Making the Most of Your Time in Nairobi, Kenya

We spent a couple of days in Nairobi in order to relax before heading home after our safari and we really enjoyed our time there. If you have a day or two in Nairobi, there are several places that are definitely worth visiting during your time there. Our hotel was located in the heart of the city and getting out to see the attractions was certainly a time consuming proposition due to the traffic in Nairobi, even with trying to avoid the heavier traffic times. We scheduled a Nairobi City Tour with our guides, but obviously these places could be visited on you own without needing to use a guide, but it helps to have a driver who knows how to get around the city.

Front of the House/Museum
The Tractor that Karen Used on Her Farm

Karen Blixen Museum and Gardens – It is hard to explain the impact that Karen Blixen had on the city of Nairobi and Kenya in general. The Baroness is best known around the world for her autobiographical story of her time in Africa titled Out of Africa as well as the movie with the same name. To the people of Kenya, she is known for providing healthcare to the people and providing inspiration to the women of Kenya. Although the book and movie romanticize her time in East Africa, the story and her life were rather tragic. The museum, which is the house she lived in and the gardens that surround it, is the location of their failed coffee plantation and features some of the farm equipment as well as photographs of the people in Karen’s life. There is also some memorabilia from the movie as it was filmed on location in Africa.

Handler Checking on an Elephant
Just Like a Kid Pushing a Friend into the Pool

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Elephant Orphanage – One might have thought that we had seen enough elephants during our safari considering that we saw hundreds of them, but we were actually excited to visit the elephant orphanage in Nairobi. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is dedicated to rescuing orphaned elephants and rhinos, raising them and possibly rehabilitating them, and then returning them to the wild. The baby elephants come from all of the various national parks and animal reserves where, unfortunately, poaching still sometimes occur leaving the elephants orphaned or sometimes they become orphaned for other reasons. Pretty much every baby animal is cute and adorable, but baby elephants are especially cute and precocious.

Hand-Painting the Beads
Necklaces in the Store

Kazuri Bead Factory – Although it is referred to as the Kazuri Bead Factory, it is really an artisan workshop where the beads for necklaces and bracelets as well as other pottery are created. Everything created by the artisans for Kazuri are handmade and hand-painted based on a preset pattern that each of the workers follow. In addition to creating beautiful jewelry and pottery, Kazuri provides work for mostly single mothers and provides free medical care for their employees and their immediate family. Buying items from Kazuri, which are sold worldwide, is really an opportunity to get some something beautiful and help the people as well.

Getting Close to the Giraffes
Giraffes Lined Up to be Fed

Giraffe Centre (The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife) – During our city tour of Nairobi, we visited the Giraffe Centre, whose official name is the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife. Obviously the proceeds from people visiting the center go to the preservation of endangered animals in Africa such as the cheetahs, rhinos, and other animals. Having spent the previous eleven days on safari where we saw giraffes in the wild every day, we weren’t sure at first about visiting the Giraffe Centre. It is currently going under some renovations in order to improve the experience of the visitors and to make the center even more green. The highlight of visiting the Giraffe Centre is getting up close to the giraffes and feeding them.

Walking Through the Market
Many Options to Buy

A Maasai Market – Although we had visited an actual Maasai Village during our safari, we still took time to go to one of the Maasai markets that are in the city of Nairobi. Be forewarned that as you enter the market, there will be men offering to guide you through the market, but you should ignore them and tour the market on your own. They just want to get part of the money that you might spend and they are really pushy about trying to get you to buy something. We had something fairly specific in mind since we had already bought souvenirs, which we couldn’t find, so we didn’t end up buying anything, but enjoyed seeing the local artwork on display.

One of the First Lions that We Saw
Rhino Heading Towards Us

Nairobi National Park – We did not visit the Nairobi National Park since we had already spent twelve days going through the national parks that are part of the great migration route, but if you are only visiting Nairobi and not doing a safari, it would be worth visiting. The park has many of the same animals that you will find when going on safari without having to travel more than a few minutes from the city.

Thorn Tree Cafe with the Message Tree Where People (like Hemingway) Received Messages in Nairobi
View from Our Hotel Room

In addition to visiting these locations in Nairobi, we also spent time eating at several different restaurants in the city. Obviously, due to the time of visit and travel restrictions because of COVID, there were not many other tourists in the city when we were there. We found the city of Nairobi to be quite interesting and enjoyed seeing it as much as we enjoyed our time on safari.

The Importance of Selecting the Right Guides for an African Safari

The guide company that you select for an African safari will most likely determine your overall experience. They can’t guarantee what animals you will see or what the weather will be like, but they make all of the arrangements for the places where you stay, ensure safe travel between the various parks and reserves, as well as take you on game drives and provide expert information on the animals that you see. For our trip, we started by researching individual guide companies that were recommended to us or we found on TripAdvisor. We were finding the process overwhelming, so we went to Safari Bookings where you can provide details on the type of safari you’d like to take and they will have guide companies reach out to you and provide quotes. This worked out much better as they only work with verified experts and ensure that the companies are reliable.

Picture of David with Us at the Maasai Village

We received several different quotes and even created a spreadsheet to compare the different tours, the parks that were included, the places where we would stay, and the overall cost of the safari. After narrowing it down to a few choices, we reached out with questions and considered how responsive each company was and how willing they were to work with us to potentially make changes to the itinerary. We also went out and looked at each of the camps and lodges that were included in the safari package to help us determine if it was right for us. We decided on what is considered a mid-tier safari, which made the price more reasonable, but it also meant that we would spend more time driving through the country versus flying from location to location. Actually seeing the country in addition to the parks was something that was important to us.

