Today’s post is a special one. In May of this year, I won the Travelstart Blogger Competition sponsored by Serena Hotels, which you can read here (I won a trip to Zanzibar) and well i’m here to tell you that it finally happened! I WENT TO ZANZIBAR! I am still in disbelief and I cannot wait to tell you what happened. So grab your cuppa, relax and enjoy the read!
To prepare for my trip, I read A LOT of blogs about Zanzibar and to be specific Stone Town. The most informative was Helen in wonderlust’s post. It helped a lot due to the fact that we had similar circumstances; in that we both were in the area for 2 days. I also watched Migrationology’s video on Stone Town that made the wait even more unbearable. I highly recommend those reads for anyone planning to go to Stone Town soon.
The night before was a gruesome wait, having to sleep at 12 am packing and trying to finish up assignments and waking up every one hour thinking that I missed my flight! 😀
MY FIRST TIME ON A PLANE
So by 4:30am we were up. Our flight being at 8am we had to be at the airport 2 hours before, which was 6am. I remember thinking two hours is a lot of time in the airport, but boy was I wrong. We spent one and a half hours in queues, baggage check ins and immigration check ins. It was tedious work, but we had a well deserved breakfast at the Nairobi Java inside the airport.
Both my sister and I being first time flyers, we did not know what to expect when finally boarding the plane. It was a mix of excitement and fear cause what if the first time is our last. *teren teren* (I watch too much Air Crash Investigation)The flight emergency procedure did not really help our nerves.
At 8:10 am, we had lift off! The turbulence was not as bad as I thought it would be but the pain in my ears caused by the pressure was unbearable! I had not carried any candy to suck on, so I suffered. However, I was hell bent on not letting it ruin my experience. The views from the plane were breathtaking! Seeing Cotton Candy clouds and Mount Kilimanjaro up close was quite surreal for us. The Kenya Airways flight attendants were also friendly and the airplane breakfast was quite good.
At 9:10am we landed at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Zanzibar. Once we stepped out of the plane, the humidity was truly felt. Comparing the Kenyan airport, which felt like a boot camp, and the Zanzibar airport, where everything is slow-paced, it was easy to note the lifestyle of the people. We followed procedure, got our luggage and proceeded to the car park where Ali, our driver, was waiting for us.
The drive from the airport to the hotel took 15 minutes. Ali was quite enthusiastic while talking about his country and showed us around whilst telling us about the history of Zanzibar. We arrived at Serena Zanzibar and proceeded to check in where we were given cold mango juice in a coconut-glass-flower thingamajig 😀 Quite a treat after going through that humidity. We proceeded to our room which was a double room with a majestic view of the Indian Ocean and the hotel pool. What more could you want!
The architecture of the hotel truly embodied the culture of the people. From the exterior form with arched windows to the interior decor of the hotel. The hotel seemingly was like a museum. Every nook had a piece of Swahili culture in it with displays that allowed you to peek into their culture. As Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe said, ‘God is in the details’ with the intricate carvings on the doors to the intricate detail on things like the key holder.
The spaces in the hotel were all lavish and luxuriously done and the staff were all friendly. The hotel was a breath of fresh air after coming from Nairobi which is chaotic and fast-paced. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone wishing to have a relaxed stay in Zanzibar.
We proceeded to the beach behind the hotel and had a relaxed few minutes playing with sand and dipping our feet in water. One thing we noted about Zanzibar was that the people were quite conservative. We received stares walking on the beach in shorts which is quite normal in Kenya. In addition to that, most women dressed head to toe when going to swim, which is quite odd for anyone who isn’t a local.
Stone Town is an architecture enthusiast’s dream. Seeing cultures and built form embodied in one is majestic. Our guide ,Abdallah, knew his stuff; explaining things in excruciating detail. We first went to Park Hyatt, the neighbouring hotel, which was the epitome of luxury having exquisite decor, automatic doors and an infinity pool with a breathtaking view of the ocean.
We then proceeded through the maze-like labyrinthine narrow streets of the town getting information on the town and learning more about this UNESCO World Heritage site. Running through here would make you a ‘maze-runner’ 😀 (okay i’m done with my other bad pun now) Seeing the scene as it was, only made you imagine that it is similar to one nearly 100 years ago and seems locked in a time-capsule. The popular mode of transport in Stone Town is by Motorcycles, Mopeds and Bicycles. Cars have an extremely hard time here. Stone Town is also home to A LOT of cats! So you can imagine how at home I felt!
We learnt about their famous elaborate doors and the significant details they have, with chains representing slavery and lion heads representing power.
We saw rich architecture such as the Romanesque St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was built between 1893 to 1897 by the same French architect who designed the grandiose Marseilles Cathedral in France. Having the populace being 70% Islam, seeing churches and temples is a wonder. The Anglican Church of Zanzibar is another Architectural treasure found in Zanzibar, though undergoing renovation. Near it is the Slave market which is a representation of the brutality endured by the slaves; with a tiny space that fits almost 200 slaves (men, women and children) stacked on each other.Truly a learning experience.
Architecture that resembles the French Quarter in New Orleans can also be seen in Stone Town fitting right in with the century old surrounding buildings. The Old Dispensary is also a major building in Stone Town, with intricate Corinthian columns and beautiful detail on the fascia. The Old Fort, built around 1700 by Seyyid Said’s grandfather on the site of a Portuguese church from 1600, is a marvel.
Finally we have the House of Wonders which was the first building in Zanzibar to have electric lighting and a lift. It was built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace. The door from this former palace is the oldest in Zanzibar and dates from 1694. It is now in the Peace Memorial Museum currently undergoing repairs after an incident.
We also went to Darajani Market and almost bought spices, Jaws Corner where the locals meet every evening to discuss politics and the Forodhani Gardens.
Kenyatta Road is the most touristy part of Zanzibar with many curio shops and shops that sell Tanzanite, the gem found only in Tanzania. This road also houses Mercury House, one of the houses that Freddie Mercury lived in. Being Queen fans, this place is like our Mecca. It had Njeri and I singing Bohemian Rhapsody the rest of the day! 😀
Stone Town is a must whilst in Zanzibar.
END OF DAY 1
By 5 pm we were back at the hotel for an evening swim whilst the sun set. The sunset is dumbfounding and made you forget, even for a minute, all you had in mind. We sat by the pool watching the sunset drinking mango juice and taking it all in. Live artists came to entertain us with taarab music and we then proceeded to have a delectable dinner then went to sleep.
This post is part of the Monthly Travel Tips Collection.