The Best of Travel, The Worst of Travel

by Bob Sparrow

Best & Worst

For most of us the past two years have been the worst years for travel. Not so much that we went to uninteresting places or ran into people who thought of us as ugly Americans; no, Covid kept us from going anywhere at all. When I can’t travel, I think about traveling, more specifically, I think about places I’ve been, good and bad, and places I want to go.

So, in order to gather information, not just for me, but for all of our readers, you have a job:

Tell us where your best and worst travel destination have been and why they were best or worst. I’ll start by giving mine.

Robben Island with Table Mt. in the background

Best travel destination

I have to honestly say that I have two that are tied for best. South Africa in 2013 – Great tour of Cape Town, a visit to Ernie Els winery, the top of Table Mountain and to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned, and a story about how one woman made a difference with ‘tea bags’. The South African people were amazing – so nice and so friendly! We left Cape Town and went to Notten’s Bush Camp in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, where we went on several safaris.  We saw the ‘Big 5’ – elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and African buffalo on our first trip into the savanna. Then on to Zimbabwe to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the WorldVictoria Falls – Spectacular! If you are a new reader, or want to reread the blog that I wrote about that trip, you can access it by copying and pasting these links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Funicular up to Montecatini Alto

My other ‘best travel destination’ was to the Tuscany region of Italy – a trip we took in 2019 with a group of our neighbors, along with thirty-some-odd people from around the country. Our base was the great little town of Montecatini Terme, which is located between Florence and Pisa. Aside from visiting those two cities, we hit Siena, San Gemignani and Montecatini Alto – all unique in their own way. Our guide, Sergio, made the trip – he was informative and hilarious! After leaving Montecatini Terme, we spent several days in Cinque Terre – the beautiful Italian town that hangs on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.  Great people we went with, great people we met, great food, great wine and a great guide. If you want more information on that trip, access the links below:


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Worst travel destination

“Enjoy shopping”

This one is easy. We were on a Mediterranean cruise in 2008 and made a stop in northern Africa to the city of Tunis in Tunisia. Off the ship we went to an open market where there were guards holding machine guns at the entrance and the exit of the market – I guess that’s in case you were planning of stealing something or a hostile takeover of the market!  We then went to a rug maker, who tried to sell us an ugly ‘magic carpet’ that they promised to ship home for us. Yeah, right!! We decided to stop at a café for a beer, which we ordered and paid for, but when our order came, it was a ‘non-alcoholic beer’! We told our server we wanted (and paid for) real beer and he said that because it was Sunday, they didn’t serve alcohol – something he might have mentioned when we ordered. Couldn’t wait to get back on the ship and on to our next destination.

Fortunately, we weren’t blogging yet, so no links!

OK, it’s your turn to share your travel adventures and misadventures in the ‘comment box’ below, let us know what your BEST and WORST travel destinations are – you don’t have to write a story about them if you don’t want to, you can just list them. Hopefully we can learn about places that should be on our ‘bucket list’ and about places we should make sure to avoid.

African Diary – Part 4 Victoria Falls and Out of Africa

by Bob Sparrow (back from Africa)

Africa 442

Victoria Falls

I have that feeling that our time in Africa is going way too quickly as we head to the last leg of our journey, Victoria Falls – one of the ‘7 Natural Wonders of the World’.  Our trip from Notten’s Game Reserve necessitated an evening layover in Johannesburg since there is only one flight a day into Victoria Falls from ‘Jo’burg’, as it’s known to the locals.  Arriving in the late afternoon and leaving the next morning only gave us enough time to wipe the elephant dung off our shoes, visit Nelson Mandela Square and gradually acclimate to having electricity in our hotel room.

 Zimbabwe, formerly know as Southern Rhodesia, was colonized by the British in 1890; our hotel, the Victoria Falls Hotel, took us back in time to the turn of the century, when it was built by the Brits during the construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge in 1906 as part of a grand plan to run a railroad line through the heart of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo.  If I described the hotel as being grand and colonial, in an elegant, Edwardian sort of way, neither of us would know what I was talking about, so just look at the pictures.

DSC00577   vfhotel  DSC00452  viclodge

After walking the meticulously groomed grounds of the hotel, we were whisked off to a sunset cocktail cruise on the Zambezi River, where we witnessed a playful ‘bloat’ of hippopotamus, a sun-worshiping crocodile and a spectacular sunset.  One of our fellow cruisers was a rather arrogant young American, who didn’t fit in too well with the rest of the animal lovers on board, as he was bragging about the hunting trip he had just completed where he shot an elephant, a buffalo and something else, maybe it was his wife, I stopped listening.  He was either very quiet toward the end of the cruise or he was that thing we saw bobbing in the water at sunset heading for the falls.  I’ve included a spectacular picture of the sunset that evening, but honestly it doesn’t do the sunset justice.  We head back to the hotel for dinner.DSC00532

 The hotel is steeped in the history of explorer, missionary and liberator, Dr. David Livingstone and the famous meeting with Henry Stanley in the middle of Africa.  The balmy evening allowed us to enjoy our dinner at one of the hotel’s outside restaurants.  Before dinner a local tribe provided entertainment with their singing and dancing to traditional music.  Sensing that Apple didn’t have these songs in their ‘iCloud’, I purchased their CD, my fourth of the trip.

