A Von Voyage to Namibia for Ranger Odyssey 2015

On a random Tuesday evening last year, I saw an advert on TV that caught my attention. It was for a competition called Ranger Odyssey. The advert was looking for those in search of an adventure of a lifetime and for those who was bogged down by a pretty dull and boring routine. It kinda lit a fire under my ass, but as fate would have it, I missed entering because of this routin and stalling. I kicked myself when I realised I missed it, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles really. It wasn’t meant to be… Or so I thought. Fast track to May, a new job and a new adventure ahead. Luck was on my side and it looked like I would be involved in the Ford Ranger Odyssey, but just from a different angle.

After some initial preliminary judging, I thought that was it, but then I was asked to head to the Karoo to be part of the Bootcamp experience. That I did happily, obviously. It was there that I got a crash course in 4×4’ing and I got a little taster on what the would-be contestants would be doing in Namibia. I spent four days there and helped choose what I thought was a very strong group of twenty contestants from South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. I really thought that was that. To my sheer delight, I was asked to attend the actual Odyssey… for eight days… What? Really? From being a hopeful contestant to actually driving the route and being part of this experience was pretty damn cool to say the least.

My long weekend in the African bush was replaced by eight days in the Namib desert; in tents, a Ford Ranger and an awesome group of people. Sounds awful right? 😉 I am often reminded how lucky I am to do what I do – and this experience was just another one of those reminders. I set off for Windhoek in the wee hours of Monday morning. A quick two hour flight and we landed in the Namibian capital. Customs officials were on as usual on ‘fine form’ making us feel uneasy and somewhat unwelcome, but whatever. We made it through. The nine of us then headed north-west to the camping spot of Purros in a very small and dinky plane. Not my favorite pastime, but the two-hour trip allowed me to catch up on some sleep, which was very necessary.

The experience itself was incredible -exactly what I imagined it would be. The scenery, the various locations we found ourselves in, the food, the content we produced, the people… This really was a career highlight. I think I’ll stop rambling now because I want you to see what I saw.


The winner of this year’s Ford Ranger Odyssey will be announced tomorrow evening. Can’t wait to see who takes top honours.

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Traveling to Toronto – a little North American gem

Toronto, Canada September 2014Toronto is one of those underrated traveling cities. Perhaps underrated is the wrong word to use. Maybe it just isn’t marketed a lot in my part of the world and I don’t why that is, but it really is a great city to visit. The customs officials are grumpy and miserable, not very friendly, but that is to be expected… A global phenomenon really. Once I’d cleared customs and headed through to the information desk, I encountered the friendly types and quickly my initial view of Canadians changed. There’s a quick bus transfer to the subway and from there, getting around is very easy (if you get the subway systems – I’ll explain later). It took me just under 45minutes to get to my friend’s place in Spadina Road, which is great.

Unlike most cities, this one is super clean. I don’t know if I just avoided the grimmy, dirty parts of town, but I honestly was amazed at how clean it is. Plus the air feels clean too. I believe the city has over 6million people living in it, but never once did I feel like it was an overcrowded city. That might seem a tad random, but in some cities it becomes overwhelming and sometimes annoying when you’re queuing for everything – and that’s from a tourist perspective, I can only imagine how the locals feel 😉

I did my usual walking around mission. On my first day, I made my way towards the CN Tower and then worked my way around from there. If there’s one thing I’ve done a lot of while I’ve been in the US and Canada, it’s walk. Imagine if I’d logged all the miles, I would probably shock myself with all the distance. When I was a tad buggered, I’d just hop on the street car and make my way uptown or to the next part of my excursions around town. I’m one of those travelers who likes to see the touristy bits, but I love to live it up or experience a city through a local’s eyes. So having a friend here was superb. She has been in the city for about six years now and so she knows it very well. She joked with me last night because she couldn’t understand how I could be so clueless when it came to the subway and how “confusing” it was for me. Coming from a city where we drive everywhere and where we don’t have a fully fledged subway/ public transport system, you can begin to understand why I was confused… Not so? Ha.

On Saturday evening, we went out for some pizza and then hit up a club in Kensington. There was what the locals call a “lineup”. For me, that means entertainment… you know seven Djs on the lineup or so. For them, it means you’re in a queue and the line up to the front is pretty long. We didn’t wait too long because Deb’s friend is the dj’s boyfriend, so he hooked us up. I must admit I don’t go out a lot anymore, so getting to a club at midnight was interesting, but the music was great and I love people watching (it’s part of my job) so we had a great time. On Sunday there was this little market in the park, so I went to see my friend there. She had a stall there, so I went to show my support, but girl didn’t need it. She was on fire, selling art pieces and pedants left, right and centre. It was a beautiful day in the city and so to sit and chill in the park, eating some local food and enjoying some of the music was exactly how a Sunday should be spent. Great vibe and something us South Africans don’t do enough of.

