Palermo, SICILY

Palermo, SICILY

Well, here we are … lying on sun loungers overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea on the North coast of Sicily. This is our first holiday of 2018 and it is a break away doing a hotel review before we head off on our road trip of Europe.
I kinda like this lifestyle and hope we can get it going full time soon. Lots to learn still, but we will keep on keeping on until we get there ….

We are staying in the Domina Zagarella Hotel, which is a 4*resort in Solanto in the Province of Palermo, previously owned by the infamous Salvo cousins of Mafia connections.
The view is spectacular … there is something about waking up to a view over the sea, watching all the fishing boats going about their business, in and out of the harbour, that just makes you feel good. Of course, all this gorgeous warm sunshine topping up the vitamin D levels helps too.
We took a walk yesterday along the rocks (well a bit of a clamber over rocks,broken walls,sand and unfortunately plastic rubbish)  to the side and front of the hotel to have a look at the derelict home of the Salvo cousins that is next door to the hotel.

The story goes that they were tax collectors for the Government of the time but had all the “right connections” in the Government to make them very valuable to mafia bosses. One of the cousins died from cancer and the remaining cousin, Ignazio was murdered at his home by the Mafia! Apparently the home, which has become this derelict building which fascinates Richard, was “taken into custody” in the investigation and could not be sold or used and so has fallen into this unkempt state and nothing can be done about it!
What a waste of what was obviously an amazing home … 2 stories of innumerable rooms, the floor partially covered now, in what was once beautiful Italian tiles, very upmarket wallpaper, a wonderful patio with steps leading down to the calm, clear sea for your daily swim and what must have been an amazing Mediterranean garden set on terraces going up the hill behind the house. Now stripped of most of its glory and been used as a party venue for the locals we guess by all the broken beer bottles and distasteful graffiti on the walls.
The feeling of this area of Sicily on the whole is a little rundown and unkempt, and feels poor but the people seem happy enough. Not that our Italian is any good mind, to be able to have that kind of discussion. Thank goodness for that wonderful translation app.
The hotel building is obviously pretty old but has been refurbished recently into this resort on a beautiful part of the coast of Sicily. The new owner has colour themed each floor with each colour being specific to its own theme e.g., blue for music, red for automotive etc. Very bright and dramatic!
The road leading up to and away from the resort in both directions is untidy and unkempt and not really suitable for walking comfortably and it certainly doesn’t forecast what you will step into when you walk through the doors. It is like entering a different world and obviously the intention of the owners is to get you there and keep you there for the duration of your stay. The outside areas are fantastic with 3 swimming pools, albeit only 2 operational while we were here, surrounded by beautiful, wonderfully scented gardens. There are relaxing areas of solitude with classic music playing in the gardens if you are into that. The sea is literally one level down from the lower pool deck with calm and clear water .. that was a tad chilly still in April but wonderfully refreshing after a walk.
To my mind, the location and view from the hotel and it’s fantastic outside areas are what this resort is all about and if spending time relaxing in the sunshine on great sun lounger and enjoying the pool bar is all you want, then this is a wonderful place to do it. As a 4* establishment it does however lack some of the finer things e.g. coffee/tea facilities the room are non existant, cocktails are expensive and don’t use the room service as the service charge is €10 a pop …no matter what you order. The other thing that is very off putting is the lack of pricing before you spend. There is a mini bar in each room but no prices on what each item costs. You would be forgiven for thinking this was a perk and free, but it is NOT! Again over priced, I think. There are surcharges on almost everything including being seated at the restaurant alongside the pool even before you order.
The staff are fantastic…extremely helpful, friendly and working around the hiccups of a new establishment still finding its feet.
So … essentially, a beautiful spot to unwind and relax, enjoying the weather and amazing views! Not sure if it is worth the inflated prices at this stage but hopefully some of the points made in the reviews will swing things and there will soon be some of the finer, extra items in place to improve the customer enjoyment. It is also a time share resort and I have to say that those prices are not bad at all and there are a number of Domina resorts around the world you can swap your weeks to, which can turn your 1 week into 3 or 4 holidays a year.
Most people staying here hired cars because of the “unfriendly” roads for walking but we are more adventurous and besides our seaside rock climbing visit to Portobello harbour on the first day, we also wandered up to the archeological site high up on the hills behind the town of Porticello. It is still actively being excavated. The views over the towns below from all sides at the top was magnificent. Well worth the climb of 1.8kms up that hill.
We are going off in the other direction this morning to visit Casteldaccia and an apparently great little Mediterranean restaurant on the sea front for lunch. More on this later ….

