A Hot Day in Naples

It is 36º in Naples. Far too hot for DonQui to consider doing much of anything at all.

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Fortunately his hotel — the rather nice Excelsior on the pedestrianised seafront promenade Via Partenope — is nicely air-conditioned. It also has great views over the bay of Naples, with Mt Vesuvius and Capri in the distance, and the Castel dell’Ovo and harbour in the foreground.

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DonQui is quite happy, therefore, to spend the heat of the day simply lazing around the hotel.

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Lunch at the hotel terrace restaurant is pretty good too, if a little on the pricy side.

The Castel dell’Ovo is worth a visit. Not only is it free but the the thick sandstone walls keep the passageways very cool — even in the blistering Naples heat. Although dating back to Roman times, the restored fortification has a distinct 15th century appearance.

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The views from the top are quite magnificent.

Once the worst of the midday heat is passed, DonQui trots out onto the Via Partenope to take a look around his immediate neighbourhood.

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Some of the locals have taken to the water but this is not something DonQui is tempted to do, knowing of the bay’s pretty awful reputation for water quality.

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Naples is not an elegant city. It is chaotic, hectic and ill-disciplined. Although not as dirty and litter-strewn as DonQui remembers it from years ago, the city is still pretty dilapidated in parts.

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Yet it has its own charm – a bit like a naughty child who gets away with mischief due to a cute smile.

Although the city may not be elegant, the Neapolitans, like most Italians, most certainly are.

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Just around the corner from apartments with crumbling facades…

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… are many chic shops and boutiques catering to the well dressed denizens of the city.

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As the sun starts to go down the streets come to life, first for a bit of early evening shopping, then an aperitivo at a favourite bar, followed by a stroll along the promenade and then maybe a little dinner.

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DonQui feels lucky to have found the Officina Bistro, just around the corner from his hotel on Via Santa Lucia for his aperitivo.

 

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Here he sips on an Aperol spritz, nibbles on the various little snacks that are offered and watches the pantomime of Neapolitan street life acted out in front of him.

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By getting here a little early (around 19:00) he and Duchess are able to secure a prime table outside. By 8pm there is a waiting list for tables with many people seated on one of the several benches awaiting their turn.

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The Via Partenope fills with people as the sun sets. Many just taking a stroll, others deciding on which of the many eateries to try out for dinner. There is even a ‘silent party’ with revellers listening and dancing to the music pumped out by 3 DJs over wireless headphones.

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DonQui only spends a day in Naples and as readers can tell he does not really do very much at all. That is probably the best way to spend a hot day in Naples.

Paradise in Saint Lucia

“Welcome to Paradise!” announces the jovial Mr Mugabe as DonQui trots out into the pleasant 28º heat at St Lucia’s Hewanorra airport. It turns out that the taxi driver’s name is McGuiver not Mugabe but DonQui’s ears have yet to become attuned to his West Indian accent.

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A proud St Lucian, Mr McGuiver drives DonQui south along the shore, proclaiming that he has lived on the island all his life and has never been anywhere else. When one lives in paradise it seems a bit pointless contemplating travels to another place.

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And first impressions do seem to confirm Mr McGuiver’s opinion.

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DonQui’s destination is Sugar Beach, a wonderful secluded estate set between the two Piton mountains on a lush hillside that used to be a sugar plantation. At the bottom of the hill is a pristine beach of white sand looking out onto a protected bay on the Caribbean side of the southern tip of the island.

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The accommodation is pretty decent too. DonQui’s villa is set on the hillside complete with plunge pool cascading over the edge of a verandah with views of the bay beyond.

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Inside all is pristine white with every comfort and convenience a globe-trotting donkey might require, including an on-call butler at the other end of a handy local mobile phone. One downside is that the villa is a long stroll from the beach. This is not too bad going down but is a bit of a trek coming back up the hill. Fortunately there are frequent tuc tucs roaming around the estate to whisk people from place to place. The other downside is the price. This sort of luxury does not come cheap but for an occasional indulgence DonQui thinks it well worth the lightening of his purse.

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Evidence of the French manager and French chef can be seen in the elegantly understated details and the quality of the food and drink. DonQui had not expected to be drinking a fine Alsatian Pinot Noir in the Caribbean but he enjoys one here.

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The food excellent but it is not cheap, nor most especially is the wine. There is a price to be paid for a reliance on French imports and although DonQui is a great fan of French cuisine he thinks a nod or two to local dishes with local ingredients would not go amiss.

