New drones

Bad news. I no longer have the coolest drone on the market.

That’s because last week, DJI released two new Mavic 2 Pro drones: the Zoom and the Pro. There’s been a huge number of comments on these new offerings across the droning community for a while now, but no-one has actually had any hands-on experience with them, because… well.. obviously they weren’t available.

Now they are, and obviously, one of the first to have one (or two) was Casey Neistat – a guy whose opinions on these sort of things I value tremendously. I started to watch his review with my Mavic 1 sitting next to me and an understanding that, inevitably, these new drones would render Florence pretty much defunct as the flagship, cutting edge consumer unit.

Before I continue, here’s his review:

tl;dw: unsurprisingly, two great drones. He prefers the one with the optical zoom (the… er… M2 Zoom), the other one (M2 Pro) is also good, but falls down a little on value for money.

So yeah, my Mavic 1 is now old news.

Or is it?

Because first off, there’s every reason for these models to be better than Florence. They have the benefit of being released 20 months later than her, and in a marketplace which features such cutting edge technology – technology that still regularly astounds people that see my drone – that’s a massive, massive advantage. Not least in that DJI can look at their consumers’ wishlists and react accordingly.

They’re more expensive too. Sure, you’re getting a few more features, but aside from the improved cameras (and you can look at the video for direct side-by-side comparisons), there’s not really that much else added.

The M2 Pro FlyMore package (the direct equivalent of how I bought Florence) comes in a cool R10,000 more than I paid for my Mavic back in January last year. And because of that, Casey suggests that for the quality of picture vs value for money, Florence can still hold her own against the M2 Pro. Boom.

There are two other points to take into consideration as well, and these ones are personal, so I fully accept that they might not be the same for everyone.

Firstly, if you are buying your Mavic 2 drone next month when they get to SA, then enjoy it. You’re going to have an amazing time. But you will have already missed out on the 20 months of fun that I have had. Sure, I could have waited for the Mavic 2, in much the same way that you could have waited for the Mavic 3. But I have had such a good time all over the world with my drone: I have no regrets whatsoever.

And secondly, because money doesn’t grow on trees, my choice of which bits of technology I want to upgrade has to be tempered somewhat. Sure, if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d be at the DJI Store on Wednesday.
But that’s (probably) not going to happen.
A far more sensible approach is to wait until your technology begins to limit what you can – and what you want to – do with it. I’ve done that on a couple of occasions with cameras (indeed, I’m just beginning to get there with my current entry-level Canon DSLR).

I’m nowhere near that point with my drone. I haven’t even scratched the surface. The problem is that it’s just such fun to fly. You head out with the best of intentions to shoot some amazing video or some such, you pop it up into the air and just “warm up” with a few runs in and out over the beach or wherever, and you’re having such a good time that you do a few more.

And then suddenly:

Maybe that video thing can wait til tomorrow.

And guess what happens tomorrow?
I simply don’t have the discipline to overcome the amount of fun I have when I launch my drone.

So, while my Florence is now technologically aeons behind in this exciting, fast-paced field, I’m very happy to keep working playing with my Mavic 1.

It’s still amazing. It is.

Le Boat – Canal du Nivernais advice

Or: Notes from Le Boat

For the record, I have no affiliation to Le Boat or France or canals or whatever. I’m not being paid to write this. I doubt that anyone influential in any of those companies or fields will even ever read it. It pains me that I feel that I have to tell you this sort of thing, but there are so many paid-for posts out there that it’s actually getting hard to find an honest positive review. This is one of those though. Promise.

We’ve just finished the Le Boat 7 day trip from Tannay to Migennes along the Canal du Nivernais and so I thought I’d put finger to keyboard and give future visitors some advice on what to do, what not to do and what to expect generally from your boat and your cruise.
Just a few things that if we had known before we started would have made our trip that bit easier. Not that it hasn’t been great anyway: none of these are dealbreakers.

I thoroughly recommend this as an absolutely fantastic experience.

Getting to Tannay isn’t the easiest. It’s not a big place. There are trains, but they are few and far between (two a day when we were there and at unhelful times too). Rather get a train to Auxerre or Clamecy and grab a taxi from there. The convenience outweighs the extra cost.

