointed however, with the lack of bird life – I expected the flowers to attract a number of birds, but all I see is this ‘measly’ little sunbird.

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Swedo House

This building within the grounds was once the hunting lodge, and the farm manager's residence for Karen Blixen's coffee farm. Later Thomas Dinesen (Karen Blixen's brother) lived in this house, and Karen herself also spent a great deal of time here. It has since been refurbished to its original style.

The architectural style of Swedo House is typical of the pioneering days of Kenya, being built on stilts with the original walls of corrugated iron lined with wood inside; and sporting raised verandas with arched roof supports. The corrugated iron walls were later replaced by cement plastered over chicken wire. These days the house contains the lounge and gift shop.

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Meaning ‘medicine’ or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili, Dawa is the signature cocktail at Tamarind (the chain which owns the hotel restaurant). Based on the famous Brazilian Caipirinha, the cocktail it is made from vodka, sugar, quartered lime, ice and honey, and is apparently one of the most widely consumed cocktails in Kenya. As I really don’t like honey, I didn’t think I’d like it. I was wrong. The honey is served on the little wooden stick in the glass, and just tastes sweet rather than a strong honey taste.

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The curiously named Elephant Mudbath cocktail is a must as we are going to be visiting the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in the morning. The cocktail comprises of coffee liqueur, Amarula, Vodka and ice. A little drop of heaven in a glass!

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To go with the cocktails, an amuse bouche of chilli chicken and crab cocktail arrives.

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The chicken is surprisingly bland, whereas the crab cocktail is nicely spiced and absolutely delicious.

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At dinner I practise the little bit of Swahili I have tried to learn in the last few weeks, much to the amusement and delight of the staff.
“Nataka chakula cha kiafrika” (I would like African food) I ask, and John, the waiter, suggests the Chicken Ndogo Ndogo, a whole spring chicken grilled with ginger, soy sauce, garlic and lime juice.

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Ndogo ndogo apparently means “young lady” or "nice thighs" in Swahili, and a few slightly risqué comments are banded about.

I ask for the chicken to be served kali (spicy), but instead they include a selection of pili pili (chillies), hot sauce and freshly chopped coriander. The chillies certainly pack a powerful punch!

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To go with my chicken I order ugali – the staple food throughout East Africa – a stiff polenta-like dough made from millet flour and water.

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Chris settles for the Fish with Mushrooms, a fillet of fish topped with mirin-flamed mushrooms and served with fried rice and creamy champagne sauce. From the contented murmurs and delighted exclamations, I am deducting that he is enjoying it.

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My request “tafadhali nakata nne bia Tusker baridi” gets us exactly what we want – four cold Tusker beers! This Swahili-speaking lark sure is fun!

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At the beginning of the meal John (the waiter) asks Chris to write down all our names on a sheet of paper, and from then on he calls us by name as he dishes up our food. Very personal service indeed. I am even more impressed when the dessert is delivered. Only David orders a pudding – crepe suzette – but the rest of us get complimentary petit fours, beautifully served on personalised plated with a Swahili saying and our names written out in chocolate! This certainly is a first for me!

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As we leave the restaurant, the serenade of the frogs in the grounds is almost deafening as you can hear from this little video. There is no picture as such as it is pitch black by now, but it is worth a listen for the sound alone.

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Having travelled for 24 hours through the night to get here, jetlag descends on us after dinner and we retire to bed for an early night.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for a great start to our trip!

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:00 Archived in Kenya Tagged food fish restaurant travel vacation flight holiday fun africa safari packing chicken dubai karen kenya cocktails emirates birmingham gourmet nairobi good_food tamarind african_food calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators karen_blixen_coffee_gardens_and karen_blixen dawa_cocktail dawa Comments (1)

Bristol - Birmingham - Dubai

Let the adventure begin


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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The day has finally arrived! After weeks and months of planning, we are off on the Great African Adventure with our friends Lyn and Chris.

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Thankfully Chris drives an estate car, which means we can get all four plus luggage into the one car. Unfortunately Bruno thinks he is coming too. On our previous trips with Lyn and Chris we have taken Bruno with us (three different canal barge holidays), so it is perhaps not surprising that he expects to be part of the trip this time too.

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It's an excited little gang who leave Bristol for Birmingham Airport

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For convenience and speed, we have chosen valet parking at the airport, and we just pull up in the car park right by the terminal building, hand over the car keys for someone else to park, and head for the check in.

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I am not saying we are keen, but we end up first in the queue before they even open the check-in desks!

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We sail through the Fast Track security lane and head straight for the executive lounge.

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With free food and drink, we start the trip the way we intend to carry on. There is a self-service salad and pastry bar, a menu to choose hot items from, and a well stocked bar.

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The food is fresh and tasty, although the portions aren't very big. But then we don't really want to be digesting a massive meal on our flight.

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Fish finger sandwiches! Mmmm

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It’s a very relaxing way to start this adventure, and we stay there until our flight is called.

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At the gate departure lounge, Chris spots a bag on the seat next to him which doesn't seem to belong to anybody. Having asked around the people in the immediate vicinity, he reports it to the airline staff, who are quick to react.

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It turns out the bag belongs to a chap who is standing by the window the other side of the room, too busy chatting on his phone to notice the commotion his bag is causing. The official loudly berates him for leaving his luggage unattended, and all is safe and well in our world again.

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Much to our delight, the flight is not full, and we are able to spread out, taking a whole row of seats each. This is Lyn and Chris’s first long haul flight – I hope they realise that having room to spread like this is the exception rather than the rule!

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I ask one of the crew members to take a photo of us all, chatting about the adventure we are about to embark on.
Soon the air stewardess comes back with a Polaroid camera, snapping us (and other passengers) and creating a very nice little personalised memento from it.

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All in all Emirates are a great airline to travel with, and we have a very enjoyable flight, with good food (in fact Chris reckons this is the best air-plane food he has ever had!) and plenty of drink.

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Tandoori chicken - very tasty!

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Two bottles of whisky - Lyn's happy!

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Although no Captain Morgan, Grete is happy too!

After dinner, the cabin lights are dimmed, with little ceiling lights creating the impression of a starry sky, as I settle down with the free wifi and the others watch live football on the TV screens.

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Shame the football results aren’t as good.

Just another five hours to go...

Posted by Grete Howard 01:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged travel vacation flight holiday fun africa safari packing emirates birmingham Comments (2)

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