Saturday, November 10, 2007

Staying at Aintree Lodge




















In Pietermaritzburg we stayed at Aintree Lodge from October 3rd to October 5th, and one night from October 7th to October 8th. I have seen fancier hotels on my journeys, but at a price of around €50 a night, it was absolutely I place I can recommend. Still there were a number of improvements to suggest to the owners, but the staff of the lodge provided great service. I can therefore highly recommend Aintree Lodge for those of you visiting Pietermaritzburg. It is worth every Rand!!

Location: BBBB

Aintree Lodge is located at the end of Alice Grainge Road in Scottsdale, a quiet residential neighborhood in Pietermaritzburg. The Lodge is however very close to the N3 highway, and there you can clearly notice the heavy traffic when seated outside. This, however, did not seriously affect our stay at the Lodge.

Service: BBBBB-

Aintree Lodge had a staff that provided good service during our stay. It is particularly important for me to thank the woman in charge, as she stepped in for the proprietress that was on vacation in England. She had no previous experience from the hotel business, buy she did a truly great job for us.

The only think to put my finger on was some lacking service during breakfast.

General Hygiene and maintenance: BBBBB-

The rooms were well cleaned and maintained, but some of the window frames were a little distressed.

The bathroom were tiled, but they should have been some maintenance that would improve the hygienic standard. There were areas where cracks had appeared and that had collected some dirt. This was, however, not a large problem at this state, but the bathrooms may appear less appetizing if these damages are not attended to.

The reception area and the dining room were very well attended to. In general, Aintree Lodge offers a good hygienic standard to the guests, but it may get a little better.

The rooms: BBBB

I stayed in two rooms. The first had an extra bed, and could accommodate a whole family. Tone, one of my traveling companions, got a large family room with two levels the last night, with five beds. So this is definitely a place to travel if you need to accommodate a whole family.

The first room was a little dark, as it was located in the shade, behind trees and bushes. If you are allergic to mosquitoes (as I am) you are well advised to pick a room away from the inner garden area, as here there were fewer mosquitoes there. My lower arms and my legs were covered with bites the first morning I woke up as I had been sitting outside during the hot evening with a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. That changed the course of the trip, for my part.

The second room was at the end facing the partly forested terrain on the lower part of the garden. Here you faced grasslands with acacias

The interior of both rooms were nice and cozy, and the beds were large and comfortable, perfect for my taste. You had a hot water kettle where you could make a good mug of coffee in the morning and a fan hanging down from the ceiling providing relief during the heat of the night.

Both bathrooms were tiled, one with a bathtub (hooray!!), the other with a shower.

Both lacked somewhat in standard and maintenance, but at the price, I was very satisfied with the overall standard of my room.

Both rooms had a seating area outside where you could sit down and admire the South African spring.

Breakfast: BBBB

Breakfast was included. Scrambled eggs, bacon and spicy sausages. As we arrived, however, there were not much left of the stuff, and what was there was rather cold. What we definitely found lacking was the fact that we did not get freshly made coffee, but had to mix our own from instant coffee. Instant coffee is a definite no-no for breakfast. Get a proper coffee machine and serve you guests the real thing.

Aintree Lodge provided a breakfast for all tastes. Muesli, yogurt, milk, jam, and toast. The only thing I missed (except the coffee) was whole grain or brown bread.

The scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage tasted good (even lukewarm), and after two slices with jam I was happy. But try to achieve a better score!! It would be so easy for you - just make proper coffee!!

Price: BBBBB

To stay at 50€ a night deserves the highest score.

Rating the Aintree Lodge Experience: BBBB+ (4,45 points)

Recommended at Pietermaritzburg. Bring you own mosquito repellent, though! How to get to the top. Check your bathrooms and make proper coffee for breakfast. I'll check this the next time I visit.

Address:

Aintree Lodge
31 Alice Grange Road
Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg, 3201
Phone : 033-386 7956
Cell : 083 270 1218
Fax : 033-346 0480
Email : b-b@aintreelodge.co.za
Official website here

More hotels?

