All posts by karen

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (2/2)

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city? Check out the door furniture, sneak peeks through windows, hunt down pub carpets, look for a chip shop? Me too!

In Antwerp it’s not just any ol’ chips you’ll want to find, it’s designer fries by Sergio Herman at Frites Atelier. We settled in for the Bacon and Bearnaise seasonal special. The chips, cooked skin-on, were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. That’s some good potato action there, (and I am speaking as an expert).

The rain started to fall heavily. Our guide was adamant that we’d survive, but I wasn’t so sure. I double wrapped my scarf round my head and hoped for the best.

We skipped from doorway to overhang, turning our faces from the driving rain to peer into the warm lit shops full of beautiful design, apparel and chocolates. Everywhere there were hands – little hand door knockers, little hand biscuits, little chocolate hands, little symbols of Antwerp.

Rushing through the streets, dodging puddles, we made our way to the Museum Plantin Moretus, a UNESCO world heritage site, housed in the 16th century mansion home and printing establishment of Christophe Plantin.

Dark oak panels and ceilings, walls hung with Rubens paintings on golden satin flocked wallpaper, dimly lit by large three-tiered brass chandeliers. The floors creaked, wood ground against wood under heavy foot, as we passed through the many rooms, saw the world’s oldest printing presses and wondered at the anatomical illustrations of Andrea Vesalius.

Back, out into the light, the rain gave break as we made our way to another UNESCO world heritage site, the seven aisled gothic beauty, the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Outside the cathedral is a sculpture of a boy and his dog, made of white marble, tucked under a paving stone blanket. The work, by Batist Vermeulen, pays homage to the characters Nello and Patrasche from the 19th century English novel, ‘A Dog of Flanders’. This is a tale of great sadness, so, I am going to share it with you.

Nello, an orphan, rescues a dog that was beaten close to death. They become inseparable friends, all they have is each other. After a series of desperately upsetting events Nello, a very talented artist, decides he wants to see Rubens’ paintings in Antwerp cathedral, but he can’t afford the exhibition entry fee. On Christmas Eve they find the church door open, by chance they can go in and see the paintings after all. The next morning Nello and Patrasche are found, cuddled together and frozen to death, in front of ‘The Descent from the Cross’. Apparently, the universal message here is that ‘friendship conquers all, even beyond death’. Let’s see what we can do with the living, shall we?

We took the multiple escalators to the rooftop of MAS, a warehouse-like museum, like a Tetris stack of red-brown sandstone with glass infills, set between two docks. We looked over the city, across the lights, watched trains and cars pass by, then took the multiple escalators back down, crossing the road to Restaurant Lux for a fabulous dinner (and a lovely tiled floor).

It was dark when I arrived in my room at the Hotel Rubens. Cool marble tables, nice lighting, huge bed that lured me with its soft white cotton and many pillows. I was asleep in no time at all.

My delight in the morning when I pulled back the curtains, opened the window wide and revelled in the beauty of it all – the crisp morning air, the peace and quiet, the years of buildings all layered together like the most magical cake.

We were up early, plodding across the city to The Rubens House. It’s actually a palace and his front room had gold leather covered walls. Rubens also owned a couple of castles.

Other things I learnt at The Rubens House: Pets in paintings were a thing in the 16th and 17th century. Some of Rubens work had the value of two houses, while he was alive. His studio was pretty much a factory, 3000 paintings were made there by ‘him’. Aside from being an artist, Rubens was a business man, a diplomat, and some say, genius. However enthralling a tour guide is, I still can’t help but wander off.

Fully Rubens’d up, we headed to our last stop in Antwerp, RAS, a delightful and calm restaurant, on one side overlooking the river Scheldt, and the other looking back at the varied architecture of the city.

The amber coloured beer, De Koninck, is brewed in the city of Antwerp, the goblet shaped glass it is traditionally served in is called a ‘Bolleke’.

After a delicious lunch and one final toast to a great trip, we were back on the road, heading down to Dunkirk for our ferry crossing home.

As we left the city we got a glimpse of the Port House from a distance, designed by Zaha Hadid, a century-old ex fire station sits beneath a new extension of epic proportions. An incredible diamond-like spaceship that needs to be seen to be believed.

My only question now is, when are we going back?

