Friday, June 29, 2007

Virtual apt. tour, Part 1

We moved in to our new apartment the last week of February and as I mentioned earlier, my father has requested a virtual tour (though he should just come over and visit since the last time he was here was over 7 years ago).

I will start with the kitchen.

I am not sure why the picture is so dark, but you can see that it is a rather large kitchen, especially for Germany. There's our new dishwasher, a gas oven/stove, and our washing machine (Germans often have them in their kitchens, which seems like a weird place to wash your clothes, but since there is no other place in the building to put it, we had no choice). The built-in cabinets we bought from the previous tenants because there is a wacky custom here that when you move, you bring your own kitchen. If we had not bought everything from them, we would've been faced with a completely empty room!! That means NOTHING, not even a light bulb.

Here's another view:

What a tiny freezer (on the bottom of the fridge) - it was the biggest I could find at the time and it's always packed. But it's nice to finally have the cabinet space to store boxes upon boxes of cereal at least :) One of the things I love most about the USA? The seemingly endless cereal aisle. The TSA guys who inspect my suitcases must think I am a nut bringing back so many boxes of Quaker Oat Squares, Rice Chex, Post Great Grains Crunchy Pecan and Yogurt Burst Cherrios (for Daniel).


So that Monday night of my last post, my fever went back up and I got out the ice packs again. My fever finally broke for good mid-Tuesday though I still felt really weak and sick the rest of last week. I did drive myself over to Kelly's on Wednesday for our weekly girls night, but did not do much else of note until Sunday when we took Steve and Kelly to Daniel's mother's for a real German meal at a real German's house.
I am still not feeling 100% great, but hope to finally shake this bug completely (though certainly running through the rain today with Kelly did not help) because I have big weekend plans. Charlotte is coming down from Bremen tomorrow and we are going to the Tori Amos concert on Saturday night here at the Alte Oper. This will be my third time seeing Tori with Charlotte and my seventh time in all (went with bro Nick twice, went once alone and dragged Daniel once). That's a lot of Tori concerts, but my record is still seeing Better than Ezra 11 times back in college.
Then on Sunday morning, I fly to Amsterdam for 3 days for a job. I will be sure to post all about it, and until then, I will entertain you all with a request from my father: a virtual tour of our new apartment. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Malaria Scare

No, I most likely do NOT have malaria. I took Malarone while in Africa. I took precautions (long sleeves and pants, deet, mosquito nets) and only got 6 bites (5 of them in Botswana).

So why did I get tested today for malaria? Well, I got a sore throat Thursday night - bad enough that I thought about cancelling my trip to Berlin with Neue Digitale for an agency party. I did go though since I promised Roanne. We had lots of fun on the 7 hour bus ride there, the boat tour on the Spree and the cookout and party at the Berlin office. We even lucked out and got one of 3 double rooms in the hostel so we didn't have to share dorm rooms with people coming in really late. We did get caught in the rain, which I am sure didn't help my condition. On Saturday morning, we walked around the Ku'damm (main shopping drag where I introduced Roanne to the wonders of Benefit brand make-up) and got a donut at Dunkin' Donuts (we were seriously excited about this as there are none in Frankfurt) before catching a train back to Frankfurt. Saturday evening, Kelly came over and we had dinner downstairs at the Greek restaurant and later Daniel and Chris joined us. My throat wasn't feeling any better, and I started to lose my voice. By the time I went to bed, I was feeling bad - stuffed up and weak.
But once Sunday rolled around, I felt well enough to join Kelly and Daniel for brunch, and Daniel and I finished up the last 2 eps of Prision Break season 1 (great show!!). By evening, it was clear that I was getting worse. I kept waking up with chills and fever all night and this morning, I suddenly remembered something I had read about Malaria in my travel book: "Within a year after travel to a malaria area, if you have flu symptoms, you should get tested for malaria."
I called Daniel at work, had him drive me to my dr. and had my blood drawn for tests. I stayed in bed all day, taking my temperature in 20 min intervals (at one point it was 104 F) and trying to bring the fever down with ice packs. I couldn't concentrate on anything, not even the old Reader's Digest I got from Kelly last week (she's throwing out a lot of stuff in preparation for her move).
Anyway, the Dr. called at 5 pm and said it probably isn't malaria and had me send Daniel to pick up a prescription for antibiotics. And now I feel good enough to write in my blog (forgive me any mistakes that this post may contain).
I should also mention that our dishwasher broke so we are getting a new one delivered this week. It's the one we bought from our neighbors, and is probably a lot older than they say it was.

Monday, June 11, 2007


At our lodge in Victoria Falls, there were tons of warthogs hanging around, mostly eating, but sometimes running or fighting. Many tended to stay in what looked like family groups, mother, father and kiddies. They were really fascinating to watch up close the whole week.