Shabani Set Up a Twilight Toast for Us on Our Last Night in Tanzania

We ended up choosing Africa Marvel Tours for our safari and we couldn’t have been happier with our decision. Before our trip even started, we chatted via WhatsApp as well as email and added a couple of nights to the original package, a decision that would provide us the opportunity to get close to white and black rhinos at Lake Nakuru as well as a tour of Nairobi. They also provided guidance on getting the COVID tests that we would need and checked with the different places that we would stay as to specific amenities that they offered. Then, when our flights got delayed, they made arrangements to pick us up at the airport instead of the hotel as originally planned. From the moment they met us at the airport and gave us Maasai blankets as a gift to our arrival back in the United States they stayed in touch with us to ensure that we had a safe trip home, everyone at Africa Marvel Tours were amazing.

Us with Shabani

We had two specific guides during our safari, David for our time in Kenya and Shabani for our time in Tanzania. Each of them were extremely knowledgeable about the parks and knew where we were likely to find some of the most fascinating animals. Not only did we see the big five, elephants, lions, water buffaloes, rhinos, and leopards, but we had many other incredible experiences, including getting close enough to pet a lion (which we definitely did not) with Shabani and having a cheetah jump on the hood of our Land Cruiser with David in Maasai Mara. They both took excellent care of us and we appreciated all of their help and guidance.

Cheetah on the Hood of Our Land Cruiser

Clearly we had an absolutely amazing experience during our safari adventure and that was in large part due to the selection of Africa Marvel Tours. There are a lot of other factors that will make the experience better including patience to wait and watch for the wildlife, just having a relaxed attitude and not getting stressed, and not putting too many expectations in advance as to what you will see. It is also important to remember that the guides are their to ensure your safety and use their expertise to guide you, but it is your safari and you can request changes as well. It was certainly an experience of a lifetime and we will remember all of the various wildlife encounters for the rest of our lives.

Lunch at Ngorongoro Crater

Walking Tour of Amsterdam

Taking walking tours of a city can be a great way to learn interesting facts about a city as well as see important landmarks. The walking tour that we took in Amsterdam was interesting as it was advertised as a free tour where participants are asked to pay the tour guide what they felt was a fair price for the tour that they received. In some ways it forces the tour guide to be more creative, informative, and lively. We are sure that most people pay the same prices as the other paid tours, but you aren’t obligated although we doubt that anyone would truly not pay the guide for the tour.

Our Tour Guide
Crossing a Canal
Us on the Tour

The tour that we took combined information about the “coffee houses”, the red light district, the history of Amsterdam in World War II, as well as just the general history of the city. We heard many interesting facts and folklore about this city that was built on swampland so many years ago. According to folklore, the first settlers in the area that is now the city of Amsterdam did so as the result of a bet. The first couple of attempts to populate the area failed as the buildings sank into the marsh land. In order to finally build the city, they pounded poles made from trees that are up to 100 feet tall into the moist ground to stabilize the buildings. Eventually they used wind mills to pump the water out and create the canals that crisscross the city.

The Palace Sits on Thousands of Wooden Poles
Our Meeting Place
Learning about the Family Plaques

As for the coffee houses and the history of pot or Marijuana in Amsterdam. We were actually surprised to hear that marijuana is not actually legal in Amsterdam, but they issue permits for the coffee houses to sell marijuana, kind of an odd arrangement. Because it not actually legal, you won’t see any signs specifically saying that they sell marijuana and hence the reason that they are considered and marketed as coffee houses. The story we were told of the first coffee house in the seventies was that the police knew that the owner was selling marijuana, but that heroin use and addicts were a much bigger problem, so they turned a blind-eye to the coffee house and it spread from there. We were also told that Amsterdam took a unique approach to combating heroin as they house the addicts and provide them food, clean lodging, and heroin, which keeps them off of the streets. In fact we did not see anyone begging for food or money on the streets of Amsterdam during our time there. Unfortunately, because it is not legal, but tolerated, the coffee houses have to purchase their marijuana from typical drug cartels, which is not helpful for society in general.

Canal with Boat Tours
First Autopsies Conducted Here, Which is Now a Restaurant
The Start of Our Tour

As for the red light district, we just did a quick pass through the streets and wandered passed a couple of the famous windows. It is another unique approach to a controversial topic, but the people of Amsterdam have a live and let live attitude in general, so they are far more tolerant than people in other parts of Europe or the world. The local prostitution union even offers classes for aspiring prostitutes, but the number of windows available for them to use is shrinking as gentrification has started to modify the area. Another interesting fact was that the church in the red light district used to have the sailors pay for their sins before they spent a night of debauchery. Since they wouldn’t have time to go to church prior to having to return to their ships, they would confess what they intended to do with their free time in the red light district, pay for their sins, and then were absolved allowing them to have comfort if they should die during their next voyage.

Church in the Red Light District
Family Plaques
Leaning Buildings

Other interesting places that we saw were the smallest house in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House, and learned about the leaning houses that line the canal. Each of the buildings that line the canals have hooks near the roof and the buildings lean slightly forward so that they could use pulleys to raise heavy objects to the upper floors since the stairs are so narrow. If buildings are leaning left or right, that is due to them sinking slightly and it is not intentional. About the only thing that we don’t like about the walking tours is that they almost always bring to a store or two to try some local favorites, like cheese, with the hope that you will buy items from that particular store, most likely producing a kickback to the tour company.

The Red House is the Smallest House in Amsterdam
Anne Frank House in the Distance
Notice the Hooks

If you get a chance to go to Amsterdam, we would highly recommend taking a walking tour, you will enjoy it. In fact, we would recommend taking walking tours in many cities, even cities in your own local area or the city that you live in. You might be surprised by the things that you learn about a place you thought you already knew.

Canal that Anne Frank Saw Daily