We set off from the Tannay base at about 4pm on Wednesday. Our itinerary was completely up to us, just as yours is completely up to you, but this worked perfectly for us and so I’m sharing it here. Feel free to save or share this page, and ask any questions and share your thoughts in the comments below.

[The PK references relate to Pointe Kilometrique – you’ll see them in the map book that comes with your boat.]

Wednesday evening: Villiers-sur-Yonne (PK 105) – free power and water. Trees, countryside, tiny village.
Thursday lunchtime: Clamecy (PK 113.5) – a quick stop to look at the church and get some supplies at Carrefour City (Rue Marie Davy).
Thursday evening: Pousseau (PK 121) – simple anchor point with no facilities, but quiet and just 900m from the boulangerie in Surgy (just off traffic circle at Rue du Herisson).
Friday lunchtime: Chatel-Censoir (PK 132.5) – mini marina – EUR 6 for water and electricity. Connect up and a man with a book will come and see you.
Friday evening: Mailly-le-Chateau (PK 141.7). A basin to ourselves on the edge of a forest. A walk up to the town on top of the cliffs to get bread (Boulangerie, Rue du Jeu de Paume) will give you a superb view over the local countryside in the morning.
Saturday lunchtime: We did the Vermenton branch and ate at the very nice Hostellerie de La Fontaine restaurant in Accolay (PK 3.0).
Saturday evening: Cravant (PK 155.9). EUR 8 for unlimited water and electricity. The people at the tourist office right on the dock will help you out. Pretty little town, great boulangerie and grocer on Rue de la Poterrne.
Sunday lunchtime: We stopped off for a couple of hours at the Caves in Bailly (PK 162.4). Do the tasting, but save your time and money and avoid the tour. Unless it’s really your sort of thing.
Sunday evening: Nice spot on a pontoon near the lock at Toussac, Champs-sur-Yonne (PK 166.2), but tokens needed for services and nowhere open to buy them.
Monday lunchtime/evening: Auxerre (PK 0.5) – Remarkable churches, amazing city, great waterfront with bars and restaurants (we enjoyed the burgers, beers and hospitality at the Restaurant Le Saint Nicolas). Huge supermarket on east side of footbridge (Avenue Jean Jaures). Water and electricity tokens available from tourist office, east bank, near footbridge).
Tuesday lunchtime: Moored up about at a picnic spot about 2km south of Migennes (approx PK 20)
Tuesday evening: Migennes at junction of Canal de Bourgogne (PK 22.7) ahead of the boat return at 9am on Wednesday. Supermarket 150m, Boulangerie 200m, Station 350m (trains to Paris every hour).

So what should you take?

Well, the boats are really well-appointed. We didn’t need anything. We bought the grocery pack from Le Boat, so there were the basics waiting for us when we arrived on board. This was a good thing. If you don’t choose this option, you will need to bring some supplies along: water, wine, beers, bread, snacks or whatever to get you through the first 24 hours.

That said, you will need to stock up while you’re on the canal and you should do so whenever you get the opportunity. Part of the charm of rural France is the laid back vibe, but it can be frustrating when places aren’t open and you have an urgent need for a pain au chocolat.

We hired bikes, which you take with you on your boat. The towpaths are amazing for cycling along and it’s great to nip into nearby villages for croissants in the mornings.

Take a flag. Tie it on your boat. We saw visitors from the US, New Zealand, Holland, Russia, Canada, Australia, Germany, South Africa and more.
Don’t expect to rush. You can’t get anywhere quickly, so plan ahead and chill out.

Respect the lockkeepers. They are all so friendly and helpful, but be aware that they are (rightfully) strict about opening and closing times and their lunch hours. Many speak some English. Not all of them though!

Don’t worry about driving your boat: the demonstration when you arrive is very informative, and it’s really not that difficult anyway.

Download MAPS.ME on your phone before you go. It’s like an offline Google Maps and can be super helpful when there isn’t any cell signal.

 

Note: I’ll add some photos once I’ve had chance to edit them. And if anything else comes to mind, I’ll add that too. I’m going to stick this on TripAdvisor as well, because I’d love to have had this sort of info before we went away!

