University of Cape Town, on the Cutting Edge

I got to spend a day at the renowned University of Cape Town here in South Africa and was impressed by a number of things. I believe the last time I was at a University building was when I was completing my Bachelors programme in the North of England.

The Lab I spent most of my day in

The University of Cape Town was a pleasant surprise. To my embarrassment, I’d never even heard of the University. Having spent only a couple of hours there I was wishing I knew this place existed when I was 19 years old and trying to decide where I would go to University.

Firstly, the University of Cape Town is located in the most stunning of settings with the formidable Table Mountain hovering over it.

Secondly, it is a very diverse University setting with over 100 nationalities represented as we were told by the Vice Chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng. The diversity is obvious as students of all colours course through the University’s buildings.

Mamokgethi Phakeng

Thirdly, interesting and much needed research is being held at the University. I spent the day within the Civil Engineering Faculty learning about research based on Water. I was at a lab using Urine (yes, you heard correctly) as it’s main base to find solutions to fertilisers and even sustainable building materials.

I now have my Bachelors and also my Masters degree. I do not plan on getting a Doctorate at the moment, but if I did, I would highly consider the University of Cape Town.

Cape of Good Hope

Today was a day of significance and firsts.

The significant bit is I got to the southern most part of the African continent today! I feel like such an explorer. The Cape of Good Hope is right at the tip of the continent and is spectacular to behold. It is characterised by furry, green hills on one side with ostriches and Elands. On the other side, it is bedazzled by the sea with crashing waves to boot. Jutting into the waters are layered rock formations.

In terms of firsts, I saw Ostriches. They are as intimidating as they seem on screens. Tall, nonchalant and feathered to a T!

Though not a first, it is worth commenting on. I witnessed a Baboon, with a baby Baboon on its back, wrestle some sort of cardboard object from a woman’s hands. It had attempted, and failed, to steal the woman’s handbag but succeeded in snatching the cardboard object instead. The theatrics of it all, amidst the dramatic beauty of the Cape of Good Hope, added a magical tone to the unfortunate incident.

Happy Birthday Madiba!

This day, 104 years ago, a hero was born. To think I get to reflect on the life of Nelson Mandela while in Cape Town, a few kilometres from where he was imprisoned for believing in the equality of all people regardless of skin colour, is definitely a humbling experience I never foresaw.

South Africa has never been on my list of countries to visit. I did not want to grapple with the reality of being on my continent but in a country where Black people still face prejudices…..on their own soil. This has always baffled me and made me super uncomfortable and as such avoidance felt best.

However, here I am now, due to the responsibilities of work, feeling grateful to be on the same soil that the great Nelson Mandela once trod. To be in the country that birthed him, on the day he was birthed, over a century ago..

The social stratification by skin colour is optically evident in Cape Town. There is much to personally unpack and understand about the past, present and future of this nation. Today, though, I choose to celebrate the legend that was born on this day.

The elixir of life and should one climb Table Mountain?

It’s a few days in the lovely Cape Town with my idyllic room looking up at the magnificent beauty that Table Mountain is.

Discussions with colleagues have naturally drifted to the topic of possibly hiking up Table Mountain, one of the most iconic jewels of South Africa. One of us is an avid climber who reassures me I am fit enough to hike the steep trail up in about an hour.

Thing is, I hate walking and hiking and prefer running. Running up the trail happens to be out of the question as the outcome will likely be me being evacuated by an emergency rescue flight. I however cannot pass up the opportunity to journey up the trail. Let see…

On other news, I got quite ill today, and I am now cooped up in my room till health is restored. In high spirits though, as I am certain health will be quickly restored and my adventures in the southern-most capital city in the world will re-commence! Triumph is inevitable!

Health Elixir

30 Days in South Africa

It’s absolutely atrocious that my last post was in 2020!

I have missed the pleasure of writing (almost) everyday.

However, I have had more reasons to put pen to paper than before (not that one needs a reason to soliloquise on paper!).

One of those reasons is Cape Town. This city is absolutely stunning and my window, fortunately, overlooks the back of Table Mountain. How can I not be inspired! And, rather unusual for me, I will be here for a long time. The longest I have been away from home since 2013.

A glimpse of outside my window

I am in the perfect location for capturing thoughts, musings and philosophisings.