They kneel down to facilitate eating:

This one (missing a tusk) looks like it wanted a treat:

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Chobe NP game drive

Friday morning we did a game drive from 9 am to 1 pm at Chobe NP. If you want to see wild cats and dogs, you have to go earlier in the morning (6 am to 9 am), but then you may see little else. We were advised to do the later drive, so we set off with the guide and a Polish family (who live in Hamburg). They had just been in other parks in Botswana and seen amazing stuff like lions taking down an impala, so they were disapointed with the drive. But for us, it was a chance to see some of the animals closer than ever.

Such as this bird, a lilac-breasted roller - so colorful

And this banded mongoose who was in a bigger group digging for scorpions and snakes

This is as close as we got to getting a close-up picture of a buffalo

Our second encounter with giraffes

Quite a close up of an elephant eating

and a male kudu protecting his territory

The only animals we didn't get to see that I really wanted to see were zebras. Most start coming about mid-June, so the timing just wasn't right.
We did see hyenas finally on our last night at the VF Safari Lodge. That was a real treat!

Chobe river cruise in Botswana

For my birthday, we headed over to Chobe National Park in Botswana (2 hours away) and spent the night in the German run Garden Lodge. In Chobe, you can see a lot more animals and get closer to them than around Victoria Falls and we were not disapointed by our river cruise. Right off the bat, we saw this hippo:

And then a few minutes later, this hippo sunning himself

Daniel was extremely excited to see this crocodile

And of course we saw a ton of elephants on the river bank (Chobe is famous for them)

The river is the border between Botswana and Namibia so part of the time, we were in Namibia territory (me with elephants and the setting sun in the background)

The highlight was seeing some elephants swim across the river. Here is one of them looking like he's wearing something

And then three of them against the setting sun

After the cruise, we had a delicious dinner of impala steak, broccoli and carrots, and rice. And had interesting conversations with the owner's son, a professional rugby player with an accent just like Leonardo DiCaprio's in the Blood Diamond, and one of the staff, Mimi (from Botswana). Overall a very nice birthday!

Hide sit at the watering hole

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge (we stayed in a cabin on the premises) has a watering hole where a lot of thirsty wild animals come for a drink. Thirsty humans sit on the deck of the hotel and watch them. But if you want to get really close up, you have to do a hide sit with a hunter. Why a hunter? Because you have to get to the hide first, which means invading the animals territory and if you come across a lion, a buffalo or an elephant - you want someone with you who knows what they are doing. Again we had the safety speech and what to do in the worst case (Lions - just stand there and stare at them and they'll go away, don't run. Buffalo - throw yourself on the ground and play dead, never run because you can't outrun them and they'll gore you. Elephants - run and hide behind bushes and trees.) All sounds a bit scary, but fortunatly we didn't meet anything on our way there or back.

View of the watering hole and hotel from the hide

First to come to the watering hole are the guinea fowls

Then the impala

and kudu

The buffalo came after the sunset so we didn't get a picture, but one stared us down for quite a while.

Then right before we were about to give up and go back, four male elephants came for a drink. We watched them for awhile and then headed back to the lodge, throwing rocks in front of us since it was dark and we didn't want to run into any hungry jaws!

Canoe trip down the Zambezi

Tuesday morning we rose early once again, this time for a canoe trip. The launch point was deep within Zambezi National Park, so we had to drive for about an hour through the early morning cold. Only one other tourist would be going with us, a really entertaining guy who plays polo for a living and owns 9 polo ponies. The guide scared us with his safety speech, telling us what to do if a hippo attacked us or swam under the canoe and flipped it over (swim for your life - don't hold on to the boat) and to avoid crocs. I decided to go in the boat with the guide! There were actually some rapids on the river as well, which I wasn't aware of when I signed up. But the guide knew how to get through them. Daniel fell off his seat once at one point, but he and Joe H polo stayed in the canoe. We saw lots of birdsand hippos from a distance, but the main fun was just being out on the beautiful river and getting a bit of excercise (my back was really sore the next day from rowing).
I kept the camera in the waterproof lockbox most of the time, but I did get it out once or twice to take a few photos of the scene:
Daniel and Joe H. Daniel was really ambitious and did lots of rowing while Joe took it easy
The guide (just pretending to sleep)
A bird (waiting to see if the crocs or hippos would get us!)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Victoria Falls

