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The breathtaking beauty of Zambia will remain in the heart forever
Posted on the 19th July 2012 in the category travel



There are not many places on earth where you can microlight over one of the seven wonders of the world before breakfast, but Zambia is one them.

And I’ll never forget it until the day I die, whenever that may be.

The Victoria Falls, the Smoke that Thunders, is where the mighty Zambezi River crashes to earth on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The huge waterfall looks amazing from the riverside but to see it from a microlight as its ghostly mists floated around me was unforgettable.
 
As the wind blew in my face and the African bush stretched out before me I instantly knew I was experiencing one of the best moments of my life.

Being that close to Victoria Falls is to see Mother Nature at her most awe-inspiring, powerful and beautiful best. To be in its midst, and for that matter in its mist, is to get that rare human feeling of being about as inconsequential as a grain of sand on a beach that never ends.

Looking down at the giant falls it really did feel like I was at the end of the world. Surely if there ever is a good way to shuffle off this mortal coil then a one way canoe ride over the falls must be it.

I can give it no more of a compliment than to say I forgot the second verse of Toto’s seminal 1980s hit Africa which I was singing as I circled above this remarkable natural phenomenon.

My German pilot must have thought I was barmy but when I calmed down he said in a very matter of fact way: “They say the first time you visit Africa it breaks you’re heart and you keep on have coming back to pick up the pieces.”

All I could think about was how fast I could raise the money to come back to this wonderful place, broken heart or not.

After getting back on land it was time to take to the skies again, this time in a helicopter, another first for me. This time I had more time to look at the amazing animals running free below me and I felt as if I was in the middle of a BBC nature documentary. I’m not surprised why David Attenborough always has a grin on his face.

And all this before breakfast.

And after seeing one of the wonders of the world I suppose it was only right to start the day off with champagne and steak at The Royal Livingstone Hotel, where we had arrived the day before.

I’ve had some memorable welcomes at hotels in my life but I doubt anything will ever beat arriving in style at the Royal Livingstone Hotel which, along with the neighbouring Zambezi Sun resort, is owned by Sun International.

Shortly after stepping off the plane at ramshackle Livingstone airport we embarked onto a water taxi and within minutes we were speeding down the Zambezi River towards the five star hotel and the Falls.

After marvelling at the ‘smoke’ rising from the giant waterfall down river I looked beside the boat and was treated to an exhibition of crocodiles and hippopotamus in their natural habitat. When the engines of the boat died down we heard the sound of singing and sure enough there was a welcome party on the jetty in traditional dress. After stepping on dry land I was immediately given a warm towel, a glass of ice tea and was escorted to the sundeck where lunch was served.

Within minutes staff massaged my hands as I marvelled at the quintessentially African scene before me.

After an exhausting continent crossing journey I thought I had entered heaven on earth and during my ensuing time in Zambia I never had cause to change my mind about this remarkable country.

The Royal Livingstone Hotel kept on confounding my expectations, I’ve never walked out of a chalet before and been confronted by two giraffes staring back at me.

And believe me when the closest you’ve come to one of the majestic creatures is staring through a fence at Dudley Zoo it is an amazing sight.

And I’ve never had zebras wander by as I had a cigarette on the verander. Or for that matter had a gang of mischievious monkeys follow me to the dining room like I was the pied piper. I can only imagine what David Livingstone must have thought when he first arrived in this remarkable place all those years ago.

I’m sure after all his travelling he would have loved to have kicked off his shoes and relax at the Royal Livingstone Hotel’s health spa and enjoyed the various treatments on offer.

Having a massage on the banks of the Zambezi was another first for me, as my aching limbs were rubbed I struggled to stay awake but I couldn’t take my eyes off the playful hippopotamus spraying water around 10 metres in front of me.

A couple of hours later I would be back on the river but this time on The African Queen, a pleasure cruiser which leisurely goes up and down the Zambezi whilst its passengers drink sundowners and marvel at sunsets that only can Africa produce. I had to pinch myself as I sipped a Gin and Tonic whilst gazing at the water beneath me which had turned a magical amber under the suns rays.

Another way to see the beautiful river and countryside of Zambia is the Royal Livingstone Express.

An exquisitely refurbished train steams along the Cecil Rhodes built railway as it’s passengers experience luxury akin to the Orient Express - African style.
After the sun goes down in Zambia the sounds and sights seem just as beautiful. The animals still wander around but at night you usually hear them before you see the moonlight bounce off their eyes.

A thunderstorm put pay to our plans to have dinner under the monkey tree at the Royal Livingstone but sitting beneath the verander and staring at the mighty skies crash and bang was an incredible experience. The warm air, the rain, the sound of the fans above me, and the surroundings really evoked a colonial era long since past. It is simply a wonderful place to have dinner.

The steaks were fantastic on the menu as was the crocodile, springbok and fish and after dinner we retired to the hunting room which the biggest selection of whiskies and cigars in Zambia.

