Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cape Town Follies - Episode Four



The Clock Winds Down
(Read the first three episodes in order before you read this one)


Saturday, March 3rd, and I was in the home stretch of my visit. I slept in, arising at 8 AM! After my standard hearty breakfast (eggs my way, toast, bacon, fried tomato and juice), I took a taxi to the Canal Walk shopping complex, around 15 minutes outside of Cape Town city center. Another huge mall, but I like malls and thought I’d see what this one had to offer. I walked for several hours, checking out the stores I’d never seen before and having lunch at Wimpy’s (an old British hamburger chain, sort of their McDonald’s) and a snack (or two…or three) at Cinnabon (I couldn’t help it, Ma, I needed the sugar!). The movies on offer weren’t anything in which I was interested, so I finally took a taxi back to the hotel and, after my regular afternoon clean-up, headed out to the 169 Restaurant (located, strangely enough, at 169 Long Street; clever with the names, these South Africans) for some sushi. Mmmm, good, a nice big plate of various sushi types with a Windhoek beer or two thrown in for good measure. I did love the food in Cape Town, and found almost all of it at very reasonable prices.
Sunday was my early day, as I was being picked up for my Game Reserve tour at 6:40 AM. That’s 6:40 in the morning AM. And damn if the tour driver wasn’t there on time. There were six of us in the minibus; the seventh was still asleep when we stopped at his hotel, so too bad for him. It was a two-hour-plus drive to the game reserve, with a short toilet stop. The last 12 kilometers were on dirt and gravel roads, reminding me of my home in New Mexico. But we arrived at the Inverdoorn Cheetah Game Reserve around 9:45, and had time for a rest and some snacks before signing our release forms and starting our tour of the reserve proper. Our guide took the six of us out in a special range rover-type vehicle, soft top, open sides, and we spent the next 90 minutes to two hours driving around checking out whatever animals happened to be waiting for us. We did spot two lions under a tree, lots of zebra and wildebeest and antelope and some monster rhinos. We walked near the giraffes (couldn’t keep up too well, as their strides were somewhat longer than ours). The hippos stayed submerged, but we did get right up close and personal with the cheetahs, as they were literally next to our vehicle, resting in the heat of the day.
In fact, all of the animals seemed to be resting in the heat of the day. They all seemed lethargic or tired or drugged or whatever, but not a lot of life in them. Even the cheetahs appeared nonchalant at our presence, taking it in stride or sauntering off slowly when we approached them. I really wanted to feel the jolt as an angry rhino slammed his horn into our vehicle, but it was not to be. Ah, well, another hope crushed to earth. The tour was okay, but nothing near as spectacular as I’d hoped for. It was also windy out there on the plains, which made it rather cool for someone in shorts and sandals – like me.
Lunch was poolside at the main building of the reserve and was obviously forgettable, as I seem to have forgotten it. We took off around 2 PM and I was back at the hotel around 5. I cleaned up and decided on fish and chips at the Long Street Café for dinner. Anytime I am anywhere near someplace in my travels that offers fresh seafood, I eat as much as I can, as I dearly love it and miss it in Hungary, a landlocked country.
Monday I strolled the Company Gardens in central Cape Town, a nice oasis of green and trees and benches and fountains and statues to succor the weary diplomat or businessman during his hectic day. I also toured the Iziko Slave Lodge museum, another interesting and sobering experience.
And then it was time for a visit to Rick’s Cafe Americain, if I could find it. My taxi driver didn’t know it, but, after dropping me off on the right street, and after asking directions, I did actually find Rick’s. It was right there in plain sight all the time, although the plain sight didn’t exactly shout “RICK’S.” It was a humble frontage, although once inside the ambience made itself clear. I had a drink or two at the bar, chatting with the happy black bartender (absolutely no resemblance to S.Z. Sakall) and enjoying the comfortable feel of the place. I had the obligatory Casablanca Cocktail (like you have to have a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Long Bar in Singapore), consisting of vodka, dark rum, cherry liqueur, lime and cranberry juice. Dooley Wilson must have been off that night, as there was no tinkling piano or anyone else playing As Time Goes By, but it was still a nice atmosphere.
After giving Ingrid Bergman plenty of time to walk in and discover me at the bar, I decided to pass on the black hooker who was eyeing me from a table in the lounge and, sighing, went in for dinner. I had the King Prawns on skewers with roasted veggies and couscous, along with white wine. Crème Brule topped it off perfectly, and I even made room for a limoncello. Good stuff. The wind had picked up to near typhoon strength, so I taxied back to the hotel. Much easier than bending into a strong headwind and having it blow my socks off.