Frites Atelier Korte Gasthuisstraat 32, 2000 Antwerp

Museum Plantin Moretus Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen

Cathedral of Our Lady Handschoenmarkt 3, 2000 Antwerpen

Restaurant Lux Adriaan Brouwerstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen

Hotel Rubens Oude Beurs 29 , 2000 , Antwerp

The Rubens House Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerp

RAS Ernest Van Dijckkaai 37, 2000 Antwerpen

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (1/2)

I quite like a ferry crossing, although I don’t think I’ve been on one since the Hull to Zeebrugge over-nighter of 2014 where everyone was drunk before we even left the port and I ended up on a winning streak in the casino.

This trip was different though, this was DFDS Dover to Dunkirk, with peaceful Premium Lounge passes and excellent eggs benedict. It seemed to be over in a flash, and then we were on the road. It feels like everyone I know gets on the ferry and then heads south through France, but we were going against the norm, turning left, and heading to the ‘city of light’, Eindhoven.

I was excited to get a tour of the city, to look at the beautiful tiled floor in the station, to see the public art, to wander through the Downtown Gourmet Market (I will come back for you delicious foods of the world!)  and, to see the spots where the famous Philips factories had been.

Eindhoven was the home of Philips from 1891. They were there so long that when they left, 100 years later, the city had to totally regenerate. Many of the iconic factory buildings were repurposed, filled with creative people, new technology and innovation.

Eindhoven is hip. They’ve got a logo called ‘the vibe’, a building called ‘The Blob’, and their motto is ‘if you choose, you get chosen’.

They’ve also got a building called ‘The Brown Lord’.

We went to Vane Skybar, drank speciality cocktails called ‘The Homer’ (as in, homing pigeon. I love pigeons), overlooking the city lights.

Finally we arrived at Kazerne for dinner. Beautiful
Alex De Witte lights hung above the bar like balloons in perpetual motion. Plants and dark walls, fantastic Dutch Invertuals exhibition on display, and someone had parked a phat AMG C63 outside. I was in my element, then they cranked it up a notch with the most delicious dinner.

The tour of the city was so good I even got my guide book signed.

Later that night in the Lumen Bar I learnt the saying ‘as dark as a dick’. Apparently, it’s a Dutch thing.

The old Philips Light Tower, Eindhoven.

We stayed at the Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven. In the morning I pulled open the curtains and looked up at the Light Tower. This fabulous industrial monument, now part of the hotel, was built between 1909 – 1921. Inside it hundreds of thousands of filament bulbs were tested – the tower was lit day and night. Sounds quite magical to me. I like lightbulbs.

In the hotel lobby there was an exhibition, not what I was expecting from such a modern space – cottages, cart horses, boobies and a portrait of Princess Diana.

After breakfast we headed straight to Nuenen, the countryside village where Vincent Van Gogh lived for two years and produced a quarter of all his works, including The Potato Eaters. I like potatoes.

We visited the Vincentre and watched a short film about Van Gogh. Read from his diary, the words ‘Winter is snow with black trimmings,stuck with me, a vision through his eyes.

We walked around Neunen, treading in his footsteps. I picked up an oak leaf from the pavement outside Nune Ville Parsonage. For a year Van Gogh lived and worked in the washhouse, here at his parents’ house. He must have seen that same tree, for a full year of seasons.

We took turns to stand on a step, to peer through a gap in a hedge, to look at the church from the same spot that Van Gogh painted it. I caught a glimpse of more modern buildings. ‘Don’t cross the road,’ said Nigel, our tour guide, as I crossed the road.

I was interested to see the things that weren’t related to Van Gogh. For such a small town, with such prominent association, I wanted to see the things that weren’t luring the tourists. Such modernist suburban delight. The lamp posts were beautiful, simple designs and good paint colours, in front of modern, pale toned houses with dorma roofs. Someone had a Vauxhall Cavalier.

We ate lunch at the Opwetten Watermill, situated on the Kleine Dommel river. Van Gogh painted a lot here, I ate croquettes. We are both artists in our own right.

Continuing on to Den Bosch, at the Het Noordbrabants Museum we were each welcomed with an oversized Bossche Bol. A sweet treat worth travelling for. So good I’m sure they even chose the decor to complement its beauty.

We saw Van Gogh paintings – portraits of workers, in dark greens, blues, greys – he found beauty in everyday people.

We saw the exhibition devoted to the film ‘Loving Vincent’, a unique glimpse behind the scenes of the making of the painted animation, the first film of its kind in the world (65000 paintings, 12 canvases per second, 94 minutes long – all painted by hand!).

And then we saw, with mouths open and eyes bulging in awe, Tim Walker’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The exhibition space was vast, but the images perfectly scaled, dark in tone and larger than life. Shona Heath’s magical props displayed with plenty of space to enjoy, but close enough to be able to inspect the details. Everything was perfect.

