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Travelling

Torburnlea – an oasis in Nelspruit

As said in my previous post about my festive holiday travel to South Africa, I decided to spend a week in Mpumalanga, from the 28th of December to the 4th of January, to relax and de-stress from a very hard year.

I booked two places (Tomjachu from which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago was the first), being Torburnlea the second – I opted for two totally different experiences, being one more rural/wildlife oriented and the other more “urban”.

As I am used to go to Nelspruit just for shopping usually, I had never stayed at Torburnlea, or even heard about Macaffin Village before. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

The place is located, very conveniently, close to Ilanga Mall, the best shopping center in Nelspruit, just literally 3 minutes driving. Close enough o the city, and yet located in a very relaxing, peaceful and safe area, a closed condo, in a macadamia nut farm.

From their site:
Our story begins with a dream of preserving the 125-year family history and heritage
In 2012 Andrew and Kim Hall, fourth generation family of the farming pioneer HL Hall and his wife Grace, began restoring the 100-year family farmhouse. Here they were able to realise their dream of preserving the family heritage and continuing Grace Hall’s legacy of “providing rest for the weary traveller” in her home long before Nelspruit was even established.
The homestead is located on the well-known farming estate of HL Hall & Sons, in the village that was once occupied by the first generation Hall family and farming employees. It was named Torburnlea by Grace Hall in 1923 as a reminder of the countryside in Scotland where she spent her childhood. Steeped in history, Torburnlea was once host to the eminent President Jan Smuts, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, author of the classic children’s book “Jock of the Bushveld” and Harry Wolhuter, one of the first game rangers of the Kruger Park, who survived a lion attack while patrolling the reserve on horseback.
Step inside the homestead and you will appreciate the lengths that Kim and Andrew have gone to in the restoration process. Every detail has been considered; every guest’s need attended to. With a keen interest in environmental sustainability, Kim and Andrew gave special attention to the installation of water and energy efficient fixtures, the use of recycled and locally sourced materials. The result is an elegant yet inviting space that you may never want to leave.
Be sure to walk around the historic Heritage Park while appreciating the bird life and make time to listen to Andrew’s stories and interesting facts about the homestead as he takes you back in time. Ask to be shown the wine cellar, previously used by his great grandmother to store her farm preserves and cured meat. Enquire about the royal visit of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the princesses during an unscheduled stop of the White Train at the nearby Mataffin railway siding on the farm.

Everything described above is absolutely true. The love you can feel at every corner, the extreme care with details, the stunning decoration, the peace this oasis exudes, is just amazing.

The house is beautiful and surrounded by green lawns. Birds woke me up gently with their singing, drinking water from a small fountain outside my room (I will have a whole IG stories dedicated to this place). The two resident cats (mother and son) are a delight, beautiful and friendly. One of the dogs, makes a point of greeting you during meals but runs away from cell phones like the plague (I was not able to take a decent photograph as she kept running away as soon as I picked up my phone).

My room was large, in fact more like a suite, with a stunning bathroom, a small patio with an iron table and chairs, overlooking the beautiful garden filled with Hortensia, where I did sit enjoying the birds singing and a cup of tea.

The food (and this is a very important aspect to me) is gorgeous. Breakfast is included in the price, and what a breakfast. 90% of it is home made, including butter and yogurt (delicious), compotes, stewed fruits, granolas, really artisan, with local products and lots of love.

Dinner is not included, but for 24USD you have a 3 course dinner, with a salad, an amazing entree, and dessert. The food is stunning.

Dinner served

They are so customer oriented that they will never (unless you want to) put you in the same table with other guests, in order to respect your privacy. That is very dear to me. The attention and love they put into everything is just beautiful.

I only had a brief time with Andrew and Kim Hall as they were traveling when I arrived, and came back on the day I was leaving, but I could see how passionate they are with what they do, and how much love they put into it. That is what takes a place from basic (well, never in this case), to outstanding and memorable.

