A light breeze blows between the trees while snow slowly and silently drifts from the sky. It crunches under your shoes as you walk over the white blanketing the floor, your scarf tightly wrapped around your neck.
That simply sounds like the beginning of a scary horror novel to me. I know, many people love winter, snow and skiing but for us that’s torture. Give me at least 20°C and palm trees if you want to see me smile. At least 4 months of the year are a total waste of time for us, brooding at home about how much we dislike leaving the house and confronting the elements. Alas, Christmas is Pipo’s preferred season for travelling and Dupsy has to agree. Set the sails for warmer climates!
The destination to bring 2016 to an end: Ghana!
If you had a window seat during geography class, let’s give it a quick touch up. Ghana is a former British colony in West Africa, sandwiched between Côte d’Ivoire to the West, Burkina Faso in the North and Togo to its East. Accra is the capital of Ghana and is located in the South directly on the Atlantic coast. The city is rather “flat”, stretching over an area instead of having the typical sky scraper city center that you might be used from other big cities. It doesn’t feel very metropolitan except for consistent traffic jams.
Ok, I’m sorry, I have to apologize to Dupe. Since we booked our vacation earlier in the year there were roughly 317 occasions to make the “we Ghana have a good time!” pun that she probably got sick of after the third time. I plead guilty to bad jokes but I was really looking forward to this trip for multiple reasons:
- Warmth! While we were in Ghana it was -12°C at home
- Christmas with Modupe’s family
- I haven’t been to Africa since I was a child
- Ample opportunities to practice kissing my teeth and refining my use of “Chale!”
Fast forward, it’s December 23rd and we finally get to flee frozen Europe. We made the last minute decision to spend the night before our early morning flight in Zürich at a hotel which we can only say was a blessed idea, adding at least an hour to our sleep. We opted for the ZRH – BRU – ACC route via Brussels Airlines. The Brussels Airport is quite okish but just let me say: flying to Africa from Brussels Airport will make you feel like an unappreciated guest that can’t be trusted. You casually stroll down the nice airport terminal, considering which restaurant to have a snack at or where to buy something before your flight until you hit the unexpected passport control in the middle of the terminal and enter the Sahel zone of service. There was one sorry bar that served dried up croissants and nothing else besides all the gates to go to African places most Europeans have never heard of. It’s a bit sad how that makes you feel like Africans get herded into the blah part of the airport. But enough of that, this shall not be a rant about ethics but a short summary of our holidays.
Already while flying into Accra you could see the thick dust cover of the Harmattan. Dry winds blow from the Sahara over West Africa, carrying dust and sand with them that blocks out the sky. Harmattan is supposed to be a cold season but we clearly got lucky, the weather stayed consistently around 30°C. The moment I stepped out of the airplane in Accra I knew I’m right here. That lovely feeling when the cabin doors open and you can feel the air go around your face like a freshly tumble dried cushion. We had a three week stay in front of us with a somewhat filled agenda. Due to time and logistics reasons we decided to stay in the area around Accra for the whole time span, leaving a trip to the North for another visit in the future. Home base was in Teshie area, staying with Dupsy’s family (I’m still working on stealing them away from her).
We arrived just in time for the busy days around Christmas and New Year with a lot of expatriate Ghanaians coming back for the holidays. The first week was basically a blur of brunching and parties.
We had our first dinner at Urban Grill. There’s not much to say, the food was really good but also really pricey. The prices in the wine menu make you grind your teeth. We always contemplated coming again but never got around to it in the oncoming marathon of relaxing and indulging.
Villa Grace Brunch en Blanc
Dupe surprised me with an invitation to the “Brunch en Blanc” by Villa Grace as a Christmas present and I was already burning on experiencing it. If you don’t know Villa Grace yet, you clearly have to catch up and follow Fred Apaloo’s pop-up fine dining on Instagram after reading this article on okayafrica. We follow Villa Grace’s IG since a while and it’s impressive how every event is a meticulous combination of meals, drinks and ambience. In this specific case the brunch with following after party was hosted by Villa Grace together with Tea Baa (more on that later) and Veuve Clicquot.at The Savannah Garden. We have to admit that we were still stuck in our Swiss-German mind set and therefore showed up by 12:05, considering that the event was scheduled to start at noon. Kwasiasem with mandatory kissing of teeth! We were of course the first guests by a long time and it was a brooding 33°C in the garden. Luckily we were quickly relieved from our suffering when the bottomless champagne cocktails turned from a promise into reality. We managed to keep our indulgence head start while the guests slowly arrived until serving of food finally began around 2pm.
If you browse through the picture stream of Villa Grace on Instagram you can see what was served during that day, even spy yours truly on some pictures. When coming to Ghana you just have to try to visit one of Fred Apaloo’s events, it would be too bitter to miss out. Every single of the six courses was mouth watering the moment I lay eyes on it, delicious to devour and making you sad that you already finished eating it. An additional pleasure was the seemingly never empty glasses that were served by the great service staff.
All in all we loved the day, blending from the Brunch en Blanc into the after party were we went on with some more champagne (Mommy said never to mix drinks!) with more friends showing up.