Jason von berg, Niagra Falls September 2014

Our next adventure saw us getting in the car and heading off to Niagra Falls, which is an hour or so drive away from the city. It was a little chilly out, but it didn’t rain thank goodness. What I thought was just going to be just a trip out to see one of the world’s most revered sights, actually turned out quite differently. We did some wine tasting at some of the vineyards in the greater Niagra area. Maybe I just missed the bit about this part of the world having such a big wine culture, but I honestly had no clue. What a great way to spend a day. Some of the staff at the vineyards are more knowledgable about the wines and so the experience at such institutions was a lot more enjoyable then at the ones where you felt like you were asking for a favour. My favourite spot was the Megalomanic vineyard. Not only was it in an exquisite location, but the team working there were so passionate about the brand and the wines. Their branding is interesting too. For each bottle there is a custom made label that mirrors the quirky brand, while creating its unique identity for that specific type of wine. They have the most delicious ice wine there too. If traveling such long distances wasn’t such a mission, I would’ve bought at least two or three bottles. Alas, I’ll have to come back and enjoy those soon.

On my final day in Toronto, I once again did my usual morning run, which is also a great way to see the city by the way. I then made my way down town again, to a spot called St Lawrence market. It’s a food market with anything and everything you want to eat. We decided a bit of tapas, crackers overlooking Lake Ontario would be the best option and man of man was it great. I can see why people downtown come and grab a bite to eat here during their lunch breaks. It’s quick, easy and so yum. Highly recommended.

I’m now on my Porter Airlines jet en route to New York City. Porter is located in an airport just off the mainland. It’s offers an awesome view of the city skyline. They also have a great lounge for you to kick back and enjoy complimentary tea and coffee, biscuits and soft drinks. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, you can order sandwiches there too, but you’ll have to pay by card for this. Pretty weird if you ask me. I have over CAD$40 in cash and I wanted to get rid of them, but clearly this wasn’t an option so just be aware of that if you’re flying out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Also, some might not know this but the airline offers a complimentary bus service from York Street, which is west of Union Station. It’s free and easy.

 

Some other Toronto, Canada observations:

– I find food and drinks rather expensive. I went to the grocery store to get some basics. A ready made salad was going to cost me CAD$5.99 excluding tax. Chicken breasts will cost you in the region of CAD$9-11, which is mad expensive. And that’s just for two… I bring this up because some of you reading this will be renting apartments using sites like Airbnb and so cooking is an option for you. Eating out, healthily is expensive too so take your pick 😉
– be prepared for queues around the CN Tower, it’s a tourist jaunt so it’s to be expected. It’s cost you about thirty bucks.
– if weather permits, go to the island and have a couple of beers. It is said to be really nice.
– done wine tasting tours. Not only is it beautiful, but fun too. Wine tasting generally costs CAD$5 for three to four tastings. They will more than likely waiver the fee if you’re purchasing a bottle or seven there. Also, look out for specials during special holidays. A lot of the wineries offer a package deal of around CAD$40 for tasting at several wineries and they offer food too. You can do that and then stay over in one of the bed and breakfasts in the area. Sounds romantic.
– I think five days is all you will need in the city. Anything more might become a bit much.

Thanks for your hospitality, Canada. Next visits will include Montreal, Vancouver and definitely some snowboarding in one of the resorts too.

My experience of Istanbul, Turkey with Turkish Airlines

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Last week I made my way to Istanbul, Turkey as part of a media trip with Turkish Airlines. It’s actually quite bizarre how this happened. I get a lot of invites to events and in more recent times, I’ve declined many of them. Some because I just can’t make it and others because there really is no real benefit for me or my readers or followers. About five weeks ago, I got an invite to a Turkish Airlines event and the invite grabbed my attention right from the start. The invite was a puzzle and I had to put the pieces together to figure out when the event was happening and what it was all about. I’ve flown the airline once before on a trip to Germany and I was bummed that I never got to see Istanbul, so I thought let me go and see what was happening with them now. I also thought because I find myself in a traveling state of mind, that this would be good especially since I’m trying to do a lot more travel and lifestyle pieces now.