GET CASH BACK FOR YOUR TRAVELS

GET CASH BACK FOR YOUR TRAVELS

HOW TO GET CASH BACK ON YOUR TRAVELS … OR ANYTHING ELSE YOU MAY WANT TO BUY!

I have looked at cash back sites before but never signed up, mainly because I didn’t really understand how they worked and always thought “it must be a con, I mean who is going to give you money just because you bought from them…right?” so never took the time to investigate further! Now, as much as I know you shouldn’t take anything at face value without checking … you should also never simply bypass something without checking too, because you could be missing a big opportunity!  Well, apparently, I have …. so time to rectify this now.

Some info so that you too don’t bypass such a good opportunity …  You do not pay anymore than you would if you bought direct from the company you were going to buy from anyway, but you get some cash back so that’s like getting a discount isn’t it? Except you get it in cash, paid into your account and they have hundreds of shops you can buy from. Your cash back % differs depending on which company you shop at and what product you buy but nevertheless, it is money for nothing really … just for making your online purchase through them!

So, as an example, if you are planning to buy something through …say … Amazon. All you do is join up through our TopCashBack link and then choose Amazon on their list of partners and proceed to do your purchasing as you normally would, and WooHoo you get some cash back once your purchase is confirmed and paid for!

You do, of course, have to join them first and become a member in order to get cash back ….

So one of the best UK cash back sites and the one we use is TopCashBack.

Check the small print because they also have a Plus Membership which will cost you £5, so check it out properly and make the choice of Classic account (free) or Plus (£5)

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Which Bike

Which Bike

Hey everyone! Rich here … when we first said the word travel, our thoughts straight away went to Motorbike touring as both of us love motorcycle riding. After all, you get to go places out in the open, feeling free and see all the bits along the way and have fun doing it! All you need is some money and your bike … lol … some money and a bike?! Hmmm, didn’t have either! So we saved up a bit and got some money. 1st box ticked …

Now for the bike. Then I realised I didn’t have a clue of what bike to get. I haven’t ever had a touring bike before, they have all been fast sports bikes and I’ve enjoyed them and enjoy riding fast. You know, I’ve seen them come through the shop and read articles in magazines but I never had “the hots” for a touring bike. Soooo anyway, we looked at a number of them and couldn’t find any that we both liked in our price range, until a very good friend of ours (Hi Dave!) came round with a bike he had just bought. We hadn’t seen one of these before … it was a red and black Honda Pacific Coast 800! Jacqui fell in love with it instantly, saying: “THAT’S THE ONE WE NEED!”

I wasn’t so sure … lol. Dave then said he had seen one on a very popular auction site that we all know … haha … so we looked, placed and bid and won! Yay!

My gorgeous wife and I went to pick up the bike the next day. When we arrived and I clapped eyes on it … I still wasn’t sure, lol, but anyway, I checked it over and all seemed good. I road tested it and that’s when it all made sense! It was so comfortable. 2nd box ticked …

You should always remember when you’re on a budget … looks are not everything! Can’t wait for France!

    

The awesome Honda Pacific Coast 800

Paphos

Paphos

Well, after our Western Cape trip we came back to winter in the UK. What a shock to the system … brrrr. All we could think about was the warm sunshine we had left behind in South Africa and Richard had seriously got the travel bug from that trip but all we had to look forward to at that stage was next year’s annual leave!
Not where we wanted to be …

We saw through November, Christmas and new year because we had to basically, but by the time March came round, we were desperate for some warmth and some sunshine, so Rich put in for a portion of his leave and we took a short break … to Paphos. It was simply a look at where there was a higher temperature and a shortish flying time and that’s the choice we made … pretty much like closing our eyes and putting a pin in the map! lol

We chose to do something different to our norm this time as it was a spur of the moment decision so I found a deal on one of the holiday comparison site and we got an excellent price for hotel and flights for 5 days. This worked out really well, the studio flat was amazing as were the staff, except for the cleaners who simply unlocked and walked in at round 7am every morning regardless of whether we were still in bed or not … lol. In the end we got used to the door opening and we pretended to be sleeping, totally ignoring them … and eventually they got the message and left to come back later!