We did the walking tour of Victoria Falls on Monday and the helicopter ride above the falls on Wednesday. From the Zimbabwe side, you can look directly at the falls which is why most people prefer it to the Zambia side where you are standing on the falls so can't see as much. There is also the question of rainy or dry season. At the end of May, the rainy season has just passed so there is a massive amount of water in the Zambezi rushing into the gorge. This means that there is so much water mist that when you walk there, it feels like a downpour and at times it is so thick you can't even see the falls (this makes it impossible to take pictures most of the time). If you go six months later, there may be only a trickle and you could even stand on top of the falls on the Zambian side. Now if this was a national park in North America or Europe, it would be wall to wall people, but because of the problems Zimababwe is having right now, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Some photos:

Daniel at the westernmost part of the falls (not so much spray here)

A rainbow in the gorge below the falls (that's the bridge that takes you to Zambia)

The walking tour of the falls is awe-inspiring enough, but for another perspective, it is worth it to take a helicopter ride above the falls. This was my first time ever in a helicopter! Daniel got to sit in the front next to the pilot, so he took some awesome pictures.

Daniel anticipating the flight - you can see the spray from the falls in the background

Amazing how wide the falls are

Of course pictures don't really do it justice - you'll just have to go and see this world wonder for yourself someday.

Dinner at the Boma

To round out our 1st anniversary activites, we ate a traditional african dinner at the Boma "place of eating" restaurant located just across the way from our lodge. The food was amazing. We had a starter of baked mushroom and guinea fowl pate and then a bowl of butternut squash with coconut soup. Then we went to the buffet where we got warthog steaks, ostrich skewers, veggies and potatoes. Daniel had two desserts while I went back for some excellent cauliflower. Daniel was even brave enough to try a Mopani worm for which he got a certificate signed by the chef (he says it was disgusting - bitter and gritty, like vegemite but worse). The entertainment was an interactive drumming session, something that we heard every other night from our room.

Sunset on the Zambezi

The second activity of our anniversary day was a riverboat "sundowner" cruise, known in some circles as a "booze cruise" because of the unlimited amount of free alcohol. We sat at a table with a family from Boca Raton, FL (we discussed the awesome food court at their mall where Daniel and I were in January) whose daughter was going to voluteer at a cheetah rescue in Namibia. We saw our first wild hippos and elephants as well as a gorgeous african sunset.

Walking with lions

After arriving on Saturday, checking in and taking a nap after being awake all night flying, we signed up for a few activities at the hotel. First up on Sunday morning was the Lion Encounter. Our pick-up was at 6:30 am and we were driven out to the place where they have the lions. We watched a video about the project which strives to repopulate the national parks in Africa with lions by reintroducing the cubs of these semi-tame lions into the wild. They also gave us a safety speech and made us sign a release saying we wouldn't sue if the lions mauled and/or killed us! That really revs you up for the experience :) Basically, the idea is that the lions size you up when meeting you: if they smell your fear, they may pester you (and if you run away they may jump on your back) but if you look them in the eye and show your resolve, they accept you into their pride. Although my heart was racing, I passed the test (maybe my sunglasses helped?) and Daniel acted like it was the most natural thing in the world to pet the lions and even scratch them under their chins!

So we walked around the bush and took lots of pictures with three of the lions, two were 6 months old and one was 15 months old. But they were still huge and kept jumping on each other which was pretty scary, especially if you were standing next to one. But they were cute as well.

Then we left those lions and went to meet two, year-old lions. When the new lions saw us coming, they checked us out an apparently decided they liked us because they came up and rubbed against us and made a lion purring sound. So once again we were accepted into the pride.

A few more photos:

Our guides

The only time I touched a lion (not as brave as Daniel)

Daniel's buddy Amanzi

It was funny to think that exactly a year ago we were posing for wedding photos and on our 1st anniversary we were posing with lions. A really special experience that I can recommend to anyone over 14 years old and 1.5 meters (4 ft 9 inches) tall.

Back safe and sound from Zimbabwe

What a trip! It was a wonderful week full of activities including:
  • a walk with lions
  • a sundowner boat cruise on the Zambezi river
  • an anniversary dinner at the Boma traditional restaurant
  • a visit to the Victoria Falls (pictured)
  • a visit to the curio market in VF town
  • a canoe trip down the Zambezi river
  • a helicopter ride over the Victoria Falls
  • a hide sit near the watering hole at the VF Safari Lodge
  • a Chobe river boat cruise on the Botswana-Namibia border
  • a game drive through Chobe National Park

We saw tons of wildlife, and everyone we met in Zimbabwe was so friendly, and not in a "i want to sell you something" kind of way (except the guys at the curio market, who chased us around with carved wooden elephants, but even these guys were non-threatening and much less annoying than their counterparts in North Africa or Asia). So we felt really safe and had a really lovely time. The only unpleasant incidents were that we got our checked luggage a day late, the electricity went out on the day we actually wanted to use our kitchen, and that we got the worst seats on the plane on our long trip home.

Stay tuned for more details and pictures!