Africa 384 copyThe next day we loaded up for our ‘Barrel Ride Over the Falls’ tour – just kidding, it was already fully booked.  We did take a tour of Victoria Falls, whose original name translates to ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ and even though there was not a cloud in the sky, we wore rain gear and got soaking wet.  A ‘congress’ of baboons apparently signed up for the same tour we did as they followed us to the various viewing points along the falls.  They were amazing – the falls, well the baboons too.  Even if I told you that an average of about 38,000 cubic feet of water goes over the falls PER SECOND, you probably still couldn’t imagine that much water – I didn’t even know that water came in cubic feet, all I know is that it’s a lot of water.  The falls width of 5600 feet and height of 350 feet make it the largest sheet of falling water in the world.


‘Today’s Special’

After the tour we walked into town to get a bite to eat, but my picture of ‘Today Special’ tells you why we decided to wait until we got back to the hotel to eat.  We were told to never eat warthog in a month with any letter in it.  We continued walking to the middle of the Victoria Falls Bridge, which was the scene of a bungee jumping accident last year when the bungee cord detached and dropped an Australian woman into the water 360 feet below.  The bungee operator responsible for the accident, Cecil “Oops” Newman, no longer works there, but someone did do a jump while we were there watching – crazy!

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a ‘craft market’ to bargain with the locals for their handmade wares.  I rationalized my poor negotiating skills as wanting to help boost their economy by paying, according to my wife, somewhere between 6 and 7 times what the craft was worth.  But who can put a price on a hand-carved African mask from Zimbabwe?  Apparently I couldn’t.


View of Victoria Falls from hotel

Even though I’m writing this while in Africa, you won’t read it until I’m at the chiropractor’s office getting my back adjusted after the 40 hour trip home.  Yes, it’s a long way getting there and coming home, but was it worth it?  Oh yeah!  The people, the places, the animals, the things we experienced, (Did I mention the people?) made it the trip of a lifetime!

A big thank you to Jack and JJ Budd, our travel companions, who did a similar trip two years ago and kept us from making ‘rookie travel mistakes’, to our travel agent, Lenni Curl of First Travel of California in Laguna Niguel, who secured us great accommodations and got us on all the right tours, and to David and Mia Notten for their gracious hospitality at their ‘family’ game reserve in Kruger National Park.

And thank you readers, especially you blog subscribers, for vicariously taking this incredible journey with us and thank you for your wonderful comments.





African Diary – Part 1 It’s A Jungle Out There

by Bob Sparrow

Lion     I hear a low snorting sound just outside my tent . . . or was it inside?  I lay perfectly still and slowly open my eyes and furtively search the darkness for movement.  I hear rhythmic breathing and feel the warm breath of an animal on my face – or am I just imagining it?  As my eyes adjust to the darkness I see the rustling of the canvas tent next to me.  The snorting becomes louder, the breathing heavier. What’s out there . . . or in here?  My imagination is running wild.  We were forewarned that the ‘Big 5’ (Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Rhinoceros) are curious animals and might wander into camp looking for food.  I wondered: Am I food?  I slowly rolled over to glance in the direction of the breathing . . . it was my wife.  I wake up in a cold sweat in my bed at home.

I’m headed to Africa this week, so my imagination may be turned up a few notches, but if you, like me, thought all the dangers were out in the African savanna, think again.  Like any good traveler I’ve been doing some research on points of interest that I’ll be seeing over the next couple of weeks and while I’ve learned what the ‘Big 5’ of African wildlife are, I’ve compiled my own ‘Big 2’ that I’ll be looking out for as well:

  1. Man
    1. S. Africa has one of the world’s highest rate of murders, assaults and rapes       
    2. Over 17 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have died of AIDS
    3. Around 50 people are murdered in South Africa every day
    4. Drivers                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                 i.  Cab drivers will scam you, rip you off, take you for a ride

                                 ii. Safari drivers have little to no regard for you back or kidneys

        2. Mosquitos – Every 30 seconds someone in Africa dies of malaria

mosquito    Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Those at the South African Chamber of Commerce will tell you that all major cities around the world have high crime rates.  I looked up – New York, in the summer when crime is the highest, has about 50 murders a month.  But I know that if I stay away from the wrong people and wrong places in Africa I’ll be fine – as long as they stay away from me.  Here are the ‘Big 5’ ‘animals’ I’m going to try to avoid:

  1. The Robber
  2. The Mugger
  3. The AIDS carrier
  4. The Malaria-infested Mosquito
  5. The Cab Driver

Indeed, it is a jungle out there.  So why go to Africa, you ask?  It is a beautiful country with an incredibly rich history and lots of amazing animals – and I want to see where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie get their kids.

All kidding aside (I really wasn’t kidding) below is the abbreviated itinerary for your Man-on-the-Savanna to bring you an up-close and personal look (from my warped perspective) at Africa.

 LAX to London

London to Johannesburg

Johannesburg to Cape Town (Finally!)

Cape Town site seeing (3 days)

Sabi Sand Game Reserve – (3 days)

Johannesburg – 1 day

Victoria Falls, Zembabwe (2 days)


If any of my writing gets lost in translation it’s because there are over 2,000 languages spoken in Africa (This is one of many ‘interesting tidbits’ that I’ll be reporting back to you with).sardines

Signing off from LAX where I will be packed, sardine-like, into a metal tube floating through the sky for the next 26 hours.