See other hotel reviews here on Enjoy Food & Travel

The city of Pietermaritzburg


















Pietermaritzburg is the administrative centre of the KwaZulu-Natal province, bordering Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. Its eastern coastline is embraced by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and the province has a wide variety of climate zones, plants, and animals. Pietermaritzburg is a fast growing urban area just one hour away from Durban, and is estimated to have around 500000 inhabitants.

We came to Pietermaritzburg as Jan, our guide, has studied here and have friends we wanted to visit. Phumzile is living and working here, and we were to get to know her and her family during our stay in Pietermaritzburg.

The city has a remarkable British feel to it, with a large number of Victorian buildings. Its Victorian past is particularly evident along Church Street, partly a pedestrian area with shops, and offices. Here you find the Court Building with the Empires Coat of Arms over the entrance.

Another impressive building is the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. It was built in 1893, and destroyed by fire two years later, then rebuilt in 1901. It is said to be the largest red brick building in the southern hemisphere, incredible, as Pietermaritzburg is not one of the largest cities south of the equator.

It is located on the corner of Church Street and it high belfry towers over the city. The building has undergone restoration and looks today as magnificent as it was when it was built a century ago.

This in contrast to many of the other Victorian buildings along Church street that were clearly in decay. I sincerely hope that the city administration manage to save the remains of this city's past. I do, however, see the mixed feelings the black population of South Africa may have to these monuments. They will always be reminding them of the painful times of oppression by rulers not native to their country.

Still taking an hour walking around the Pietermaritzburg city center is certainly worthwhile. It is so much to see, as here you find many small entrepreneurs selling all kind of stuff under the old arches.

You could get every thinkable object in one of the small shops along Church street. Electrical appliances, furniture, jewelry, t-shirts and souvenirs. I got a bite in a fast-food restaurant that certainly satisfied me until I could enjoy a late night dinner.

But remember security, as there are so much poverty in South Africa I would certainly be hesitant to enter the small narrow streets that criss crossed the blocks. I may however be over anxious, but better safe than sorry is my motto unless I know that I may relax.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bangkok Joe's



Washington DC is a very international city -- diplomats and professionals from all over the globe come to the capital of the United States to be close to where the decitions are made in the world's only remaining super power. As a result, you can choose from a large number of cool high quality restaurant serving all kinds of exotic food. Bangkok Joe's is one of these.

By Guest writer Susanne Koch

You find Bangkok Joe's in Washington Harbor, a cluster of restaurants located in or around some old harbor buildings right on the Potomac river in charming Georgetown.

The interior decoration is chique and artistic. There are no paintings. In stead there are wall mounted sculptures (pictured) and all the lamps are sculptures as well.

In spite of the posh location and the hip interior, the prices are not bad. In fact, there were quite a few students dining the night I was there. So the athosphere feels 'young'. But the usual Georgetown crew of powerful politicos was there as well.

The menu has a nice mix of classic Thai dishes (including a divine Pad Thai) and some more artistic fusion dishes. I had a hard time making up my mind.

All the dishes my table ordered were pretty, tasty and generous. The service was good and the drinks too :).

If you're dining n Washington DC, you might also want to try The Grill from Ipanema.

Susanne Koch is an Internet professional who works as an e-learning and web communication adviser at the University of Oslo. She blogs about search engines and search engine optimization at Pandia.com. Susanne loves to travel and blogs about her journeys at Susi's Souvenirs. You may also want to have a look at Susanne Koch's homepage.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New destinations, cheaper tickets




















Danish low price airline Sterling open new service Bergen - Copenhagen, and Norwegian Air Shuttle move services from Oslo Gardermoen to the new Rygge Airport, south of Oslo.


Sterling will open up a new destination to Norway. From March 31st, they will fly from Bergen Airport to Copenhagen five times a week. Sterling offers the cheapest tickets at NOK 399 one way (Around €75). As a comparison the lowest price with SAS is NOK 599. (Aftenposten, November 7th 2007)

Norwegian Air Shuttle moves operations to Rygge Airport

The low budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle are operating out from Oslo airport. February 14th 2008, the air carrier starts its first services from the new Rygge airport an hour south of Oslo, and during the spring Norwegian will move more of its activity away from Norwegians largest hub.