Oh No, Tuesday, March 6, only two days left! How to spend them? I walked over to the V&A after breakfast and lazed in the sun for awhile. As the day heated up, I thought a nice harbor sailing cruise would be fun, so I booked one of the 58-foot sailing sloops for a 90-minute cruise around the harbor and cape areas. I did some final shopping at the many shops in the Waterfront, then caught my cruise early in the afternoon. We motored out of the harbor with a contingent of seven people, including three crew. As we cleared the breakwater the captain cut the engines and the crew hoisted the sails and we commenced a quiet, peaceful cruise around the area. The day was hot and sunny, the sky was blue and there was even a beer or two on board to quench the thirst of the passengers. Really nice.
Back on land, I stopped for a cider at Ferryman’s Pub in the Waterfront, picked up the last few gifts and taxied back to the hotel. Dinner that night was calamari and chips at the Dubliner Irish Pub, after which I parked myself on a barstool at Mama Africa’s to hear that amazing band one more time. Always worth it. The main singer, who had a high contralto voice that pierced through everything, wore his black hair in a series of rolled braids as he jinked and jerked and bopped and basically left James Brown gasping in the dirt. Great moves. The band played for nearly two hours straight without a break. I went through four beers and bought another of the band’s CDs. A night listening to great music is always a good night.
So, my final full day in Cape Town. I debated over breakfast as to the wisdom of filling up the day again and decided, what the heck, I’d probably never be back this way anytime soon, so may as well take advantage of the most of what Cape Town has to offer. So I caught the Blue Line HOHO tour to a local winery, the Constantia. Beautiful area in the foothills of Table Mountain, peaceful and tranquil, quiet, and I loved the warning signs around the area: “Beware of the Baboons; No picnics.”
I did a wine tasting and ended up unimpressed with the wines I tried; too harsh for my taste. After a stroll around the vineyards, I re-bused again for the trip to Hout Bay, which I had visited earlier in my stay. I thought about a trip to Seal Island while there, but most of the boats had either already left or were in for the day, so missed out on that. I did have a nice lunch at the London Deck of crab curry and popadums and Castle beer. Yum.
Rode the bus to Camps Bay again and walked around on the beach for awhile, soaking up the last of the sun I’d probably have for another couple of months. Just topping off my tan, you understand. I
Had a late nap at the hotel after my time in the sun, then just had to go back to Mama Africa one more time for their food and music. This time it was cider and bobotie, a dish of minced beef covered with cheese and an egg, plus some rice on the side. Great food, how can I ever go back to Chicken Paprika? The band rocked me once again into the night and I stayed for their entire first set, after which it was time to hit the sack for my long two days of traveling coming up.
Thursday, March 8. A final breakfast, a last packing up, a round of goodbyes to the restaurant and reception staff and it was off to the Civic Center to catch the airport bus. The connections getting home were much easier than those coming out. Checking in for my Jo-burg flight was quick and snappy. The walks to the gates were long but not nearly as bad as when I arrived. We left Cape Town around 2 PM for Jo-burg, where I had a four-hour layover. Plenty of time to get my bag and re-check in to Air France for the final legs home. Which was lucky, as everyone else had gotten and claimed their bags and mine still hadn’t shown up. One of the airport helpers asked me what my bag looked like, when suddenly it appeared on the baggage conveyor belt, looking sad and forlorn, but happy to have found me at long last. Whew! I really didn’t need any more baggage hassles.
I cleared passport control and changed the remainder of my rands back to euro (with a ripoff commission tacked on by the Bureau de Change, so be warned!). We boarded our flight around 7:30 PM for the long overnight flight to Paris, 10 hours plus. And long it was, as I didn’t manage to sleep hardly at all, even after taking a couple of Melatonin. Long damn night. During the six-hour layover at CDG in Paris, I did catch a couple of hours catnap, so all was not quite lost. We left Paris around 12:45 and hit Budapest at 3 PM. I got my bag (I’m always somewhat amazed that my checked bags actually get to where I am) and caught a minibus back to my flat. Home! Good to be home. First thing I did was turn on the heat, which I had switched off when I left two weeks earlier. My flat was cold! I unpacked quickly, more to keep warm than anything else. I knew the flat would need time to warm up, so I headed out for our regular Friday evening gathering of The Club at Champs Sport Bar. It was a small crowd to greet me, but I managed a couple of drinks before heading off for home to catch up on my lost sleep.