And how could I not mention Stanford? Stanford received me with a great smile, and was responsible for making me fall in love with the place. His kindness, his history of life, his humor, and his food, oh my, his food. He is the one in charge of all the food, and you can really see the love he has for what he does. Originally from Malawi, Stanford is a delightful person.

Leek flower, from their organic garden

I could not wish for a more perfect time, to continue the great start of the year I had at Tomjachu. Anything I try to describe will not make justice to it, maybe my photographs will make you understand how special this place is. If you like videos, check my Travel Instagram @life.with.di, as I will soon post a highlight with the videos and photos from Torburnlea.

I spent 2 beautiful days there, and I left already wanting to come back. And I will, oh yes I will.

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San Giorgio Maggiore Island

San Giorgio Maggiore is the island just in front of San Marco, across the canal. I had read a lot about the view from there, and as I am passionate about panoramic views (and I still do not own a drone) we decided to go there. Decision not to be regretted. It is so much more than just the tower and the views. It is a place where you find history, luscious vegetation, art, culture and quietness. I recommend it to everyone, and do not stick with the tower, take a time to walk around the island.

San Giorgio Maggiore island

It is a short vaporetto ride, as the island is located circa 400 m from Piazza San Marco. When you get there the view over Venice, from the ground, is already breathtaking.

The island was given to Morosini, a benedictine monk, in 982 AD by Doge Tribuno Memmo to found a monastery. The place was in the hands of benedictine monks until the beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon claimed it to be a military area. In the 20th century Count Cini bought the island and rehabilitated the monastery. The monastery is now the house of Fondazione Giorgio Cini, which is dedicated to art history, history, music, theatre, etc. The San Giorgio Maggiore Church was designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). The bell tower was built in 1791, almost 20 years after the collapse of the first one in 1774.

The church inside has a beautiful art collection with works of art from Tintoretto, Bassano, and Ricci, including the Fall of Manna, Last Supper and Coronation of the Virgin.

The ascension to the campanile is made by a lift (ufffff, no stairs thank God), and when you get there the views are absolutely incredible. For me, it is now my favorite panoramic view, that includes most famous landmarks, the islands, a gorgeous view over Piazza San Marco, as well as the beautiful gardens of San Giorgio Maggiore. We stayed there for quite some time, really awed with such immense beauty, before we descended and headed to the gardens of Cini Foundation.

Panoramic View

The surroundings of the Church are a whole different world from the busy San Marco and Rialto. There you really feel relaxed, surrounded by green, fresh earth smell, the smell of rosemary that impregnates the area where a small cafe is (we had a not so good cappuccino there, expensive, but worth the ambiance). Walking around, I forgot to take pictures of everything, so absorbed I was by the luxurious vegetation, views and peace I could feel on that place. As describing it would be too time consuming, I post below the layout of the island and the different places you can see, taken from the site of Cini Foundation:

