The most important piece of advice for long haul flights

Long haul flights are exhausting and often very uncomfortable, but preparing for the journey can make it go so much more smoothly.

If you are not a very experienced traveller though, you may forget the journey does not just end as soon as you land in the airport. Often, there is a lengthy bus or car ride after, and then all the settling down and unpacking once you reach your destination.

I learnt about the importance of planning ahead the hard way when I flew to Cape Town.

The transit time from London was a total of 18 hours (because I couldn’t afford a direct flight), far longer than anything I had experiences beforehand. It involved two planes – one to Istanbul and another to Cape Town, with a pit stop in Johannesburg for a refuel.

The last thing you want to happen when you are facing an 18 hour journey is a delay, but that is exactly what happened. The first flight was delayed by an hour and a half, and suddenly the two-hour layover in Istanbul did not seem quite as comfortable.

We just made it, and had to run onto the other plane. It waited for us, but it did not wait for our luggage…

There is nothing like arriving at the house of a person you don’t know and having nothing to change into! So it was not ideal for me to come out on the other side in Cape Town and find out my suitcase was still back in Istanbul, 12 hours away from me. Suddenly, my mind raced back to all those articles I ready about carrying a change of clothes.

So here is my advice, and I will stick to it religiously myself from now on: always, ALWAYS carry a change of clothes with you when you fly with multiple connections! Because your luggage will never be the priority for an airline running a tight schedule.

And underwear. Definitely always carry a change of underwear. Oh, and a bikini, if you’re going somewhere as lovely as South Africa.

Luckily, my trip did not carry on the way it started…

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Why South Africa makes you an alcoholic

Here in the UK, wine drinking is usually reserved to the evening (unless you’re a financial journalist at a boozy Friday lunch, of course), but in South Africa wine tastings are more of an afternoon affair. In fact, the first vineyard we went to was not even open past 4.30pm, except on Thursdays and Fridays, when it closes at 6pm.

Durbanville Hills Wine, which was to be my first mid-afternoon wine tasting experience in the land of the grape, is just 20 minutes drive from the centre of Cape Town, in a flat valley surrounded by acres and acres of greenery. Turning up without a reservation can be a little hit and miss, as it is so busy during the South African summer period (October-February), but we managed to find some comfy seats with a view of the luxurious vineyards.

It was still early on in my trip, so the novelty of leisurely, sizzling sunshine-filled afternoons in the days running up to News Year’s Eve hadn’t worn off yet, and knowing I had most of the holiday ahead of me made it a very special kind of treat.

I would wholly recommend the biltong and wine tasting experience if, like me, you love wine and meat. Although I did wonder what they put on that biltong to make it taste so damn good, I pushed the thoughts to the farthest corner of my mind and just enjoyed the experience.

Each of the fine wines came with its own type of biltong, enough to to give a large man his protein hit for the day. I even tried chicken biltong, much softer and chewier than the game and red meat varieties, though it was not my favourite.

My biltong consumption was only going to increase throughout the holiday, it turned out. And so was the wine intake, naturally.

Thankfully, wine tasting does not need to be a one-off luxury in the Cape, partly because it is so cheap. And what better way to welcome in the New Year than by trying five different local wines and a nice crisp glass of champagne for the equivalent of just over £2 (45 rand)?

The second vineyard we went to, Leopard’s Leap, is situated in Franschhoek and offers a simpler version of wine tasting than the estate in Durnbanville: just wine and breadsticks, nothing fancy. Except for the wines themselves, of course!

I was so enthusiastic about the tastings that Zayn’s mother, who doesn’t really drink much at all, called me an alcoholic. I hope she was joking…

I think I may have actually started annoying the South Africans by laughing at the prices all the time, especially at the prices of wine. But I couldn’t help comparing sunny Western Cape with rainy London, and its over-priced booze! And of course it helps that the South African currency – the rand – has fallen so far against the pound now that us British feel like millionaires over there, which is hard not to take advantage of.

If you are planning a wine tasting in South Africa, one piece of advice is: do not plan anything else for the afternoon. You will almost certainly need a nap afterwards!

A look at Cape Town from Table Mountain

The hardest thing about being surrounded by gorgeous rocks is not being able to climb them. That was the only downside of my mini-trek up Table Mountain in Cape Town.

This 1,085m (3,558ft) massif dominates the skyline of Cape Town the way the Shard dominates London’s, but I find its natural beauty a little more exciting than the glass construction back home.

I was very lucky with this mountain. It is often covered in thick cloud at the top even on the clearest of days, which has been dubbed the ‘tablecloth’ by the locals, but on 28 December 2014, when I chose to ascend it, it remained clear for the whole day.