And because the question came up multiple times: yes, I was melting while wearing a sport coat in the heat, I just have thorough practice in making it look like I’m not dying.
A Harmattan night in Ada
After the Christmas days it was time for our first excursion out of Accra on the 27th. We opted to spend a night in Ada, a two to three hour drive east of Accra, depending how often you get lost (prompting kissing of teeth). Ada lies at the mouth of the Volta flowing into the Atlantic ocean, a great place to build a water sports oriented resort like Aqua Safari Resort.
I’ll have to admit straight out of the gate that Aqua Safari was our least favorite out of the three resorts we stayed at during vacation. It was the least luxurious but also the most affordable hotel, personally I think it might be the best choice when travelling with kids compared to the places we will have a look at later. The room was quite nice and staff was generally friendly but there’s small details that just distract from the experience. As an example you have to bring the shower towel from your room to the pool as an older gentleman informed us in an brisk way that there’s no towel service and the waiter we asked for never actually appeared within the time spent at the pool. I’m usually quite indifferent to smaller issues in service so I can personally live with that.
The room was really cozy and clean, you will feel quite at home. We were located on the upper floor and spent a good timing relaxing on the balcony after going for a swim.
As you might have noticed in the short video above, the Harmattan means serious dust. Sight is very limited and at night we had an at the same time gloomy and romantic time at the banks of the Volta. Aqua Safari offers a wide variety of boat rides in different sized boats as well as jet skis to rent. It is rather pricey, especially when considering local incomes, but I quickly got the expression that most things in Ghana are quite expensive, often even compared to Europe. A bit of a surprise was the availability of horse riding.
Where Aqua Safari lost us was at the dinner. We were looking forward to spending a nice evening, a bonfire was lit outside the dining room, when we came to a rather noisy restaurant. We sat down in a corner and waited as we wanted to eat à la carte instead of the available buffet. It took us nearly 30 minutes to finally get the attention of a waitress by calling out for her. We picked our meal including starters and a hopelessly overpriced bottle of wine from the menu, Modupe already making snide remarks offering me to guess which of the things will be unavailable. I just laughed, how naive of me. Quick interlude at this point: in nearly every place we went to, the menu was more of a “these things might be available if you’re lucky” list instead of an actual menu that allows you to freely choose as I was about to learn. Alas, the South African white wine of choice wasn’t available but we got two alternatives to select from. It took some while longer to actually get the wine glasses to the bottle we picked and my better but less patient half finally lost it when we, after nearly an hour in the restaurant by now, received our bottled water without glasses but the complimentary suggestion to drink out of the half liter plastic bottles. Voicing a complaint gave us zero understanding from our waitress but shortly after one of her colleagues named William came to inform us that they have shift change and he would take over our table from now on. That was a blatant lie as the unmotivated lady was still there two hours later but we were perfectly fine with it, seeing how this time we actually got a politer and better service. The food we ordered, a whole grilled Tilapia as well as a grouper filet, was against our upcoming fears really rather good and we drifted into the night with some cocktails outdoors (thankfully we got to keep our waiter William there) after having some house-made ice cream (we are 100% sure house-made in this context meant made by FanIce in a house somewhere else).
An amusing anecdote on the side: during our dinner odyssey we kept ourselves entertained by observing some rather questionably dressed and obnoxiously behaving young women at another table. They got completely surprised by the obvious fact that their drinks were not included in the buffet fees, resulting in a lack of funds to even out the bill until one of them chipped in for the whole table. Unexpectedly we saw them again later when they were arguing loudly on the path in front of our room about how a certain gentleman is not willing to pay for their services (how rude of him, it’s not like they looked very expensive *cough*) after them coming all the way here from Accra despite having a boyfriend and totally not having any necessity for offering said services. Unfortunately we only got to listen in for a while, Dupsy translating the parts of conversation spoken in Twi for me, before the concierge decidedly asked the ladies to move their dispute either into a room or to the parking lot. Entertaining for sure.
To close with the first hotel stay of our Ghana trip, would we go to Aqua Safari again? Maybe. The service is clearly the big distraction from an otherwise quite nice resort. Considering the resorts we went to later during our vacation I would probably rather pony up some more money and opt for those.
If you know us for a while then you are aware that we actually are couch potatoes. We like to just have a relaxed evening at home and do our own cocktails. When we travel we try to be daring. In Thailand that ended with a crazy night (and also food poisoning due to stand-offish shrimp). In Ghana nightlife is a must. The place to be currently seemed to be Carbon Nightclub, including long queues at the entrance and a certain dress code, everyone on bottle service, animation girls, you name it. I felt it was a rather generic luxury nightclub and atmosphere was kinda meh. Actually I preferred Twist with the possibility to spend some time outside on their terrace. All in all there are a whole bunch of clubs and bars but the domination crown moves on with the speed of new places opening.
In the next two posts about our Ghana trip we’ll have a closer look at some more laid back options that we enjoyed in contrast to actual clubbing (been there, done that, too old).
Cliffhanger end incoming, booyaka! Where else did we go? Did Pipo overestimate his alcohol tolerance at New Years Eve just like every year? Did he actually die from respiratory tract infection and someone else writes under his name? All that and more in part 2!