1. The monumental complex
Unique in its kind, the ex Benedictine Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore is a historical site of great architectural and artistic prestige, thanks to the presence of works by the greatest 16th and 17th-century Italian Masters. It is venue of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini since 1951.
Discover the history of the monumental complex
 2. The Abbey of  San Giorgio Maggiore e Campanile
The Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore is on the on the island of the same name, in front of the St. Mark’s Basin. Part of its complex is the Church by Andrea Palladio, completed in 1610 from the architects Scamozzi and Sorella accurately following the drawings by the architect from Vicenza. It has been inaugurated, in the same year by the Patriarch Francesco Vendramin.
See the Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore web site
3. Le Stanze del Vetro
Le Stanze del Vetro is a long-term cultural project devoted to studying and highlighting the Venetian art of glassmaking in the 20th century. A permanent exhibition space designed to host a series of solo and group shows featuring international artists, both contemporary and historical, who have used glass during their careers as an original means of expression and a medium for researching their own personal aesthetics.
See Le Stanze del Vetro web site
4. ARCHiVe
Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation and the Digital Humanities Laboratory of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL-DHLAB) are launching a new centre dedicated to technology and to the digital preservation of cultural heritage on the Venetian Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Italy: ARCHiVe – Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Venice. The Helen Hamlyn Trust is the founding supporter of ARCHiVe.
See the ARCHiVe page
5. Le Sale del Convitto
Originally a customs storehouse since 1792, these rooms became a boarding school (convitto) in 1952. In 2008, they were converted into a centre for temporary exhibitions organised by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini or in collaboration with major international institutions.
6. The Auditorium “Lo Squero”
The Squero Auditorium on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore is a former boat repairs shed (squero). It was converted into a stunning modern concert hall by architects Cattaruzza and Millosevich with the support of the Interregional Office for Public Works in the Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia, and the Fondazione Virginio Bruni Tedeschi.
7. Piscina Gandini
Designed and built in 1960, the Piscina (“swimming pool”) is a wonderfully light-filled space due to its ample glazed surfaces and steel-frame windows and glass doors.
Having recently been renovated, the Piscina is now one of the Foundation’s exhibition facilities and hosts various events, especially photographic exhibitions.
8. Borges Labyrinth and Room
The reconstruction of the garden maze that the British architect Randoll Coate designed in honour of Jorge Luis Borges (Buenos Aires, 1899 – Geneva, 1986) was installed to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of the celebrated Argentine writer, poet and essayist, in collaboration with the Fundacion Internacional Jorge Luis Borges. Adjacent to the labyrinth, the Borges Room hosts temporary events and exhibitions.
9. Branca Center Residence
Being a resident is an essential part of life at the Vittore Branca Center for the Study of Italian Culture: immersion in the cultural life on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore and in the monumental areas of the Fondazione Cini is the fundamental prerequisite for a physical and emotional involvement enabling young researchers and senior scholars to make the most of the opportunities arising from working side by side. The Residence can accommodate up to 90 scholars in single or double rooms.
More about the Branca Center
10. Teatro Verde
Designed by architects Luigi Vietti and Angelo Scattolin and built in 1952 by recycling material left over from restoration work on the island, the Teatro Verde is a 1,484-seat amphitheatre set at the heart of the grounds on San Giorgio Maggiore.
Modelled on ancient Greek and Roman theatres, and alluding to the open-air garden theatres that adorned Venetian villas from the Renaissance to the 18th century, the Teatro Verde is made of steps of white Vicenza stone separated by boxwood hedges.
11. Foundation Grounds
The Foundation grounds form the largest private park in Venice. The original design for the redevelopment of the grounds in the 1950s consisted of a series of large flowerbeds interlocked with some of the main paths to create the pattern of accesses to the Teatro Verde, the central feature of the area. In the original design, the main paths in the grounds were flanked by regular rows of tall trees, while the internal alleys were bordered by hedges of varying heights made up of several species. The grounds have undergone several modifications over the years in an approach, however, always respectful of the vegetation’s natural growth over time.
B – Palazzo Cini
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini owns part of the Palazzo Cini at San Vio, which from 1919 was Vittorio Cini’s principal residence. The building is the result of merging two 16th-century palaces: one belonging to the Foscari on the Grand Canal and the other owned by the Santa Maria Formosa branch of the Grimani family. It now houses the Palazzo Cini Gallery. Since 2014, following renovation work carried out on the first and second floors with the support of Assicurazioni Generali, the permanent Gallery opens to the public for about seven months every year, and also regularly hosts exhibitions of historical and contemporary art.
Source: https://www.cini.it/en/come-arrivare
Enjoying the peace and tranquility

It was now time to go, and enjoy the rest of our day visiting Castello, and ending with a nice meal, tired but happy after a fantastic day.

My second time in Venice

If you did read my first series of posts about Venice, last year, you will know how passionate I was about it. La Serenissima is beautiful in spite of the massive influx of not so respectful tourists she gets every year.

This time I went there at the end of September and, comparing with 2017, there was not much of a difference in the amount of tourists. It can get overwhelming, but hey, Venice is so beautiful, that you can still enjoy it.

This time we stayed in Rialto (literally 1 minute from Rialto Bridge), as opposed to where I stayed on my 1st visit – San Marco, and stayed for a longer time, that gave us room to better explore other neighborhoods (Burano and Murano still not on my plans) at a more relaxed pace.