A water fountain and it’s mountain companion

I am a bit rusty with this writing thing but I want to give it a go again and hope you’ll journey with me.

30 Days in South Africa

Post-Quarantine List

While there are a number of reasons to stay positive within the current lock down situation, there are many reasons to await its end.

Also, different life circumstances mean whilst some can use this time wholesomely, others are being crushed by it.

In order to keep hope alive I started working on a to-do list. This list contains a few activities I look forward to once we are all set free.

The thing about being on lock down is I suddenly want to do things like take photography lessons, which I have never really been interested in. It is giving new dreams and hopes, big and small!

  1. Hug my family tight when I first see them again.
  2. Re-learn how to drive funny story, I learnt to drive 11 years ago and then forgot how to….
  3. Perfect my swimming skills
  4. Take photography classes
  5. Have a picnic
  6. Continue Salsa classes
  7. And of course, TRAVEL! Thinking maybe North Macedonia or Portugal 🤔✈️💭

So that is my abridged list, what are you dreaming of doing once movement and social gatherings are back to normal?

How to travel when you can’t travel

Sometimes life throws curveballs which mean travelling is not possible. So how can you feel the excitement of planning for a new trip, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and learning new words in a foreign language without actually going anywhere? Well, here are few ways I travel when I actually can’t:

1. Pinterest: I don’t know about you but Pinterest is my ultimate go-to for dreaming about what could be if…let’s say when, everything falls into place. Pinterest is essentially an online vision board. I gather pictures of my hopes and dreams on there. I have a board on Pinterest which is plastered with hundreds of pictures of travel places and I can spend quite a bit of time just going through them and telling myself that one day I won’t be looking at a picture of a beautiful place but be at THE place itself, experiencing it. And indeed I have been to many places that were just a picture on my Pinterest board.

2. Travel shows and books: Similar to Pinterest, travel shows on Netflix or travel books inspire me and give me ideas of places to go and things to do when I get there. One of my current favourite travel shows is on BBC and it is called “Race across the World”. A number of pairs of people are given the same amount of money it would cost them to get to a far flung destination by flight but can only go by land or sea. It is EPIC. This is the second season where they basically go across the Americas with less than $2000. Travelling by land or sea obviously takes longer and means you experience many things you miss when you fly over countries. I also enjoy reading travel publications, not so much the guides though. For instance, a current read is Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2020”.

3. Authentic Restaurants: Going out to eat or ordering food, once in a while, from restaurants that serve dishes from around the would also shrinks space between countries. You get to enjoy delicious dishes from across the world without having to travel across the world. Now the task here is trying to find real authentic representations as opposed to watered down variants.

4. Connecting with People: Most people have a variety of friends from different parts of the world or different parts of a country. Speaking to them and hearing their stories is a great way to see the world. Essentially, when you connect with someone from somewhere different, you are seeing through their eyes. If you’re lucky and the person is a particularly good storyteller, you can even taste the foods they talk about and smell the scents that accompany it and hear the sounds. The traveller at heart loves stories. Travel is full of many opportunities for stories and people tell stories. So connect with people and they give you wings to see the world. And these days, speaking to a friend in a different country may mean they actually show you around through a video call!

5. Reminisce: If you are on this blog, chances are you’ve been travelling before. Why not go through old photos of recent trips or trips that are actually beginning to fade from your memory. Remembering past travels sparks memories of the experiences you had and is a great way to relive a journey.

5 Things to do in Madrid, Spain in a Day!

1. Have some churros at Chocoletaria San Gines. It’s an institution. And has been selling delicious churros for centuries. They give you a cup of warm thick chocolate to dip your churros in.

Look at that chocolate….

2. Go to the Prado Museum. I have a love hate relationship with most European museums I have been to, especially the arty ones. This is because people of colour are either completely erased or are more often than not depicted in positions of servitude. Nevertheless, the Prado is one of my fave museums and it houses the very famous Bosch triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights.

3. Visit Malasana if you like quirky, indie spaces. Also, there are quite a few vintage shops around the area.

4. Stroll down Gran Via, which is the equivalent of London’s Oxford Street or Paris’ Champ d’elysee. It’s a long blingy street full of shops. You can get some delicious ice cream along the way at Borgonesse which serves absolutely delicious ice cream!