That evening we dined in Den Bosch’s most famous street, Korte Putstraat – restaurant hopping from starter, to main course, to dessert (served in a lightbulb!). LUX, Zoetelief, then Breton – all different, all delicious, all complimentary to each other.

I slept so well that night. Dreams filled with magical puddings and ethereal figures. The thoughts of the candlelit breakfast to come. The desire to wake up early and photograph the carpets passed me by as I fell deep into slumber. Cool air, heavy duvet.

Shout out to Huize Bergen for the comfiest bed, and for controllable room temperatures. Boo ya!

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

Vane Skybar Vestdijk 5, 5611 CA Eindhoven

Kazerne Paradijslaan 2-8, 5611 KN Eindhoven

Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven Mathildelaan 1 (GPS), 5611 BJ Eindhoven

Vincentre Berg 29, 5671 CA Nuenen

Opwetten Watermill Opwettenseweg 203, 5674 AC Nuenen

Het Noordbrabants Museum Verwersstraat 41, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Korte Putstraat Korte Putstraat, 5211 KP, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Huize Bergen Glorieuxlaan 1, 5261 SG Vught

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

Supercar Driving Experience at Blyton Park with Bose & PSR Automotive

As a child there were two cars I wanted, a Marcos Mantis and anything with a Lamborghini badge on it. Possibly even the ‘Countach’ that was blatantly an MR2 and always parked on the road outside my friend John’s house.

I also wanted a motorbike, an Aprilia Replica (I had a poster of one on my wall). And a helicopter. And a pig. I digress.

I was invited to join Bose for a day of supercar goodness at Blyton Park with PSR Automotive. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I’d stopped listening when I heard the word ‘Lamborghini’.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes.

The Red Arrows were practicing in the sky as I drove up through Lincolnshire, smoke trailing from their tails, I hoped they were going to write something. They wrote ‘O’ and it dragged down in the sky into nothing but a blur.

Whilst everyone tucked into their bacon sarnies and hot tea the rumours started to circulate, ‘That’s Dan from HQ, he’s a racing driver, but so modest!’ and, as the briefing began, ‘That’s Ben, he does track days!’ said the man next to me. There was a sense of nervousness, awe and excitement in the air.

I spoke to Ben ‘he does trackdays’ later. It was he who’d organised the event for Bose, using it as a sales incentive to drive business in stores across the UK, he also knew the joy and positivity that would come from such an experience and be carried forward in performance long after. Bose have sponsored Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 for the past three years, so there’s an obvious motorsport affiliation there, but it’s not every day the sales team get to drive a fleet of supercars, without limits!

We were split into groups of six, I was in the green team. We headed off to our first activity, the Autotest. Green team were excited, so excited that one of us had to go for a pee behind a shed. (Not me, this time).

The Autotest was a challenge of car control (in a BMW 130i) through a short course of cones – flat out, braking, turning, zigzagging, reversing into a ‘garage’ and slamming the brakes on at the finish line. The rest of green team talked about their cars and their abilities, one of the lads felt he’d suck at reversing as he wouldn’t be able to see through his own bicep. I was last to go, we were running out of time so I didn’t get to take all of the practice runs, but I still managed to be 2nd, much to my team’s surprise!

Later on we’d each have six cars to drive, three short laps per car, with the same instructor all day so that they could complete an assessment sheet on our lines, pace, progress etc.

There was a buffet lunch and a hot lap in an Aston Martin. As I got out of the car Marc, the driver (who also races a KTM X-BOW in Europe) handed me a USB stick containing footage of the lap. You’ve seen these things, where people scream with fear and joy, and try to grab on to things that aren’t there? Not me. When I watched mine back I was embarrassed. What is a ‘flappy paddle doo dah’, and why was I basically interviewing him about his life and telling him where I was born?

Then we had to go against the clock on a driving simulator. I was most terrible at this activity. All I did was shout ‘Jesus’ and ‘someone help me!’ No one helped me.

But let me tell you about the real cars.

Lotus Evora (3.5l V6, 300bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 170mph). Of all the cars this is the one I was most familiar with and I felt quite pleased it was the first supercar I’d be driving. Actually, I felt quite pleased that a Lotus was classed as a supercar! I’m a big fan of all things Lotus, and I love that they hail from the depths of Norfolk. I found it very comforting to drive, a real joy, but the gear change was lagging. This Evora had one of the earlier boxes, and apparently, the new ones are awesome – but how will I know until Lotus send me one to drive, hey?!