We stayed in Venice from the 21st to the 24th of September, giving us 3 days, enough to explore it. After a nice meal at da Mamo, a small restaurant close to where we stayed, with a friendly staff and ice food, we had a deserved rest and wake up refreshed. The first full day in Venice would be busy as we intended to see as much as we could. I went again to the Doge Palace, this time not so focused on the photographs, and enjoyed seeing it again, and seeing spots I had missed the last time. I will not be elaborating much, this (and maybe another) post will just be a nice collection of photographs, with maybe a whole post dedicated to Cannaregio and San Giorgio Maggiore, as this time I got to see them in detail. Enjoy!

After leaving the Doge Palace, we tried to climb Scaderia del Bovollo but sadly it was closed for a fashion event. We decided to spend the rest of the day strolling around Venice.

Piazza San Marco at night

And so another day passed, quite nicely, but crowded. Next day we would be going to climb the tower and see panoramic views of Venice, go to San Giorgio Maggiore (theme of another post), explore other neighborhoods.

We did spend quite some time in Castello neighborhood. It dates back from 13th century, it is the largest of the neighborhoods (sestieri) and for sure it is local and authentic, not crowded, charming. There you can really experience Venice as a local.

Still crowded but still gorgeous

Time to watch sunset in Rialto and and end this perfect day with a nice 3 course dinner in the lovely Trattoria Agli Artisti in Ruga Giuffa.

The Grand Canal, stunning

And the last day came, we left at 10h00 to the train station to leave our luggage and explore Cannaregio (another post). Bye, bye Serenissima, I so much love you

Please respect Venice. Please respect the locals. There is actually people living there you know? Peeking through windows, making a lot of noise after hours, criticizing the local culture, habits, food, buying from illegal vendors/stalls, littering, vandalizing monuments, insisting on climbing statues and monuments when it is forbidden and stated, taking photos where it not allowed, is not really respecting and preserving the beauty of the places you go to (that applies to any country, city where you go). Collaborate to preserve those places you so like to see, instead of helping ruin it. Be a responsible tourist.

Tomjachu Bush Retreat

I often talk about South Africa on my travel Instagram @Life.With.Di. Why? For many reasons:

  • It is close to where I live and I can drive there
  • It has a huge diversity of landscapes and wildlife
  • It has a strong focus on conservation
  • It is a great country to visit due to the fantastic accommodation offer at reasonable prices
  • It has a great gastronomic offer
  • It has a floral kingdom of its own – the Cape Floral Kingdom
  • The official language is English, which makes things easier

This year I wanted to spend the festive season in Europe, but for several reasons I could not, and decided to go to South Africa, to spend new years in a relaxing and zen mode, recharging my batteries for another work-related very stressful year (fellow project managers and environmental consultants will be able to relate to). I looked at Cape Town, to where I do not go for some years, but I was not in the mood to be in a crowded place as it becomes during the festive season. The coast along Kwazulu- Natal was another option, but as I was driving there, not the safest of options, considering I would be alone.

So, again Mpumalanga. Mpumalanga is the province that is close to where I live. A one hour drive and I am there. Usually I go to Nelspruit, and it is just 4 hours away at the most. In is a very diverse province (check a previous post of mine about the Graskop Gorge) that houses, among many other attractions, the world famous Kruger National Park.

The problem now would be to choose where to go. I wanted something calm and relaxing, amidst nature, but with a fairly good standard. I also did not want to spend a lot of time driving, especially with temperatures as high as 38ºC. As I do with all my trips, I used my favorite platforms to look for accommodation: Booking (I have a discount for you if you want to book accommodation let me know and I will give you my code) and Tripadvisor. To validate my choices I also used two South African accommodation sites.

I am very careful when planning my trips (and even more when it is for a client), and I do a really good search, trying to read all reviews possible, to choose an accommodation that suits my needs and standards.