5. Go to El Retiro Park for a run, a picnic or just a leisurely wander. It is a huge park offering a respite from city life.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is the youngest city I have ever been to and it looks like the young development that it is. The whole of Dubai sprang up only a few decades ago so everything looks new, clean and oddly perfect. It felt like walking into a new but furnished mansion that hasn’t been lived in. Dubai looks like a “show city”, the perfect city you sell to people, a dream, an aspiration.

View of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa

However, there is an area in the city called old Dubai, which I will talk about later on. Now old Dubai looks more like a well-lived in space with all the quirks, character and anomalies that emerge as things get older.

I was in Dubai for 4 and a half days in November 2019, which was a pleasant time to go as its their “winter”, meaning the sun isn’t so hot that you’re tempted to peel your own skin off. We had bearable temperatures of about 20 to 25 degrees celsius during the day which is my happy place, weather-wise.

I stayed at Five hotel. As at November, 2019, the hotel had only been open for a few months. It is cool and fresh, with interesting architecture – the whole 50 something floors of the hotel is in a cylindrical structure. Never stayed in a circular hotel before! Talk about thinking out of the box, literally! The hotel is definitely geared towards young 20 somethings (or the young at heart) as the pool side is a makeshift bar with loud music playing from afternoon till evening almost daily.

So, what did I get up to in this Emirati City?

  • Desert Experience – I had an amazing afternoon/evening organised by an experience curating company called Carlton Noble Group. We were picked up by a four by four at around 3pm. The vehicle could fit 6 people, and already had one couple in it when myself and my friend were picked up. We collected one more couple from their hotel and then headed to the desert. We went dune bashing (where the four by four takes us on a rollercoaster ride up and down the many dunes), quad biking and camel back riding. We also watched a nice show out in the desert under the night sky – there were dancers and a fire breather. The food served was simple but delicious and even had vegetarian options (Hello, I’m Sope and I’m a Vegetarian). A henna service was also part of the experience. We were delivered back to our hotel around 10pm that same day. I was pleased we went for the Carlton Noble option as it meant less crowds. As said earlier, there were 6 people in our car whom we had most of the experiences with, so no waiting around for quad bikes or anything. Also, at the location, (where we watched the night entertainment) there was only about 40 of us all together. On our way to the location, we saw other groups having similar experiences in much bigger groups. We paid a little more for our less crowded experience and it was worth every penny.