Porsche 911 turbo (3.8l Flat 6, 530bhp, 0-60 in 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). I have never had any interest in Porsches. I lie. The Le Mans ones are wicked, and in my first job (at Britain’s oldest newspaper!) I did photograph a lot of Porsches, mostly in trees and walls. I was so surprised to enjoy driving this car as much as I did. Whilst I still struggled with the flappy paddle gearbox (my fault, not the cars, I am used to driving a manual £150 Golf!) I loved the smoothness of the drive and felt immediately at ease driving it. So much at ease that I made the instructor /car guardian squeal and grab the steering wheel!

Audi R8 (5.2l V10, 532bhp, 0-60 in 3.4sec, max speed 196mph).
This car felt like a super-fast heavy weight. It didn’t feel as easy to drive as I thought it would, but that might be because I’d just stepped out of the more dainty engined 911 and this thing had way more grunt, felt more responsive and gave much more feedback than the Porsche. The R8 also sounded magnificent!

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 ( 5.0l V10, 552bhp, 0-60 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). What was that, a choir of angels singing? I thought so. I never thought it would be possible to fall in love with a car, but, wow! When can I get one? Driving the Gallardo was like reaching another plane of understanding, like some kind of ethereal out-of-body experience. It was such a beautiful experience that I could barely concentrate on anything else, to the point that I didn’t even hear the instructor when he told me to go in, so I accidentally took four laps instead of three. Oopsie!

Ford Mustang GT (4.6l V8, 315bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 150mph). I would have actually been happy to only drive one lap in this car. It made a great sound, but it wasn’t for me. I like to be able to go round corners and not feel like I’m sitting in a massive box. Of course it was left hand drive, but after my death trap driving experience (now there’s a concept for you!) in Rwanda the other month, this was not something that fazed me. But, that red leather interior, I’m still not over that!

Aston Martin Vantage (4.7l V8, 430 bhp, 0-60 in 4.0sec, max speed 180mph). After the Mustang, this was the car that least interested me, so I was surprised to enjoy it much more than I thought I  would. It certainly wasn’t a track car, but I can see why people would love this on the road. It was very comfortable, and fun to drive. It could have been more fun if the instructor hadn’t grabbed at the wheel as I got the back end out on the last corner though!

All in all, a very enjoyable day. There was one major disappointment for me though, I didn’t get to bring the Lamborghini home.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes!

I was a guest of Bose and PSR Automotive. I did all my own driving, wowing and wooing, and as always, my opinions are my own.

Rwanda: Looking for Lions – Akagera National Park (2/2)

The sun was hotting up as we started our drive to the north of Akagera National Park to meet the ranger who would take us lion tracking. In hindsight I should have put pedal to the metal (or flipflop to the floor) and got up there sooner, but the wowing and wooing over the amazing animals we saw meant we had to keep stopping. We had to.

Impala, monkeys, baboons, buffalo, topi, klipspringer, waterbuck, warthogs (and baby warthogs!), giraffes, zebra, guinea fowl, sea eagles, hawk eagles, lilac breasted rollers, all kinds of birds… hippos and a crocodile! I saw some elephant poo too, does that count?

We drove up to Hippo Beach and stopped for a sandwich as a storm came in. Heavy rain and thunder. I offered Maddy the hard boiled egg from my lunch bag. Whack, whack, whack, she cracked it open on the arm rest as we sat and watched the weather moving around us.

The rain slowed and we drove on, opening the windows and breathing the scent of the warm, damp, nutty earth.

Several hours after setting off, along the bumpy tracks, slowly sweeping round the deep puddles and wonky crevices, we arrived at the ranger’s post. Maddy kept telling me how well I was driving, keeping me focused and enthused. I think driving an Elise in the Fens has given me strong pot hole awareness skills. (Also a strong sphincter. Just saying.)

The windows of the ranger’s lodge were lined with the skulls of animals. Nathan, the ranger, came out with his telemetry gear in hand, a rifle hanging from his waist. ‘Its okay’, he explained, ‘I would only use it to scare if I had to.’

We bundled into the 4×4, me still driving, suddenly more aware of every move – now that there was a man with a gun sat behind me.

We drove and stopped, drove and stopped. Each time Nathan got out and held his lion finding wand in the air. We got closer and closer, tracking the lions to an unreachable hillside, before eventually turning back.