  

What a good decision … we absolutely loved Paphos … from the harbour , the archeological sites, the history to the beaches and, of course, the sunshine. Not to mention Coco’s Bar, the karaoke bar with just the best cocktails in town and absolutely awesome customer service.

    

       

We decided to go for a short walk to find a good beach to do some tanning on our 3rd day there so we set off and walked along the beach where we could, enjoying the feel of the warm sand, the sun and the views, stopped for some breakfast along the way and then … 15 miles and 5 hours later …. we found coral bay! Beautiful bay which was quiet as it was still out of season and quite protected from any wind. There were lovely sun loungers out on the beach so we collapsed on them and absorbed some vitamin D for the remainder of the day!

We did a lot of walking around the town and archeological and burial sites for the short time we were there. Very interesting history and really amazing mozaics that have been uncovered in the archeological site of the old city. And before we knew it … it was time to fly back to the cold and to work. There is still so much more to explore that there will definitely be another visit to Paphos in the future. 

           

We did manage sundowners and a lovely sunset on the beach on our last evening. Until next time Paphos!

 

5 things you should Never miss in the western Cape

5 things you should Never miss in the western Cape

5 things you should never miss?? That seems a little silly because, to be honest, there is sooo much to see and do in the Western Cape area of South Africa that this blog could be titled 45 things to do and we still wouldn’t have made a dent in it, but as our time there was limited, we only got to a very small section of the area. Not a problem because we obviously have to return to experience the rest … maybe again and again. What a beautiful place!

   VISIT AN OSTRICH FARM

There are a number of ostrich farms in the Oudtshoorn area of the Western Cape. Did you know that the Ostrich is the worlds largest flightless bird? 

We chose an ostrich farm in close proximity to the Backpackers we were staying at (Paradise Backpackers) so as to fit in the Crocodile Dive on the same day. We had such a lovely guide … with this lovely lilting Cape accent and such a good sense of humour. We started the tour with a talk on the history of the Ostrich Barons and farming and some exhibits of the birds (touch and feel) feathers, eggs, “leather” for the making of handbags etc. 

We then moved on to examining the eggs for fertility and a description of how they are tested and incubated and then were introduced to the birds!  

        

Rich was the bravest of our bunch and stepped into the enclosure with the bird first … even stretching out to touch … lol So, obviously I had to step up to the plate too. I mean if he can, so can I!     

Next was climbing aboard to ride one … really? Not everyone tried that and it is not easy or even comfortable but they have “jockeys” who ride these birds in the regular ostrich races!

And then for the neck massage ….. this was so funny.

     

Basically, the ostriches know that their food is in that bucket so if you stand with your back to them holding the bucket, they will all stretch over your shoulders and round your neck to get to the food! Not my kind of neck massage. hahaha

Well worth the visit peeps! If you make the trip to South Africa …. go check out the ostrichs!

DIVE WITH CROCODILES

Just down the road from the ostrich farm is Cango Safari wildlife Park. Loads of animals to see and the guided walk around the park with all the interesting facts from the knowledgeable tour guides is awesome. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole tour but the crocodile dive was what we went for so …

  

Now let me tell you that I am petrified of crocodiles and if Richard hadn’t been there to hold my hand I would probably not have taken part in this particular little adventure but in the end it was an awesome experience to be so close to one of these scary creatures from the dinosaur age. The water was cold so he was not as active as he would have been had the water been warmer. We would definitely recommend the experience.

We had an amazing evening at Paradise Backpackers where we had an awesome meal of ostrich and homemade bread cooked on the open fire! It was a good night spent with some lovely interesting people from all over the world. We left Oudtshoorn the next day, both with serious hangovers (Rich was worse than me lol ) after being introduced to Witblitz by the barman, to make our way back to Hermanus for the Whale watching and shark dive.

WHALE WATCHING BOAT TRIP

This is a must on anyone’s bucket list! Such a wonderful and humbling experience being so close to these huge gentle beasts. Every year between June and September, the Southern Right Whales come to this coast to breed and have their young, called calves. They are quite inquisitive, playful creatures and so come wondering in towards the boats filled with just as quizzy humans to investigate and show themselves. Some getting in really close and others swimming around with their young in tow and showing off their tails which they sometimes use as sails to let the wind push them along when feeling lazy.  This was the highlight of our trip.