  • The Burj Khalifa – Of course we went up the Burj Khalifa – but it was my least favourite experience in Dubai. You know how our desert experience was amazing because we were in a small group? Well, our Burj Khalifa experience was meh, because it was way too busy and crowded – understandably so. We got our tickets online and the ticket included a visit to the Burj and also entrance to the Dubai Mall Aquarium. We paid about $60 for both sites and I believe entry to just the Burj costs the same amount, so I am happy we found this bargain. The Burj is stunning and breathtaking – when you are looking at it from outside on the ground. The Burj becomes a gigantic screen after 6pm showing colourful graphics just as the famous Dubai Fountain displays, just beside it, begins. Experiencing the Burj Khalifa from the outside is fun and less claustrophobic. You really do appreciate human ingenuity. Inside, however, there are way too many people, so the queues are quite long, except you get some sort of queue-jumping ticket. Once up the Burj, there are people everywhere fighting for the best spots to take panoramic pictures of sprawling Dubai and the Gulf Sea below. We struggled to take good pictures with our phone cameras and finding a clear vantage spot to take a picture was next to impossible. Once you finally get a spot, you can’t comfortably stay there long enough to get a good shot as you can see others wanting to use that same spot huffing, puffing and staring at you, waiting for your exit from the prime piece of space. By the way, most tourists, like ourselves, can only get to the 124th floor of the Burj as opposed to the actual top floor which is the 163rd.
The Burj Khalifa
Selfie atop the Burj Khalifa
  • Dubai Fountain – The glorious Dubai fountain, located beside the Burj Khalifa, deserves a mention of its own. It is the world’s largest choreographed water fountain display. The display is on at certain times of the day and it is just an amazing creative spectacle. The company behind building the fountain is the same one responsible for the famous fountain in Las Vegas by the Bellagio Hotel. Apparently, the music that is played alongside the water display is tightly controlled and chosen by either the company that operate it or by EMAAR Properties, the developer.
  • Aquaventure – I LOVE water and I love slides and rollercoasters. So, for me, waterparks are the perfect combination! I recently learnt to swim (a story for another day) and going to a waterpark was a perfect way to celebrate and try out my new found confidence in water. I have been to a waterpark before in Greece, but I spent a lot of the time slightly paranoid that I may drown and latching on to my friends legs to buoy myself. This time, at Aquaventure waterpark in Dubai, I handled myself in water much better. I loved Aquaventure, it is not an overwhelming park in the sense that you can go on all the rides in a day easily and also go to the beach. However, it is overpriced as these sorts of places always are. I did cringe forking out over £70 for the experience but I REALLY wanted to go as I REALLY LOVE waterparks! Aquaventure is right beside the humoungous Atlantis hotel on the Palm. There is also a Dolphin experience next to Aquaventure, where you can watch Dolphin shows and swim with them. You need a separate ticket for that. After splashing, sliding and floating around at Aquaventure, we had a more sedate experience at Hakkasan, the famous International Chinese restaurant which is also at Atlantis, so a few mins walk from Aquaventure. I highly recommend Aquaventure. If you do go, let me know how the Leap of Faith body slide is, I did not have the courage to make that drop….
  • Old Dubai – You must visit old Dubai. Old Dubai is really nothing like the Dubai you see on TV. It is more traditional and not as perfect as “new” Dubai. It’s in old Dubai you will find the souks such as the spice and gold souks. We got to old Dubai by crossing a river on a 1AED per person boat which was a nice chill evening experience before our wander in the markets. You can also just get a cab to old Dubai if you’d rather. Old Dubai is more vibrant and less plasticy. New Dubai is like your glossy perfect over-achieving cousin and old Dubai is the spontaneous rogue cousin that doesn’t care what you think of them and their crazy hair.
  • The Dubai Mall – Now I can’t talk about Dubai and not talk about the consumerist temple that is the Dubai Mall! People actually come to Dubai solely to shop at this vast outlet which boasts thousands of stores. Apparently, in 2011, the mall attracted more visitors than the whole of New York City! The mall is so huge that it has a luxury hotel, an ice rink, an aquarium (which I visited) and many other attractions besides shops. It really is a mind boggling experience to be in a mall that huge. I usually hate malls as I prefer an outdoor shopping experience, I tend to fill jammed in inside enclosed malls but for some reason I didn’t feel as claustrophobic as I thought I would at the Dubai Mall. I would suggest that the Dubai Mall management initiates indoor scooters or motorised vehicles of some sort that people can hire, because after a while, it becomes an existential pain in the back to take even one more step.
Inside the Dubai Mall

I also visited the Dubai Mall aquarium which was a part of my Burj Khalifa package, the aquarium is much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. On the outside, you get a sneak peek of all sorts of sea life including sharks and huge sting rays. Inside, however, there are many more creatures including two enormous crocodiles to see and birds flying around freely.

Dubai is quite an expensive place to be in but like most places in the world, you can always find restaurants and hotel options that are more pocket-friendly if you look close enough. Something else not to miss out on is the variety of cuisines available in Dubai. Dubai is made up of over 70% internationals, so local Emiratis are actually in the minority. Hence, there are restaurants offering delicacies from all over the world.

In terms of hospitality, I found the people welcoming and kind generally speaking and I also felt safe through out my stay even late at night when outside.

A note on what to wear – Although Dubai is in the UAE which of course is a conservative muslim nation, you can dress as you please there. Dress the way you’d normally dress in the summer, and for most people this includes shorts and tank tops. Don’t wear anything crazy, as I assume you won’t at home, and you’ll be fine.

I really enjoyed my final trip of the year in Dubai and if there is one place I wish I went to and didn’t, it would be the Burj al Arab, which is the iconic sail boat structure that houses a seven star hotel. They do high tea and brunches and if it wasn’t that we’d run out of time, I’d have loved to go.

Delicious Dates from Bateel

Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey

Turkey was my first venture into the Arab world and it was as vibrant as expected.

I aim to celebrate each birthday in a different part of the world and this year was not any different – I celebrated my last year in my 20s in Turkey!