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As the sun begins to set, DonQuis sips on a complimentary piton beer, listens to the sounds of a rather good jazz duo and looks out over the Anse des Pitons. It would be hard to imagine anywhere he would rather be at this moment.

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The affable resort manager was recently quoted saying that he has tried to create a sanctuary where everyday life is left outside the gates. DonQui thinks he has succeeded.

 

Off for some winter sun

IMG_9786.jpgThe first snow drops may be on their way…

Adnams-Jack-Brand-Mosaic-Pale-Ale-label.jpg… And Don Qui’s favourite Mosaic summer ale may be back on tap at his local.

Both of these are signs that Spring must be just around the corner. But it does not feel like it.

DonQui is heartily sick of the long cold, grey, damp, winter and so he has decided to head off to find some winter sun.

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His flight leaves from Gatwick Airport in the morning. Not being a great early morning animal he decides to stay overnight at the Bloc Hotel which is right inside Gatwick’s Terminal 2 by the departure gates from where his British Airways flight will be departing in the morning.

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A Weatherspoons’ pub is not the sort of establishment Don Qui would normally frequent. There are not any better options so not expecting much Don Qui goes inside in search of some refreshment. While far from gourmet, it is surprisingly OK and reasonable value for money.

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The Bloc Hotel is clean, functional, modern and has a few nice touches. Don Qui has stayed here before and finds the handy location by the departure gates more than make up for the somewhat utilitarian surroundings.

Black Forest Adventures

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After a couple of days in Strasbourg, during which DonQui took the opportunity to have a glass or three of the most excellent Alsatian Riesling (unfortunately very hard to find in the UK), he hires a car and makes his way over to the German side of the Rhine for a brief trip around the Black Forest.

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His starting point is amongst the vineyards of Durbach where, in DonQui’s opinion, some of the best wine in Germany is to be found. None of it is exported so it is a treat he very much looks forward to whenever he is in the region. Those whose who have no experience of German wine, apart from the mass-produced stuff that makes it overseas, may be surprised by the superior quality that the inhabitants of the Rhine valley keep for themselves

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He stays at the most excellent Hotel Rebstock. In high summer season the prices there can be a bit eye-watering but off season it is very reasonable for a top-end establishment.

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The food is superb…

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.. and the atmosphere most congenial.

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In acknowledgement of the cold winter temperatures, they even lit fires in the grounds.

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Beyond the low vine covered hills at the edge of the Rhine Valley lies the Black Forest, so named for the dark pine trees which grow on the slopes of the steep hills (almost low mountains).

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As he descends into the valleys DonQui cannot help but admire the wonderful architecture of the Black Forest farms. The pre-Christmas scene is made more atmospheric by the dusting of snow on the hills. At one point he spies two magnificently antlered Hirsch (large deer) grazing in a meadow.

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DonQui’s destination is Triberg, home of the Cuckoo Clock and also Germany’s highest waterfall. A well maintained walkway allows him to wander up alongside the waterfall where icicles form along the sides.

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On the way back he stops off at the beautifully preserved late-medieval town of Gengenbach. This was a Reichsstadt (Imperial city) in the 15-1700s — held directly by the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna rather than being controlled by local nobles. A Christmas market is in full swing so DonQui takes the opportunity to stock up on a few comestibles.

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The town hall is decorated as an advent calendar with each window representing the days before Christmas.

IMG_9329.jpgWandering through the Black Forest it is hard not to imagine ancient stories of wolves, trolls and fairies. DonQui even spies one dipping her toes in a pond.

Beach Hotel in Zanzibar

On his travels again, DonQui is doing some work in Zanzibar. This pleases him no end since he is more than a little bit fond of the place.

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And it is not hard to see why.

zan-2The historical and architectural attractions of Stone Town, wide sandy beaches, the warm Indian Ocean, spice plantations together with a mix of Arab, Indian, Tanzanian and English influences, make Zanzibar an intriguing and relaxing place to visit.

Apart from the few hustlers in Stone Town (who seem to grow in number every time DonQui visits) the locals are incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming. The pace of life (apart from the chaotic traffic) is slow and laid back.

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DonQui is staying at the Z Ocean View hotel on the beach at Kihinani just beyond Bububu, about 10kms outside Stone Town. It is quiet, very quiet. Indeed there are only one or two other visitors despite the resort’s abundant capacity. Chatting to the manager, DonQui learns that the hotel gets most of its business from local conferences rather than international tourists.