 

Sun City Thoughts

We leave Sun City today, after a whistle-stop 4-day, 3-night stay.

Herewith a few (or more) thoughts on the last few days. In no particular order.

Sun City isn’t my kind of place. On arrival, the guy at the gate asked if I had reservations.

“Plenty,” I replied, “but the kids seem to be looking forward to it.”

Bdumtish.

Jokes aside, it is a ghastly, hideous place. Faux opulence, faux history and gaudy buildings are the order of the day. It’s repulsive… and it’s also completely incredible. It’s Grand West on South Joburg steroids. The scale of the place and the attention to detail is amazing. It’s other-worldly. And The Palace Hotel (where we’re not staying, see below) is an absolute work of art. You might not like it, but you have to admire the place.

And that’s the thing. If it’s not your thing, you need to get over it and just go with the flow and if you do, you’ll probably have a great time, like I did. Like we did.

This was a last minute, unplanned trip. One we wouldn’t even have considered were it not for the free air tickets that came with our new fridge. We’ve already spent a bomb on our Europe trip later in the year, so economy was key here. We chose the Cabanas to stay in, to save a bit of money. It’s been small and not very luxurious, but it’s been somewhere to sleep – we’ve been out and about the rest of the time.

The staff have been really helpful and are always smiling. That must take a lot of doing at the end of a long season. In fact, the only exception was a rude waitress at the posh hotel we had dinner at on Sunday night. She really did make an effort to be that exception though. Wow.

The breakfast buffet is cheap, cheerful and amazing value (included in the price of the budget accommodation). Two words for you:

Unlimited. Bacon.

Mmhmm. I know.

The Valley of the Waves is a lot of fun. There’s something weird about watching a hundred-odd people standing chest-deep in an outdoor swimming pool, facing a wall and waiting for a single artificial wave every 10 minutes or so. But again, you join in and it’s kinda enjoyable. The tubes were great fun. I didn’t die on the Boomeranga ride, despite a couple of attempts.

The bus service is either brilliant or disastrous. Possibly both simultaneously. We never really worked it out.
(Or you could walk the 550m to the main centre. It won’t kill you.)

Resort-wide free wifi actually works, and it’s literally everywhere: from our room to the beaches of the Valley to the Forest at the back of the fancy hotel. Incredible.

We did a Family Safari Walk on our first morning. It was excellent. Zebras, Wildebees, Kudu and Impala and a lot of stuff you’d never have seen from a truck. The kids learned a lot. 10/10 would recommend.

Sun City is massively incongruous in the North-West Province, which is like an Eastern Cape Lite. You pass Marikana on the way here. It’s a massive reminder of how unequal South Africa is.

There’s water! I have had several long showers. You don’t realise how much you miss them.

There was a bottle of wine for R130,000 on the wine list on Sunday evening.
We did not indulge.

I need to enjoy our last morning before we head back to Lanseria and Cape Town, so I’ll leave it there. Photos will follow. Normal blog service will be resumed tomorrow.

The 2017 Cape Town Sevens Review

OK, so here it is. The thing which I was too tired to write last night. A quick run down of my experiences with my son at the Cape Town Sevens Finals Day yesterday.

The parking: I’ve told you how to do this before, but ok, I’ll tell you again. You park at the CTICC (right hand lane off the elevated freeway, almost as if you were about to do a U-turn to go back out of town at Walter Sisulu) and walk through to the Civic Centre (it’s 900m, you’ll manage), from where you get the shuttle bus up to the stadium.
On your return, you get the bus to Thibault Square, and walk down Lower Long to the CTICC (it’s 600m, you’ll be fine).
The parking lot exits directly onto the elevated freeway, so no traffic problems at all. So it’s faster, cheaper and easier than the Waterfront. Or virtually anywhere else.

The stadium: I’ve been to several concerts, many football and rugby events and precisely no happy-clappy  religious gatherings at the stadium, and (without meaning to be negative) each of them has had their own little niggles. Not yesterday. The experience was flawless. Friendly staff, little (or no) queuing for refreshments (including at the bars), a wide variety of foods, lots of activities and freebies for the kids. Brilliant.