The top of the mountain can be accessed in a number of ways – via the easier, but longer, Back Table route, the steep but direct, Platteklip Gorge route, or by cable car.

Though the cableway is technically the quickest way to reach the summit, and not super-expensive at R225 for a round trip (around £13), the mountain is so popular that queues to get to the top can last for hours. For me, that was just an extra reason to use my own feet to reach the summit, but not for Zayn. No matter how much I tried to talk up the walk, he outright refused, saying he would “die on the way” and leaving me to plod up with his sister and her husband (both of whom I am very grateful to for coming with me).

Our ascent took around 2 hours. Zayn joined the queue as we left and arrived to the top just 15 minutes before us. Considering the journey up takes just minutes, that means a good hour and a half in the queue. Just saying!

The views from Table Mountain over the city are worth every second of the trek, too, especially when visibility is as good as it was on the day. It is really worth checking out the weather forecast, though, to avoid the disappointment of being stuck inside a cloud.

Botany geeks would also be excited to know that Table Mountain is home to 2,200 different species of plants – more than the entire United Kingdom! There is even a plant that can leave you with nasty burns that take three weeks to heal, so careful what you touch up there.

In 2012, Table Mountain was officially named one of the seven new wonders of nature, along with the Amazon rainforest, Vietnam’s Halong Bay and Argentina’s Iguazu Falls, so it really is worth a visit.

If I go back again though, I am bringing my climbing gear. The mountain itself, and the region around it, is just begging to be climbed (and it is already popular with climbers worldwide)!

A night out…the Durban way

A blog post is supposed to begin with the most memorable moment of an event you are describing…well, the most memorable moment of my night out in Durban was standing in the middle of a backyard garage at 3am with three not-so-sober blokes twice my size (whom I knew, at least!).

Eating a ‘Johnny’s’ at the end of a night out in Durban is a rite of passage, they told me. But what is a ‘Johnny’s’? That was kept a secret until this very moment, possibly because one could agree to eat this only after drinking a considerable amount of beer and cocktails.

That is how I came to be standing in the car park, staring at a large hand-written sign in the window displaying a menu, and wondering why there was only one thing available with variable amounts of cheese on it – ranging from “chip single cheese” for 27.50 South African rand (around £1.50) right through to “CHIP TWENTY X CHEESE” (twenty?! Twenty times cheese?!!!).

We got a single cheese. It turned out to be a roti wrap the size of my forearm filled with chips, (definitely more than a single serving of) cheese and curry sauce. A heart attack in a wrap, or THE perfect end to a night out? My friend Zayn and I shared one, but even half of it was the size of my face. I am pleased to say I finished my half.

We drove to a place called The Cube to eat our ‘Johnny’s’ (the dubious decision to drive after a night out is a discussion for another post!). The Cube is essentially a grassy hill looking over the city, with a cube-shaped art installation in one corner (hence the name).

As we sat there, staring at the lights and stuffing our faces with gooey carbs, I thought back to the classy way the evening had started. We went to the most upmarket cocktail bar in Durban, so classy it sits away from the main party streets to attract a more refined clientelle.

The bar, called Lucky Shaker (http://luckyshaker.com/), opened in Durban only a few months ago and is modelled on some of New York’s swankiest cocktail bars. It served plenty of pink drinks to match my pink dress, and I didn’t even notice I was drinking alcohol – a sign of a good cocktail bar!

The most innovative drink on the menu was the Marshmallow Fizz: a sweet milky concoction which comes with a s’more on the side – an American invention of marshmallow and chocolate melted between two pieces of biscuit.

“At least we started classy!” I thought, chewing on my last mouthful of chips, cheese and curry. I suppose I was warned I would put on a few pounds in this part of the world.

About me: In search of adventure everywhere

This blog has taken many shapes already in the short time it has existed, but increasingly it is gravitating towards climbing-related topics, as I am a little obsessed with the sport.

I’ve spent most weekends this summer outdoors learning to climb on different types of rock and in different styles. So far, my climbing partner Valentina and I have covered North Wales, Sheffield, the Wye Valley, Southern sandstone and limestone in Frankenjura, and we also have a trip to Italy coming up, and climbing plans in warmer climes in the winter.

Recently, myself, Valentina and our friend Tamsin embarked on an ambitious project to create videos, vlogs and blogs about everything to do with climbing and our lifestyle as we learn and develop our new skills.

The project goes under the name Vertical Souls. We have a Facebook page and a YouTube channel, and this blog will act as the written outlet for our thoughts and experiences.

Please follow us, like our Facebook page, and give us all the support you can! We are very committed to making this project work long term.

Thank you, and happy adventuring 🙂

Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.