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His room is spacious with a lovely view over the ocean. While comfortable (with fan, air-conditioning and decent hot water) it is not quite up to international standards for the $100 price-tag. A nice touch is the way the maids arrange a towel and flowers on the bed every time they make it. DonQui has encountered this at other places on Zanzibar before so he assumes it is some sort of tradition. The food in the open-air restaurant/bar is good but not outstanding. The staff are all very friendly and helpful.

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The Z Ocean View would not normally be DonQui’s first choice for solo-travel but it could well suit a couple who wanted to get away from everything to enjoy the wide sand beach by themselves. There is another Z Hotel at Nungwi further away on the north shore where DonQui stayed with Duchess quite a long time ago. The Nungwi version is much more of an up-market boutique hotel catering to foreign visitors rather than conferencing locals.

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A morning walk along the beach revealed no humans part from a lone woman checking the fish traps. He wonders that if westerners could learn to bend with such a straight back whether the incidence of back injuries would be lessened.

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In the early morning light the islands in the distance appear to be floating between sea and sky.

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The fishing fleet is stranded on the sand waiting for the tide to come back in.

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When it does, in the early evening, the locals come out to populate the shrunken beach and to enjoy the water as well as each others’ company.

Dar es Salaam

DonQui likes Tanzania and he likes the Tanzanians. Everyone seems so friendly, open and helpful. Of course they operate on African, not Swiss, time but then maybe that is why they seem to smile more. DonQui does not recall seeing so many smiles in Switzerland despite the scenery and efficiency of that country.

Tanzania is truly beautiful and diverse, justly famous for its great wildlife parks, Kilimanjaro and the beaches of Zanzibar.

Dar_es_Salaam_before_duskUnfortunately DonQui cannot be quite so effusive about Dar es Salaam. The city is a busy, sprawling metropolis of over 4 million people with few immediately obvious attractions beyond the friendliness of the inhabitants.

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With the growth of an increasingly prosperous middle class has come the curse of the automobile. With no public transport to speak of and no traffic management, the roads are a choking, crawling nightmare.

Most tourists only come to Dar as a stopping off place to somewhere else but DonQui has spent quite some time here over the past few years. Although he cannot truly say that he likes the city, he has a certain fondness for it and has found a few oases where he can feel quite comfortable.

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His favourite place is Slipway.  Once a boat yard and now in the heart of the upmarket Msasani Peninsula it offers shops and restaurants geared to the well heeled citizens of Dar and the diplomatic community that has taken up residence in the surrounding area.

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It may not be representative of the ‘real’ Dar but DonQui feels very much at home here with the multi-ethnic crowd, good food and relaxed ambiance.

IMG_2331Although most of Dar faces east over the Indian Ocean, Slipway faces west over the Msasani Bay. At sunset, the views are pretty hard to beat.

IMG_2346DonQui’s favourite place for a sundowner is the Waterfront Sunset Restaurant and Beach Bar. There he sips a cold Serengeti to watch the sun set over the bay alongside the eclectic mix of diplomat kids, weatherbeaten divers from the adjacent PADI centre, a mish-mash of expats, locals and tourists. He can hear English, Swahili, Afrikaans, Swedish, German and Finnish being spoken at the tables surrounding him. The food is pretty good too with everything from thin crust pizza to locally caught fish. His favourite, however, is the goat curry.

Further north, as the urban sprawl gives way to more open country is Jangwani beach where a number hotels, not least a new and very swanky looking Ramada Inn, have sprung up to cater for the conference and tourist trade.

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The setting with white sand beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean is rather magnificent but outside the hotels there is not much on offer.

IMG_5576DonQui is spending a couple of nights at the White Sands Hotel. He cannot fault the place. The rooms are comfortable, mosquito proofed and all have beach front balconies or terraces. The beach is clean, the food is OK, wifi works, the endemic power cuts are dealt with by generators, and the staff are incredibly friendly.IMG_5574And they even have a pier just like Southwold!

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In October the hotel is pretty well empty with staff seeming to outnumber customers, most of whom seem to be monitors for the Tanzanian election which takes place this coming Sunday. If there was more to do outside the hotel, DonQui could consider it for a holiday. He would jump at the chance to use it as a conference or training venue.