         

         

 GREAT WHITE SHARK CAGE DIVE      

Well, this was the main reason for our choice of the first place to visit. We started out at the office of the cage diving tour operator for our pre-dive talk. We were all very nervous and also worried about being sea sick as the sea was still a tad bouncy plus the visibility was not good. Only about a metre. First thing we had to do was eat! lol … seems strange when you’re worrying about being sick but the guys who run the operation insisted that we would fare better with a good breakfast before hitting the high seas! They were right!

After breakfast, we were taken onto the boats and given the safety rundown and then headed out to see sharks! The boat crew kept throwing out chum on the way to the cage to entice the sharks to come to their boat. The sea was cold and because of the visibility being as restricted as it was the sharks who came to visit were only visible when they were virtually on top of the cage so you couldn’t see them coming in or up from a distance. The view was way better from the top deck of the boat and that is where we got our best shots. You could actually see them rising up to the surface from literally the bottom of the ocean until they broke surface in an attempt to get the bait that was on offer. 

 

VISIT HOUT BAY

On our last day in Cape Town, we took a drive to Hout Bay. I have fond memories of a trip there many years ago. We sat on the wharf having lunch, drinks and watching the many seals that frequented the harbour, popping their noses out the water to watch the humans watching them and hoping for some food. I remember it being so quaint and special.

Needless to say things have changed over the years and it is much more commercialised, but it is still beautiful and one of my favourite places. The colourful boats, the changing blue hues of the water, from turquoise to almost deep  navy blue, the “flea market” with all the local traders, the seals or in this case … the one seal named John! Being fed by one of the locals … mouth to mouth … as a tourist attraction and a way of earning and putting food on his table or perhaps a bottle of Paarl Perle wine? hahaha 

The view from Chapmans Peak coming down into Hout Bay is fantastic. Richard took a stunning panoramic pic from the harbour wall, which has become my absolutely favourite photograph of the trip!

A MUST DO is to have a meal of lobster tails in the Seafood restaurant that overlooks the beach on the side of the harbour entrance … with a nice glass of something alongside of course. What a wonderful ambient way to spend our last day.

   

 

 

The Western Cape- South Africa

The Western Cape- South Africa

The Western Cape –South Africa

When we decided on our first holiday together, it had to be to South Africa to cage dive with sharks! Richard has a love and fascination for sharks, great whites in particular, so from the minute we met, me being from South Africa, and loving to travel and he having this desire to see sharks in the flesh … we spoke about travelling to see sharks and it seemed the obvious place for us to start!
So, the holiday was planned, basically around the shark cage diving adventure and wanting to see as much of the area around Gansbaai, the most famous place on the cape coast for shark diving and viewing! But first things first … Rich had never had any desire to travel prior to this and therefore had no passport! OMG! … I couldn’t believe it! Anyway, I soon put that to rights …. and about 3 months later, all paperwork sorted and passport in hand … the planning and saving began in earnest.
I wanted to show him as much as I could in the 12 days we had available and booked us up solidly. Boy did we travel far and wide in that time …. from landing in Cape Town, collecting a hired car and on to Hermanus to go on a whale watching boat trip, to cage diving with sharks in Gans baai, to Oudtshoorn (What a drive … forgot how big the area is) to see and ride ostriches, to cage diving with crocodiles, drive back down to Cape Town on the famous route 62 with a visit to the famous (or is that infamous) Ronnies Sex Shop along the route and back to Cape Town to the beautiful Hout Bay, to finishing the trip by spending 3 days in Durban with my family.
We had to be a bit flexible even after having all the planning down to a T, because the weather didn’t behave! We got to Hermanus, to find that all sea adventuring had been cancelled due to a huge storm having hit the area the day before. We went for a walk along the coastal path to see the sea … lol …it was hectic, huge waves crashing over the harbour wall, huge swells and really really rough seas. Took loads of pics but they don’t really give a good indication of how rough it was to show why all boats were grounded! So after a couple of ‘phone calls and help from the friendly helpful peeps at Hermanus Backpackers, we turned the planning around and headed off to Oudtshoorn first. The sea adventures had to wait for at least 3 days for the surf to settle enough to attempt the shark dive.