Travel is a big part of our lives and 2016 was no exception...
We travelled to some of the 'usual' cities we visit most years... New York, Tokyo and London, but also had the chance to visit some new destinations. We travelled to Bhutan with some friends, Stellenbosch and Cape Town and then I met up with some friends in Phuket for a winter break.
Bhutan had been on our travel list for a while and we got together with 3 friends and arranged a private trip taking in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Gangtey. We travelled around in a 4x4 which is an absolute necessity as the roads are quite bumpy. Having a private driver and guide gave us great flexibility when deciding where to stop for a rest, where to eat lunch and what time we all wanted to leave our beds in the morning.
Bhutan has quite a restrictive policy to limit the number of tourists that are allowed to enter which does mean that the whole country is fairly unspoilt. Restaurants and hotels are still very traditional. Wi-fi isn't always available in fact - nor is electricity, but I really think that his all adds to the experience and charm.
The people were incredibly friendly and accommodating. The food was a little basic, we ate chilli-cheese with almost every meal, but there was always plenty of food and there was always an abundance of fresh local vegetables.
They aren't breaking any gastronomy records in Bhutan but the amazing scenery more than makes up for that.
Most of the locals actually wear traditional Bhutanese clothes as they go about their daily activities. Traditional clothes are required for school children and all government employees and people entering government buildings.
As a Buddhist country, there were lots of beautiful temples and monasteries to visit and no shortage of stunning photography opportunities....
a little later in the year we visited South Africa as part of a trip to a conference my husband attended. Last time we visited South Africa we only stayed in Sun City and Johannesburg and so this time we decided to add on a week of holiday time and flew to Cape Town and drove along the coast to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
Driving around the wine districts of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in South Africa was fantastic. Beautiful rolling hills with vineyards and both towns were packed with boutique hotels, B&B's and fabulous restaurants.
We did the wine train / bus in both areas, allowing us to leave the car and stop off at some wineries along the routes. Most offer tapas sized plates of breads, cheese and dried meats to accompany the wine tasting sized glasses of wine while some even have full restaurants.
We bought some great wines that we had shipped home and thoroughly enjoyed sharing them with family and friends.
The drive along the coast line south of Cape Town was beautiful, we had great weather, and even got to see hundreds of penguins at Stoney Island Penguin Colony.
In November I travelled to meet with some friends at their amazing villa in Phuket, Thailand.
This trip was all about relaxing and food. I've visited Thailand and Phuket many times to there wasn't any need to race around exploring and we didn't waste any time getting settled, visiting the local wet market and getting started on cooking dinner - with the help of the villa staff - of course, and having lots of foot massages.
Located on Nelson Mandela Square and open since 1994 The Butcher Shop & Grill is an actual butchers shop with a restaurant on the side. There is a butcher shop right next to the entrance and you can see the meat hanging and aging.
It was very busy when we arrived and we had a short wait for a table so I would definitely recommend booking in advance.
The crowd was very mixed, a couple of small tour groups, a few business people and some families all mixed together creating a nice level of chatter.
The restaurant itself is a little 'market' like with exposed pipe work etc so it suits the theme.
The menu is quite straightforward, nothing fancy or fine dining. No pretensions here. Steaks are what most people come here for but there was lots of other choice on the menu, they had veggie burger on the menu but otherwise it was heavily loaded with meat dishes... but I guess if you were vegetarian you wouldn't choose to go to a restaurant called The Butcher Shop and Grill....
My husbands sirloin steak was good, not an amazing cut but cooked as ordered. My beef ribs were delicious, but too big a portion for me. We didn't order dessert as we were so tired we just wanted to hit our bed however like the main menu they were quite traditional, old style.
The Butcher Shop and Grill. Shop 30, Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton, 2196, South Africa
My first thought when I saw the hotel on the drive up was WOW... Quickly followed by OMG OTT.
It is seriously over the top, there are gilt statues, huge chandlers, zebra skin and gold painted chairs, elephant statues and more..... Reception is a huge room with lots of staff eager to help with bags or offer a welcome drink.
The Palace of The Lost City Hotel is 5* and a Leading Hotel of The World hotel.
We took a smoking room because it was on a higher floor with more light from the windows. The lower floors don't get good light because of the trees. And even the higher floors don't get great light. Applying make up is a challenge. Also having the hairdryer 'fixed' in the drawer under the TV was not the work of a woman... There is no mirror nearby to see what you are doing with your hair..
The rooms are very comfortable, lovely bed sheets and very comfortable bed. The bathrooms have both a bath and a shower cubicle. The shower is pretty pathetic however. No rains showers here, it's more like an watering can effect, and it's very hard to control the temp. There were lovely Molton Brown products though to distract from this.
The main dining room for breakfast and dinner (they also do an afternoon tea) has huge windows giving it lots of light, however this also meant it was very cold for breakfast and also on the one evening we had dinner. Wearing outdoor jackets and coats when you eat isn't my idea of what should be happening in a hotel.
Breakfast service is a bit hit and miss. Jalapeños in my breakfast omelette and cold coffee on the first day. There was a great selection of fresh fruit, cereals and some excellent salami and cheeses though, so more than enough choice.