When I awoke the next day it was time to leave with a heavy heart and fuzzy head. I bade farewell to the two giraffes outside my room and said goodbye to the monkeys who followed me to reception. There upon leaving our African friends sang goodbye to our group and I don’t mind admitting a I felt a lump in my throat.

After a pleasurable wait at the wonderfully chaotic Livingstone Airport I embarked the plane for South Africa. As the plane reached into the sky I looked out the window at beautiful Zambia below me.

And thought to myself: “One day I’ll return to pick up the pieces of my heart.”



You'll get more than a whiff of the good stuff in Cologne
Posted on the 20th April 2012 in the category travel



There are not many places where you can smell the essence of a sperm whale’s intestine mucus and then drink like a fish until the sun comes up.

But in Cologne I did both and a lot more besides including seeing the resting place of the bones of the Three Wise Men.

The German city was full of surprises and caters for all type of tourists from a couple celebrating a special anniversary to young bucks wanting a stag weekend to remember.

 

The story of how the German city is associated across the world with smelly stuff is told at the house where the Italian Farina family became the first in the world to create lingering fragrances. In 1709 Johann Maria Farina created Eau De Cologne in honour of the city and in the Farina Haus you can learn how he did it and how generations of his family have continued the tradition.

 

As is en vogue with attractions everywhere someone dressed in period costume, complete with rather tight tights, gave us a guide around the house explaining how perfume was made.Who knew that perfumeries crave the intestine mucus of sperm whales? There of course was the awkward moment when the grown man in the tights and a wig felt a tad self-conscience but he carried on and gamely took us into a centuries old room with pots containing smelly stuff. Needless to say that no-one guessed what the pungent smell in the yellow pot was. Who knew that perfumeries crave the intestine mucus of sperm whales, well, the lucky Irish couple who stumbled on in it on a beach must have because they sold it for thousands at an international perfume auction.

 

What I loved about Cologne was that the city was full of people, good and bad smelling, it was hectic from the moment I got up until the moment I staggered home past 6am. The Germans know how to have fun, the beer kellers run like clockwork, as soon as you finish your glass a man pops up and fills it, in fact unless you cover your beer glass with a beer mat they will fill it up regardless.

 

And unlike many of the world’s great cities, including London, there is no problem finding a drink after midnight, there are plenty of bars and then when one closed at 4am I asked the friendly faced bouncer: “Anywhere else open?” He looked at me as if I was mad and told me to turn right and there were more places to enjoy, obviously as the dawn approached there were less open but it’s great local licensing laws cater for different body clocks.

 

The local tipple Kolsch, a beer popular throughout Germany, is not expensive either cheapening a night out.  And, let’s be honest lads, a very important attraction to any city is how receptive the local ladies are to a bit of Brit bullshit, well I can confirm the Cologne ladies will get chatting at the very smallest conversation opener like “alright babe, have you got a spare snout” resulted in some wonderful conversations. And don’t just think it is blonde butch beauties that are around for the lark there is a cracking immigrant population which includes African, Brazilian and Indian, all of which are receptive to the ol’ UK charm.

 

Cologne is German’s oldest human settlement and sits on the mighty Rhine, there is a lot of history to the place, including new found Roman ruins, but not many historic buildings due to the carpet bombing of the city in the Second World War. Thankfully the RAF crews left the majestic cathedral standing as they used it for as a landmark to navigate from. The huge cathedral took centuries to build, and now its blackened walls rise up into the sky and take the breath away.

 

Outside there was a real carnival atmosphere with street performers and various characters in fancy dress jostling people for photographs, we even got to see two middle aged men sprayed from head to foot in gold having a blazing row over their pitch. Inside there is beautiful and ornate expressions of Catholic love for idolatry and you could spend hours just looking at the stain glass windows alone. On January 6 the silver doors are opened so people can see the decaying skeletons.

 

Our guide told us proudly the altar, which contained what looked like a miniature solid silver and gold church, housed the remains of the Three Wise Men. Stolen from Palestine, and mugged from Italy centuries ago, the remains have a bizarre and bloody history and on January 6 the silver doors are opened so people can see the decaying skeletons.

Whether you believe they are the real Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar or not it helps explain why Cologne was a Medieval powerhouse in Catholic Europe.

Just a stone’s throw from the cathedral is the Museum Ludwig which houses one of Europe’s biggest contemporary art collections.

The whistle-stop tour took hours but I could have happily spent the whole day wandering amongst the Picassos, Andy Warhols and countless other priceless artefacts.

 

Other great attractions in the city include the Romana-Germanic Museum which will get any history-buff in a lather and the Chocolate Musuem which is a firm favourite with ladies who love the dark stuff and children who can gorge themselves on free samples. Cologne has plenty of shops, from department stores to boutiques, and needless to say in the run up to Christmas the whole city is transformed into one big Christmas Market with hundreds of traders turning up from across Germany to sell their wares. The vast array of sausages on sale at the markets were worth the short hop to Cologne alone and if you like your meat then belly-filling servings of pork, beef and venison are available in restaurants across the city and at a reasonable price.

 

However, thankfully the only place you’ll find sperm whale intestine mucus is in the cologne.



 

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