Services to 14 different destination will be moved to Rygge, saving travelers 15-20 minutes traveling time. This allows Norwegian to cut prices further, as airport taxes are lower at Rygge than at Oslo airport and the fuel costs will be lower to Rygge as it is south of the Norwegian capital. Aftenposten has learned that services to Belgrade, Marrakech, Szczcecin, Valencia and Istanbul will take off from the new airport during spring.

Rygge airport is located close to the city of Moss an hour with train south of Oslo. It is also easy accessible via a new highway leading directly to the airport. (Aftenposten October 30th 2007)

If traveling from the continent to Norway this spring you may book now and save money. See what Norwegian has to offer to Norway on their low cost calender here

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Leaving for Pietermaritzburg




















October 3rd we traveled from Giants Castle to Pietermaritzburg, a distance that took us around two hours on curvy narrow roads, to the highway, from mountains to the subtropic climate closer to the Indian Ocean.

We were recommended to choose another route from Giants Castle, not back to Estcourt, but down to Nottingham Road and turn right to Highway N3 from there. This brought us through a landscape that actually reminded us more of Central Europe or Scotland, than Africa. Round hills and dense forested areas and we still saw the mighty Drakensberg mountains in the horizon for a very long time.

The sense of being on the British Isles was strengthened further by the fact that most of the names of the area were of Scottish, English, or maybe Irish origin.

What we really found interesting was the number of fires that had scarred the landscape, and we even saw one or two still burning not far from road to the road. It may have been created deliberately according to local farming practice but it strange that both cultivated areas, as well as grasslands and forests had been burnt along our way.

We had a few times, during our drive, been afraid that we had been lost, but as we reached Nottingham Road we knew we were on the right way and close to the N3 Highway. Nottingham Road was a small community with a sign that clearly led us to the main highway connecting Durban with Johannesburg, and we were going south.

As we passed the small town of Howick we drove down the hills leading down to the lower parts of Kwazulu-Natal. As we got closer to the Pietermaritzburg area we once again saw the poverty so typical for the urban areas of this country. Some of the worst townships seen on our trips in the form of small, lousy, wooden sheds, was located just a stones throw away from the heavy traffic.

Finally we could see the capital of Kwazulu-Natal from a high hill and from here there were steep roads down to the city. We clearly noticed the change from the dry cooler air up in the mountains and neighbouring highlands and the humid heat closer to the coast.

We were to stay at the Ain Tree Lodge, not far from the casino for two nights.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The uKhahlamba Caves



















At Giants Castle you can get to the historic uKhahlamba caves, where the the bush-men or San people, and other tribes have left their paintings for 5000 years, from the mist of time up to the 19th century. The uKhahlamba is a historic sight of immense value, a gigantic history book of the area. The meanings behind these paintings are, however, lost in time and shrouded in mystery.

The uKhahlamba is also the native name of the mountains themselves. The "Barrier of Spears" is a beautiful, and very good name on these steep and pointed mountains. Here they lived thousands of years ago until they were driven away from these areas. Today the San people, or the Bush men inhabit less fertile areas, as the Kalahari desert.

But five thousand years ago they lived in the Drakensberg. Here they left deposits through their long history, layer upon layer. The San people were, in turn, driven away by other tribes of hunters-gatherers that stayed here until the white farmers arrived.

There has been no settlement at the uKhahlamba since the end of the 19th century.

We were met by an authorized guide and there only granted access to the caves for a maximum of 20 visitors. Luckily, we were fewer, and none of us had to wait for another hour.

We climbed up wooden stairs located under the large cliff formation. I have to admit, looking up, I was slightly worried that the stones ahead would fall down on us.

There were two caves. At the first had paintings and and a display of how the cave settlement may have looked like (image top). Here there were many old paintings, but the distance to them made it a little difficult to see the faded paintings.

At the next cave, it was far easier to see the motives, as these two strange humans, described as holy men, by the guide. Often you wonder where you get the interpretations like these from, and I may admit that I am slightly skeptical as to what paintings like these may mean.

As I have studied archeology, I know how difficult it is to bridge the long time span between the time we live, and the mythical world, in which the San people lived.

The paintings were beautiful, and the colours were made from blood, ash, and other material and it is remarkable that these natural colours have persisted that long.