The one evening we decided to have dinner in the main dining room, we were very disappointed. We were a table of eight and the only person who enjoyed their meal was my husband, he had a curry. My lamb Ragu with pasta was sliced lamb which was dry, miserable and not at all what I expected. I was thinking about a rich sauce and shredded meat.... Desserts that were supposed to be hot chocolate were all cold and not at all appetizing. I'm not sure what other dining options would be better as we were at a conference and the other days we were at organized dinner parties.
The whole resort is enormous and there are shuttle cars that run transporting guests between the various sites. This service is a bit hit and miss on the success rate. Were were dropped off at the wrong hotel once and sometimes had to wait up to 15 mins for the next available car which is a bit frustrating when you have a dinner party to get to.
If you are here during the summer the pool complex - for hotel guests only is HUGE and there is plenty of space for relaxing, eating lunch or even swimming.
Despite all the niggles I have to say if you are going to Sun City for work or holiday, The Palace is the best hotel in the resort.
The Palace of The Lost City Hotel, Sun City Resort, 0316, Rustenburg, South Africa
When my husband said he was going to attend an insurance conference in Sun City, I have to say, I wasn't racing off to book flights. South Africa has never really been on my 'must go to' places. But as his trip took shape and there were some other meetings planned in Johannesburg either side of the conference I thought 'why not'. It was somewhere new to visit and explore and someone else would be making my bed everyday.
I really am often surprised that people don't take advantage of their traveling spouses and accompany them more often, but I am in the lucky position of having time and no work ties so I try to take advantage of the company paying for the hotel room wherever possible.
I booked flights using some of the air miles we have accumulated and I signed up for the 'partners program' - and the entertainment planned by the conference organizers. Shortly afterwards I received an email with the options available. I nearly fell over. It was fabulous. I could choose from Rhino Tracking, a game drive, spa treatments or a cooking class. This was the most looked after I have ever been on any business trip with my husband.
Our trip started in Johannesburg where we stayed for 3 nights at The Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton. We had a few dinners organized with some of hubby's colleagues but during the day I was left to my own devices. Which gave my time to get some lovely spa pampering and a bit of retail therapy at the shopping mall next door.
On the day we had leave for sun city we organized a taxi and spent just over 2 hours watching the landscape change from busy city to dry and arid volcano pit. We arrived at the conference and were given our itineraries and a welcome gift and went off to get dressed for the welcome cocktail evening. Our hotel, The Palace of the Lost City was fabulously OTT. There were gold chandeliers, elephant statues and and zebra skin chairs, and that was just the breakfast room. It is of the best hotels in Sun City, and although there were a few things that we weren't completely impressed about, I have to admit is was quite spectacular.
The next day whilst my husband attended the conference I went on the Rhino Tracking activity organised with Mankwe Game Trackers.
It was amazing. The company who organize it are passionate about preserving the white rhino and gave a very informative talk about the problems with hunting and poaching.
These rhino have a small chip in the rhino horn so they can find them and check on their safety several times a day. Of course this also helps the group locate them in this vast park.
We were able to get to the rhino on foot and were about 10 meters away. It was a truly amazing experience. The guides explained the behavior of the rhino and are so experienced with them that we never felt in any danger. The rhino were so relaxed with our presence that a mother and daughter actually lay down and went to sleep, as you can see in the photos below. We could even hear them snoring!
The Zebra, was just there along the way, just standing there looking at us...
If you are on a trip to Sun City, this should definitely go on your itinerary, ts an amazing experience and the charges help to keep the Rhino safe from hunters.
The next day was a game drive through Pilanesburg National Park on a Game Drive with the same company who did the Rhino Tracking. We saw another rhino alongside giraffe, elephant, hippo, crocodile, Impala, zebra, kudu and even a kingfisher. I've never really wanted to go on a safari, but this small taster has made me think that it might be quite a good idea.
The park is huge 55,000 hectare and the forth largest in S Africa, so this is just like the wild for the animals but they are slightly protected as there is no hunting here and poachers are severely punished.
Nature does have its own ideas however, and sadly the impala have earned the name 'McDonalds' as they are a fast food snack for the leopards and lions in the park.
On both days there were fancy formal evening dinners - great opportunities to get dressed up!
The whole conference was great fun, we were well fed and looked after, stayed in the amazing Palace of the Lost City Hotel.
I got to meet some lovely people and even get up close with a white rhino..
After the conference we headed back to Johannesburg where my husband had a couple of days of meetings. I organised a driver to show me around Soweto and Johannesburg. I got to see the last home of Nelson Mandela and also the home Nelson and Winnie Mandela shared before his arrest.
I also visited the Hector Pieterson museum, which told a very moving story of the violent struggle against apartheid in 1976.
My husband and I stayed over the weekend, so that he could wind down a little after the busy week and we decided to take a driver and have a look around Pretoria, which was completely different to Johannesburg, much more hectic.
I think its always good to tag a weekend onto the end of a business trip, and we do this as often as we can. Then it really feels like a break and of course my husband gets to enjoy the cities he visits as much as I do.
Another bonus of the trip was that there was no shortage of good red wine and steaks. In Johannesburg we had great meals, our favorites were at The Butcher Shop and also The Grill House.
Really, I can't think of a good reason to stay at him when there are so many adventures to be had on business trips :).
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