Istanbul has the buzz and hustle of most big cities across the world. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the bazaars – I love markets. I usually hate crowds but I can abide the madness of a good market, I am after all a true Lagosian. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is apparently one of the biggest covered markets in the world. It is crammed full of stalls, merchants, their wares, shoppers and tourists. The Grand Bazaar has on offer a wide variety of things and I was especially taken over by the spices and teas! Everyauthentic market always has an abundance of merchants feverishly calling out for you, and it’s no different when at the Grand Bazaar. The only thing is the soliciting for customers turns weird when it happens to be three Black women (me and my friends) who are the buyers. The sellers, all men (I don’t recall seeing any female sellers) kept calling us various female African-American celebrities – from “Beyonce” to “Rihanna” 🥴. It’s getting old (was the same in Greece too).

 

Something I highly recommend experiencing whilst in Istanbul is to take the 45min (about, there is a fast boat and a much slower one. We took the faster option) boat ride to Buyukada Island. It is the largest of the 9 Prince’s Islands. Its a serene dream! It has no cars except working vehicles like trucks, and I only saw a couple of those. The main mode of moving around especially for tourists is by horse and carriage. The houses are huge and terraced. There is greenery everywhere. It looked like what I imagine a Caribbean Island to be. Some people find the Island depressing and indeed it is an Island that feels trapped in time but I found it to be a respite from the bustle of Istanbul main land.

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We also visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia started out as a Greek Orthodox cathedral AD 537 and at that time was an architectural feat! The Blue Mosque seemed to be undergoing some sort of renovation when we went in May, 2019 but I still found it worth seeing. Especially memorable was me and my friend trying to sneak in with what is considered inappropriate clothing and being caught swiftly by one of the guards who yelled “dress problem!” I suppose we wouldn’t have gotten far anyways even if we made it into the mosque. Thankfully, there is a place nearby to rent long skirts and scarves for free. A more sensible approach is to plan ahead and wear a long skirt/trousers and bring a scarf along. That way you avoid having to wear borrowed, possibly rarely washed, oversized garments 🤷🏾‍♀️.

On one of the evenings in Istanbul we went on a boat cruise. It had belly dancers and whirling dervishes and a very fun MC. My advice with this is to pay more to go on a classier cruise. Ours, though fun, was a bit over-packed and the food could have been better. We saw other nicer and quieter boats pass by and wished we’d paid a bit more to go on one of those.

Also, we had a Turkish bath at one of the oldest Hammams in the city and felt like new people afterwards! There are several things you really must do whilst in Turkey such as having delicious Turkish delights and visiting bazaars, another must-do is having a Turkish bath, it is purely mandatory. This is the one we went to, which I highly recommend.

CAPPADOCIA

The highlight of my time in Turkey was in Cappadocia. Cappadocia is a semi-arid region in Turkey which is about half an hours flight from Istanbul. It felt like being on Mars… with scores hot air balloons (instead of space ships) floating around. For most people, Cappadocia would fit on their ‘World’s Remarkable Places’ list. Jutting out of the ground all over Cappadocia are conical natural rock/sand formations. It does make you feel like you have left planet earth.

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There are various tours of Cappadocia and there is quite a lot to see from sprawling underground cities that hid thousands of refugees to churches carved into rocks. The popular tours are named after colours and I went on the Green Tour which is a day tour starting at 9am and ending at 6pm. You are picked up and dropped off at your hotel. On this tour I went to the Goreme Open Air Museum, Pigeon Valley, a Turkish Jewellery shop (featuring the most beautiful precious and semi-precious stones), a gift shop (which I am sure the tour company struck some sort of deal with which meant they dropped scores of tourists at the shop everyday as an ‘opportunity to try Turkish sweets’) and Ihlara Valley. I actually spent most of my birthday trekking though the Ihlara Valley, which is the second largest canyon in the world. The trek ended in a restaurant selling not great food, but the outdoor seating by a long stream in the depths of the valley made it bearable.

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Cappadocia is very famous for its cave hotels and we stayed in one of them. Again, it was quite the experience, being shrouded around by cool rock walls in the belly of the caves (ok, I exaggerate, not really the belly of the caves like the photo above of me in one of the many underground cities, more like at the precipice of a cave…)but I found it quite calming and grounding.

Istanbul and especially, Cappadocia were a delight and Cappadocia really did feel like an outer-worldly experience. Turkey is truly a city offering many worlds; it straddles both Asia and Europe,  Christianity and Islam. It’s spices and teas are reminiscent of the east and empires long gone. It truly is an exquisite ride on a pendulum that swings in many directions.

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