Disappointed. I really thought we’d see the lions. I wondered how we’d be able to tell the story now. Then we spotted a bunch of baboons. One of them was limping. I was fully distracted. While the others ran off, he stopped, sat down, looked me straight in the eye and held his leg up to show me it was injured. Ignore his winky, he was cute. I wish I could have helped him, not just taken his photo.

We headed back, checked in to the beautiful Ruzizi Tented Lodge, a solar powered eco-lodge on the edge of lake Ihema with only nine tents.

Along the boardwalk through the trees was our tent, crickets and birds chirping outside. Tiny lizards scurrying across the netted windows.

Up at the lodge we sat round the fire, surrounded by velvet darkness and so many unusual sounds. We ate delicious barbecued beef from skewers, and an unexpected sticky toffee pudding.

Returning in the dark to the sound of hyenas barking calls across the clearing in front of our tent, we zipped ourselves in and got into our beds, air cool enough to warrant duvets, leaving the front covers up (mosquito nets down) so that we could be woken by the sun.

I slept so well, strangely soothed by the wild sounds of the dark night. I woke for a short while to hear hippos shouting, making their ‘wha ha ha’ noises, just like the Predator when he learnt to laugh.

In the morning the chap on reception said to me, ‘You slept well!’ I must have looked puzzled, wondering how he might know. ‘When you arrived here you looked like –‘ he did an impression of a miserable hunchback. ‘Now you look –‘ he stood up straight and smiled.

I sat on the veranda overlooking the lake, for a while I was in so much peace, watching a cormorant dive for fish, and hippos bob up and down. ‘Crocodile!’ shouted the Americans on the next table. Sara joined me for breakfast, fruit salad with tree tomatoes, pancakes with ginger syrup. Thank you world!

We packed up our bags. I’m far from a seasoned traveller, but I would always recommend packing plenty of medical supplies, sunglasses, a warm shawl, portable phone charger and a small mini bar in case you need to appease your travel buddy. I think it’s wise.

I drove back to Kigali feeling much more confident on the roads. Gladly so, as we reached the city in rush hour and it was hectic. Arriving early at the airport, after the engine bay was searched and we put all our things on the pavement for a dog to sniff, we waited for the car to be picked up and watched yet another storm, thunder and lightning. And I saw a domestic cat.

We flew home through the night. Sara slumbered, snored and shuffled beside me, I jotted notes and watched Suicide Squad, wide eyed and wondering about the next adventure.

Huge thanks to Sarah Hall and Jess Gruner from Akagera National Park for all their hospitality and knowledge, and to Away, David Bath, Rebecca B, Carrie Betts, Kevin Betts, Phill Capstick, Camila Cavalcante, Kate Chase and Chase Distillery, Collingwood Norris,  Petra Dumbrell from Adjustus V, Juliet Ferguson, Ian Foulsham, Rachel Gill, Dil Gladwell, Paul Golding, Emily Kate Holmes, Averil Deirdre Hume, Juice, Anita Kerai from Anita’s Kitchen, Penelope Marshall, Stephen Mason, Aoife Maxwell, Annie McCredie, Alan McCredie, Patrick Minee, Susie Moore, Phil Peek, M Perry,  Mads Petersen, Liz Roberts, Martin Roberts, Shade Station, Wendy Stevenson, Miriam Winsor, Laura Ward, & those cheeky anonymous donors, for their amazing support and generosity.

Rwanda: Looking for Lions – Kigali to Akagera (1/2)

Our flight was delayed by Mr Fisher. Or Fischer. Fysher, maybe. I thought about it a lot. Who was this man who had checked his luggage but never made it to the flight? ‘Maybe he had to go home for an emergency?’, I said. ‘Dead in the toilet’, said Sara.

We rushed at Brussels airport to get our connecting flight to Kigali, via a stop in Entebbe. (Hashtag travel blogger. Done Uganda. OMG hashtag two countries in one hour. Avocado emoji. Hashtag vom. Or something similar.)

Sara worked at hacking the inflight entertainment system whilst the man in front of her jiggled back and forth, shuffling his bum bag from side to side and plucking long white hairs from his nose.

‘It’s Monday?’ I asked, too many times. I ate an inflight meal of bread roll and antihistamines and snuggled into my blanket-like shawl stroking it gently and calling it my new best friend.

Some months earlier I’d met Sara through Instagram. She lived not so far from me and always shared pictures of her lovely old house, antiques and things. One day we met for a cup of tea, and the next, well…

Sara told me she’d spent years working on a book about lions for Bloomsbury. I was enthralled. I couldn’t believe that I’d not known how close lions had come to extinction in the wild. In Rwanda, they’d been completely wiped out in the 1990s because of the horrific Genocide.