The entertainment: Lots going on between the games kept us interested. Dancing, music, beagle herding, enthusiastic MCs. The highlight for us (and many others, I suspect) was the “Rugby Skills” competition for a few happily inebriated fans towards the end. Very funny and very well managed.

The rugby: It was good fun and played in good spirit, as it should be. England were in self-destruct mode, New Zealand were in we’re-out-to-shock-the-opposition mode, the USA was basically just speed and muscle and the Fijians were just muscle. And then there was the Blitzbokke, who were clear favourites for the win.

But that didn’t happen, which brings me to my final point.

The crowd: Oh dear. I’m going to get into trouble for writing this, but that’s rarely stopped me before, so here goes.

We’re repeatedly told that Cape Town is the “best” leg of the 7s. I don’t know how they work these sort of things out – hey, maybe they tell everyone that their event is the best. That would be a bit naughty, but then, people are a bit naughty sometimes.

The thing is, if this alleged optimal status has really been bestowed upon Cape Town’s event, then it must surely only be for the fancy dress and the partying. Because yes, Cape Town does do the fancy dress and the partying very well. When it comes to actually supporting the rugby though, the fans are fickle and fairweather (OMG, he said it! And now see how the hordes are gathering their flaming torches and pitchforks! OMG! I can’t bear to watch!).

I took a few pics to illustrate my point.

Here’s the scene as the Blitzbokke played their first game (a fortuitous, ref-assisted win over Fiji). 60,000 fans in full voice:

Incredible gees, colour, passion, volume etc etc (allowing for iconic imagery like this). And it was the same for the second game against New Zealand. But when they lost that, and with it, any chance of winning the event, this was the scene during their last game of the day – a third place play off against Canada:

Either a shedload of fans couldn’t actually be bothered any more, or else they had turned up in grey plastic seat fancy dress.

And it got worse. Even more people left before the New Zealand v Argentina Final:

and we were one of only a few hundred that stayed for the Trophy presentation:

Mmm.

OK. So some points here:

South African sports fans are notoriously fickle and fair-weather. We knew this already. Comparing photos one and two above, indicates those fickle fans who came to see South Africa win, versus those real fans who came to see South Africa play.

I don’t know if this happens at every 7s event. Do Australian fans leave once their team has been beaten once in Sydney? Is the same in England, Scotland, New Zealand, Canada and the USA? And if it is, does anyone even bother to turn up to watch in Dubai and Singapore?

There were very few people in the stands to see Wales v Russia, because it’s a meh game between two sides who lost a lot on Day 1 – well, ok. Equally though, that won’t be replayed all around the rugby-playing world. The final (and the trophy presentation thereafter, will). It’s not a great advert for the event when it’s being played (or presented) in front of tens of thousands of empty seats. And yet we all cried about not getting the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

That said, the spin is obviously good, because (as I may have mentioned earlier) Cape Town was voted the Best 7s Event on the Tour.

So, all in all, I think it shows a complete lack of manners and it really doesn’t look great on the international stage, but hey – it’s a free country (well, sort of, anyway). I’m not saying that you have to stay until the end. You’re free to leave when you want.
Equally, I’m free to pass comment on you leaving when you want, you disrespectful, fair-weather, part-time, so-called rugby supporters.

Norm for good service

Boy away on school camp.
Girl takes full advantage of parents’ undivided attention, asks if we can do dinner.
Of course we can.

Dad checks menu online.
Dad reads the small print.
Never read the small print.

Small print too small for you? Here’s what it says:

Gratuity Policy
We hereby respectfully advise that gratuity is not included in our main prices. The norm for good service is 100% of the total bill. The payment of gratuity is entirely voluntary and the amount is based on the quality of service.

Did I miss something here? Not since the Waterfront branch of Cape Town Fish Market conveniently informed tourists that ‘in South Africa, we routinely tip twenty percent’ has there been such a blatant attempt to rip restaurant patrons off.

But even the pisspoor CTFM kept it vaguely reasonable. This is completely off the scale. And at a restaurant where a 3 course meal plus wine will set you back ±R400 per person, it’s no wonder that the parking lot is full of Audis and Beemers – that’s clearly how the waiting staff get to and from work.