I had seen Tomjachu Bush retreat before, but I had never looked at it in depth, until this time. It is located close to Nelspruit (a plus, if I wanted for some reason to go to town to buy something, or go to a movie), approximately 10km, but it is far enough to avoid traffic, noise and confusion, and in a area that guarantees privacy, safety, calmness and abundant wildlife and plant life to see.

I fell in love with the setting as soon as I checked their website and Bookings photos. Then I loved the history of the place and the care they put into conservation and environmental sustainability. Coupled with the fact that they have roaming free wildlife, and from what I saw, a great gastronomy, they won me over. It looked like all I was looking for, to spend a few relaxing days. So, I booked a room there, for 4 nights, at a reasonable price that included Dinner, Bed and Breakfast.

I will not be describing the place, I will describe my experience. For reading about the history, conservation, and other details head to their website https://tomjachu.co.za.

I confess I do not like to set high expectations by just looking at photos on a website. I know how easy it is to get nice angles and do a nice editing to photos making the place look way different than it is in reality (it happened to me before). But reviews do not lie, and I make a point of reading them all, so I was quite sure, but yet still skeptical, that I had made the right choice.

The access to Tomjachu is by one of the main roads in Nelspruit (Ferreira street) that turns into a dirt road at the end. From there you take a left turn and drive on a dirt road (not advised to low suspension cars) for some time. I confess I was feeling sorry for my sedan car, but the drive was fine and soon I was at Tomjachu.

Right away I fell in love. The peace and tranquility it oozes, the magnificent vegetation, the 4 zebras standing there looking like a beautiful welcome committee, and the ladies at reception, kind, friendly and so efficient, won my heart.

I was staying at the Homestead as I was alone, and my room was huge, with a small private deck overlooking a fantastic view of the mountains. The bed was large and very comfortable, the room had a massive wardrobe, fit for an entire family, the bathroom had a bath and a shower and a very nice size, and although it did not have air conditioning, in fact it did not need it as the nights are quite cool. I was now 80% happy with my choice (hey, I still had to see how the other staff was, and the food – food is a very important thing for me as you can see from my site).

After leaving my luggage and having a shower I took a walk around to see the homestead and surrounding garden. It was everything it promised and much more. The views are fantastic, the swimming pool (not big, but a decent size) has a view over the mountains, the sound of the birds, the mountains, the trees tagged with their name serving an educational purpose, I mean, everything was perfect.

Dinner time (latest time for dinner is at 19h00, as Portuguese we are used to eat much later, but hey those are the rules and it is not something I could not deal with) came and I headed to the dining room. What can I say? From the nice wine I chose (and bought a bottle to take home), to the accommodating and so nice staff, to the 5 course dinner, I could not be happier.

As I follow a low carb high fat diet, the chef tried to accommodate my needs, and although sugar was present, my meals were mostly according to my dietary needs. LCHF or Banting is not a diet everyone knows about, and that is not as common as others, so I could not expect them to cater for all my needs (I did take with me my own bread, cream – which I did not need as they have it, biscuits and cold meats just in case).

It was now time to rest, as it was a long day. I had a great night sleep, a beautiful breakfast and decided to try the trails they offer (as the drives were fully booked).

I tried the Red Trail first by mistake (I intended to do the blue one), but it was worth it. It took me 4 hours, as I stopped a lot to take pictures and admire the views, plants, birds. The only problem? The weather forecast predicted 27 degrees and rain, so I totally forgot to put my sunscreen on (I used to be tanned all year round, which does not happen now), the weather forecast was wrong, and I ended up sun burnt (nothing serious but that put me out of the pool for the next days). The trails are all demarcated, and with signs to make sure you will not get lost.

Back to the hotel, a nice shower, relaxing time and then again a fantastic meal.

Next day, I opted for a day at the hotel, reading and updating my social media, and booked a relaxing massage. It was a lovely day, with a funny episode with one of the resident ostriches. There I was reading on my bed when I started hearing a strange sound on my window. Like someone was poking the window. I stood up and went to the window to check, there it was madam ostrich trying to eat the ants that were climbing the window.