Sara told me there was a chance for me to do something, to travel with her and document a project in Akagera, where lions had been successfully reintroduced. I was in, totally in, but there was a slight hitch – no funding. I’d have to take time out of work, work for free, and pay for the privilege. Sara said she couldn’t afford this either, she’d put everything into the book, so she set up a Crowdfunder for When The Last Lions Roars, and asked people to support us, writer and photographer, to go to Rwanda and get the story direct from the lions mouth (Spoiler, we didn’t meet any lions).

I was overwhelmed by the support from people I knew, people who I didn’t expect to be interested in what I was up to, let alone be so generous. Three quarters of the funding came from those dear kind people, and a bit more from my things that Sara sold.

So, there I was, flying to Africa with a woman who I only really knew through tiny squares on the internet, Instagram snapshots of her life through her eyes.

After a long queue (a short queue, a long time) for our Visas we stepped out into the night. The air was warm and smelt of wood fires. Armed police stood on street corners, dressed as men, looking like boys. Our driver took us to the hotel, up and down hills, the city scattered with lights. ‘Left hand drive!’ I exclaimed, at last noticing. Sara shrugged, ‘You’ll be fine’.

We checked in to the Marriott Hotel, admired the carpet, and headed up to our room. The lift doors opened, two men stood there, half dressed in robes. Three floors up and we’d already learnt that they were from Istanbul, they knew the city, and they would be in the bar for drinks later should we wish to join them.

I had other plans. Chugging a pot noodle in my hotel room was top of my list.

Hold the line. I noted that our toilet was branded Toto. And that we were in Africa. (If you get that you’re a music fan of the 80s).

It took me a while to get to sleep, overtired and slightly startled by hearing Sara demand ‘Sleep!’ as she dozed off (apparently it was a ‘silent’ meditation).

We woke to a view over the city and a large buffet breakfast.

Heading to the airport to pick up our pre-booked hire car we discovered that it wasn’t at the airport at all. There was a man there, holding a sign that read ‘Mr Harvey Karen’ and looking very bewildered. When we finally arrived at Europcar the car that was ready for Mr Harvey Karen wasn’t available to Miss Karen Harvey and we were asked to fork out another $100 for a new Toyota Fortuna, which turned into a beat-up Land Cruiser after the payment had gone through.

I’ve never driven a manual left-hand drive 4×4 through an African capital city before. (Make that – I’ve never driven a left hand drive anything, or a 4×4, or been to Africa.) First stop petrol station, then road works.

Attempting to master the knackered clutch and spongey brakes, we set off on our 100km journey across the land of a thousand hills, east to Akagera National Park.

I focused myself on the busy roads – first swerving pot holes, cars, trucks and cyclists, then later, school children, bicycles laden with bananas, and a mongoose. Gentle rain fell on the dusty red roads as we headed further and further from civilisation.

After several hours we arrived at Akagera National Park. Relief. Tiny brightly coloured birds bathed by a dripping water tap and baboons hung out on a  football pitch. We were met by Park Manager Jes Gruner, he gave us a brief introduction to the wonderful work they’re doing there, and then took us to meet the dogs.

Raging and snarling at their kennel doors, these beasts were quite terrifying, trained to take down a poacher in a matter of moments. Rizo was let out, immediately calmed, looking up with adoration at Jes, most obviously his favourite human, and then moving over to me with his big brown eyes for a good rubbing.

As he walked away to get back to work Jes pointed at my blue t-shirt and said, ‘Don’t wear that tomorrow’. It seems the tsetse fly likes blue, and black, so much so that the park had hung striped flags around to attract the flies away from us.

We checked in to the Game Lodge. I checked my suitcase – all blue and black.

The lodge had an air of 1960s holiday chalets, not at all what I had imagined. The curtains were a heavy patchwork of animal print. We slept under a big mosquito net. Sara tucked me in, passing me my laptop, phone, books, water and more. It felt like indoor camping.

Waking to a breakfast of banana cake, watermelon and anti-malarials, we gathered our packed lunches and headed out from the lodge to pick up my new co-driver, 22-year-old community freelance guide, and custard-cream eating kind heart, Maddy Uwase.

It was time to go on a lion hunt, and we were more than ready.

With great thanks to Kigali Marriott Hotel for hosting me and my guest for a night in their wonderful new hotel.