Before we left, I asked my Facebook friends for tips, tricks and places to visit ahead of the trip and I got some great feedback and suggestions. Turns out a lot of what we were already going to see and do was already included in our itinerary, so that worked out well. I’m also one of those people who likes to explore, get lost and see new places through the eyes of the locals, so I’m open to all suggestions but also to the experiences that await me and that’s when you generally find the gems. So on Tuesday the 2nd of September my media friends and I boarded our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Look, flying isn’t the most comfortable mode of transport ever known to mankind, but I did have an emergency exit seat, which is always great. I didn’t get much sleep on the flight, but the in-flight entertainment was on point and it made up for the lack of sleep. If we’re talking ‘first world problems’, I was a little bummed I didn’t get to taste the homemade lemonade that was on the menu. I think the airhostess didn’t quite understand my request, but really it didn’t ruin the experience.

After clearing customs and a long wait for our luggage, we made our way to the hotel where we had breakfast, freshened up before heading out for our first sightseeing experience of the city. Our tour guide for the week goes by the name of Hakan. What a great, knowledgeable guy. I knew Turkey was a very historical city, but I didn’t know to this extent. Hakan’s stories of the city were both useful, and very informative. We got to see the Blue Mosque, before heading off to enjoy a traditional lunch and then we made our way into Sophia Hagia (Aya Sofya), which is absolutely incredible. My grandfather always says how the builders of today aren’t as thorough and pedantic as they used to be, but this is on a whole other level. The vision these people had way back when was something quite special. While their ways and means of building might be questionable, the fact that such beautiful structures exist is actually quite ‘divine’. After that we went through to Topkapi Imperial Palace, which was great but packed. It’s still high season over there, so you can expect to stand in queues to see some of the more historical artefacts. The queue moves, but because this was a quick trip, a few of us decided to venture around and explore some of the other areas of the Palace. We then took some time out to enjoy an ice cream overlooking the Bosphorus. Plus we got to see the different levels of selfie-taking, from models to wannabes, try-hards, monopods and the “HUH? Are you for real?” I’m telling you there’s a TV show just waiting to be made for people watching and watchers 😉

On Thursday we got to meet the team from Turkish Airlines at their headquarters. It was there that we also got to enjoy a traditional Turkish coffee with the CEO of the airline. What a nice man and I say this with the utmost respect. It’s not often the CEO of the top airline in Europe makes time for you, engages with you and shares some of his successes and future plans for the airline with you – and to do so in such a humble manner. He wanted to know about our experience with the airline and suggested that we call him (yes, he gave us his number) for occasions when there is something wrong or if we had any feedback for him and the team. One of the many wise things he said, “We are not the best airline, but we have a heart,” and how true is that?

 

Our meeting with Temel Kotil was followed by a tour and a demo of the flight simulators. It’s actually scary how real it is in there. Check out this little video to catch a glimpse:

And then we got to enjoy a ‘business class’ lunch at Do&Co, which is the official catering service for Turkish Airlines, as well as many other big brands in the market. You can understand why people fly business class and why the airline has won several awards for its ground and in-flight services. It makes me want to travel business class – one day when I’m big 😉

On Friday, we hopped on board a ferry, where we enjoyed a tour of the Bosphorus. It’s interesting to note that one side of the Bosphorus is Europe and the other is Asia… So I straddled two continents on that day. Weird, but in a nerdy kind of way cool too. I was a little worried about my ‘sea legs’ but I handled it well and coped just perfectly. So if you’re worried about that, don’t be. You’ll be just fine. It’s also a great, alternative way to see the city, but don’t expect to wonders from the on-board city information. It’s not clear, but Hakan was with us so that helped. After that, we headed off to the Grand Bizarre… epic. We didn’t have nearly enough time, so I’m pretty sure I lost out on good deals. In fact, I probably got screwed over, but hey I put it down to experience really. If you’re heading to the Grand Bizarre, you should give yourself at least half a day, if not more. There are so many stores and if you’re looking to find the best deal, you will need time. If you want traditional Turkish delight, then you’ll definitely find some there. Trust me I smashed a lot of tasters in my face, nom, nom. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long because we had to make our way to the airport and peak hour traffic was looming, but when I go back, I’m definitely heading straight there. There are so many places many of you recommended I go and see, but timing didn’t allow it, so it really is just an excuse to go back.