But much of the art has been damaged or destroyed through the long history, naturally or as acts of vandalism. Our guide told us, for instance, that some of the paintings had been subjected to heat from camp fires, as soldiers had stayed in the caves. Still the uKhahlamba caves is definitely worth a visit. Both through the process of getting there, and the experience of visiting these strange and magic caves.

As we left, we came out from the shade and the coolness of the caves and watched the beauty of the nature, that has been the scene of thousand of years of the dramatic history of the San people.

We left by a very steep and paved walkway, and as we turned to the left we could see the uKhahlamba, the Barrier of Spears under a cloudless sky. This was the most beautiful day, during our trip, I think. I walked with my friends, along the river on the lush valley floor, knowing that we were leaving that day.

Wednesday, October 3rd - four weeks ago, and still such a long time. We were leaving for the capital of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

Oslo - New culinary discoveries




















Sunday, November 4th. Three very tired men leave my flat in order to find a place to get a decent cup of coffee and something to eat. Why tired? As we went to bed at 3 AM, after the annual Halloween party. Well we were heading for the nearby Grønland area of Oslo to satisfy these needs. We returned four hours later, after lunch and lunch.

Coffee at Con Gusto

Con Gusto is the nicest coffee bar in Oslo, or that is what I think. It is located in Torggata, close to where you cross over the Akerselva river entering the Grünerløkka neighborhood.

Con Gusto has this distinct Italian, Mediterranean feel to it. Here you can get pastry, sandwiches, pizzas, and other delicacies, and they serve a delicious breakfast for a little under €10. I chose a focaccia with mozzarella and tomato and a single latte. Whereas the two party lions were not hungry - yet!!

Address:
Con Gusto
Osterhaus gate 14A
0183 Oslo

Olivia at Aker Brygge - a taste of Italy

Pretty soon after the point that I had my breakfast, brunch, lunch - whatever, the two guys (my friends Øyvind and Stian) suddenly wanted to eat. Øyvind was still dreaming of a pasta dish he had eaten at a new pasta restaurant - Olivia at Aker Brygge.

Aker Brygge, the old Aker wharf area, is now an exclusive shopping mall and residential area close to the Oslo city Hall, but in spite being a regular, I had not seen this relatively new restaurant before.

Olivia was a great place. The prices for the pasta dishes and pizza under offer, were high. Øyvind paid over €20 for a vegetarian pasta. I decided to have an "Antipasto Misto". Øyvind loved the taste of his pasta with parmeggiano that literally floated in a pool of olive oil. The Antipasto Misto is a great choice for lunch. Parma ham, salami, mozzarella, lettuce, olives, pesto, melon, and artichoke hearts served with the most delicious focaccia bread. Presto - breakfast, brunch, lunch number two - and hey a glass of red wine.

Incidentally this is a place for those of you with coeliac disease or allergies. At Olivia you get pizzas made from gluten free flour and for those allergic to nuts, they guarantee that the dishes have no nuts, unless they positively states that they do.

Service!!

Address:
Olivia
Stranden
0250Oslo, Norway
Phone: +47 23 11 54 70
Official website

More dim sum at Beijing Palace

You have seen my review of a Taste of China. I am glad to say that I have found a second place where you can indulge in these delicacies.

At six o' clock I and my friend Ketil entered the Beijing Palace, as I had heard that they served Dim Sum. Beijing Palace is a small restaurant (around 40 seats), and has a very discreet and pleasant interior

There were fewer varieties on the menu, than at the Taste of China. As we had our bottle of Singaporean beer (Tiger), we ordered 2 times four varieties. One of the was Xiu Mai (image) steamed pork and shrimp dumplings. Two other dumplings had meat or shrimp fillings and chives, one with peanuts.

The last one was bean curd dumpling with a crisp pork topping, whereas the bean curd underneath was soft. Interesting experience, they were served with black bean sauce.

Beijing Palace is a good alternative to a Taste of China and we got 8 servings, four pints of beer, and two glasses of wine for around €60. A bargain!!

Address:

Beijing Palace
Pilestredet 27
0164 Oslo
Phone:+47 22 11 08 00

You find the three restaurants and much more on the Oslo map here