 

I’m doing a fair amount of traveling at the moment and one of the deal breakers for me is the visa situation. I was lucky enough to get a 10-year visa for both the USA and Canada, which is extremely helpful, but for me Europe is a giant pain. They only give you a visa for the amount of time you’re in the country, and it’s really expensive for us South Africans to constantly pay the visa fees. The same applies to the UAE (I tried with Emirates and Dubai but apparently I’m not eligible for their complimentary visa). Turkey isn’t like that. I applied for my visa online and within ten minutes it was in my possession. I didn’t have to pay either, which is such a bonus. So if you’re looking at flying Turkish Airlines, take note of this. If your layover is long enough, the airline offer a free city tour, valued at 100 Euros. #WINNING! Plus, if your budget allows, do yourselves a favour and try and get into the CIP Lounge. What an incredible experience. From showering to delicious food, drinks, coffee and water on tap; a movie theatre to enjoy some music concerts, it’s just the bomb. Some of my colleagues encountered some rude staff there, but I didn’t so my experienced was nothing short of amazing. How does one ever travel normal again? Click here for my Instagram video… a taster of what you can expect. My trip to NYC via Dubai is going to be very, very, very long… No special treatment with the Emirates folks sadly, such is life.

 

***** Thank you to Turkish Airlines for making this trip possible*****

 

Traveling to Turkey – pics from day 1

 

Traveling to Turkey – the day before

Get Your Wings Challenge Image

It’s just before 8pm on the 1st of September. I have just under twenty four hours to go before I board my Turkish Airlines plane, bound for Instanbul. I’m one of a few media practioners who will be traveling to the city for a short, but definitely sweet media trip. We’re heading across on what is now known as Europe’s best airline for the fourth year in a row. Not too shabby. Now because this is an airline event, maybe I’ll get lucky and get to experience their business class… We should huh? 😉

Anyways, I’m very exciting to visit this country. The last time I was in Turkey, it was literally for a couple of hours in transit, before heading off to Germany and Johannesburg respectively. I was bummed that I didn’t actually go into the city, but there was a reason I didn’t. Now I get my chance and I can’t wait. I put out a status on the old Facebook yesterday, asking friends to recommend spots to visit, what to eat, drink and obviously what not to do. I realise time is pretty scarce, but I’m certain I’ll get to do some of the major touristy bits. I’ve been told to go to:

– The Blue Mosque

– Grand Bizarre

– Spice Market

Hagia Sophia  and the Roman cistern (MUST, MUST, MUST)

– Hamam for a Turkish bath? Sounds interesting

House Cafe and Gölgede Kahve for coffee or food

That’s quite a lot to see and do, but hey, when in Turkey…. If you have some off the beaten track, different spots or recommendations, please feel free to share. As for me, well… You can expect loads of pictures, some videos and a blog post or three. Traveling is my vibe… Travel Channel should give me a show. A vlogging/ TV show 😉

Road to Rio Corre – day 2

Today we put on our tourists attire and headed around the city of Rio De Janeiro. We started out with a few pictures of should I say selfie opportunities of Sugarloaf Mountain from Copacabana beach. The weather wasn’t fantastic, but it was still very humid and actually pretty pleasant. Once we’d met Claudio, our tour guide, and we’d picked up the rest of the group! we headed off to Sugar Loaf for a ride up the cable car and a chance to see the city from a higher point.

When you go up Sugar Loaf, you take two cable cars up. They’re short rides, probably around two to three minutes, but you’re elevated to nice enough heights for you to see the city from a different angle. You also get a better idea of the north and south, the mountains that divide it up and the lagoon, sea side. Check out the pics below

After that we made our way to lunch at a place I can only describe as delicious and awesome. It’s called Porcao and it overlooks the sea and if you’re a Johannesburg resident, you can liken it to Carnivore. The meat and poultry selection is yummy and obviously we all overachieved somewhat… Moegies vol oogies toe.

We visited other parts of the city to like Lapa, Santa Teresa and , which is where the video for the song Beautiful by Snoop Dogg/ Lion and Pharell Williams was filmed. Nice vibe around that part of town.

After a bit of downtime, (and a bit of Futurelife snack for me) we headed off to Plataforma for a bit of dinner and a Samba show. Shem, we were all so exhausted still that we passed out on the bus to venue. Awkward much? Haha… Stupid jet lag and time zones 😉 that didn’t stop us from having a jol though. The samba show was great and damn these people are incredible, wow. The dances they do, the costumes are incredibly detailed and they know how to get a crowd moving. Maybe 2014 will be a year for me to get my samba on… It looks like a lot of fun and a great workout too, they’re not in bad shape either.

One more day to Nike’s Rio Corre 10km and a little more sightseeing today – cant wait! Adios.