And that was the fitting end to my wonderful trip to Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town Follies - Episode Three



It Just Keeps Getting Better
(Be sure and read Episodes One and Two first)


I had checked the weather and had set aside Thursday morning for my visit to the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town’s number one sight and a must-see-and-do for all visitors. The top of Table Mountain is 1000 meters above sea level and overlooks all of Cape Town, so from the bottom it’s a pretty amazing sight. Now, I’ve been to the tops of mountains before, I even lived more than 2,400 meters above sea level in the mountains of New Mexico and I have seen spectacular views, so I thought the experience would be good but nothing out of the ordinary. How wrong I was!
The day was perfect for a trip up the mountain. I chose the HOHO again, as they stop at the Tramway and, after finishing there, I could hop on again for a trip out to Camps Bay and a seafood lunch at the beach again. The bus dropped me at the tramway around 9:15 AM, and there was no line for tickets. I bought mine and walked right onto the cable car, no waiting. Cool. The cable car is round with windows all the way around. I found a spot at a window and grabbed one of the safety bars as I looked out over the landscape. The cable car started its ascent and suddenly I found my hands sliding along the safety bar as it slipped away off to my left. WTF? I finally realized the floor of the car was rotating, all the better to see 360 degrees of the scenery during the ascent. How cool is that?! Guess I haven’t been on a cable car in awhile.
We arrived at the top and I walked around to the edges of the mountain, fenced off and safe for visitors. Well, it was truly spectacular, different, awe-inspiring. It was….special. It has to be experienced to be believed. I could understand why it was the number one attraction of Cape Town. Don’t miss it. I stayed for an hour and a half, checking out the sunning dassies (like ground hogs, but closely related to elephants), watching the Cape Town Abseilers hanging off the rocks, staring wide-eyed at the scenery and the clouds gathering below the mountain and the beaches and the whole of Cape Town spread out before me. Wow. I bought a bunch of souvenirs and finally tore myself away to make the trip back down to the tram station, which was by that time crowded and sporting a long line to buy tickets. My planning was, once again, immaculate.
HOHO was waiting for me at the Tram station, so I hopped aboard for the trip to Camps Bay. The day was still sunny and hot and it was just great to laze back and enjoy the ride from the open top of the bus. My suntan continued to deepen. Off at Camps Bay, this time I decided to try a place a touch less costly than the last one. On my previous visit I had spotted a place called The Mussel Bar, and the day virtually screamed out for a potful of mussel and fries and a cold beer or two. So that’s what I had. For around 11 euro I got a large bowl of about 25-30 mussels in their shells, swimming in a creamy sauce and accompanied by a couple of dipping sauces and some fried potatoes. Just like Brussels. Only better, due to the beach and sea view across the road.
Back on HOHO to the V&A where I continued my shopping tasks, finding pretty much everything on my list. I was pretty bushed by that time – all that sitting and eating, you understand – so bused back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. After a shower I walked up Long Street again, finally stopping at The Dubliner Irish Bar and restaurant. I sat on their terrace balcony, overlooking Long Street; I passed on the free buffet (silly guy!), and instead went for the beefburger and chips with a Guinness or two to wash it all down. For the first time in Cape Town, I found a bar service not great and smiling. And in an Irish pub! Ah, well, it was still a lovely evening. Back at the hotel I decided to see what the local TV channels had to offer, as I don’t get English-speaking TV in Budapest. The choices weren’t too bad, some movies and local sitcoms, but what really got me were the commercials. I love commercials in foreign countries, and South African TV was no exception. My favorite was one selling products to overcome “weak erections, premature ejaculation and other penile dysfunctions.” On television, yet. Nothing like telling it like it is.
Friday March 2. The week is rapidly coming to a close. This day was my tour of the Langa Township, one of those shantytown, slum areas that seem to infest South Africa due to overpopulation in the cities coupled with inadequate and insufficient housing for everyone. We began our tour at the District Six museum, dedicated to the 60,000 people in the old District Six who had been forcibly removed from their homes in 1967 and resettled in other areas to make room for more whites-only housing near the city center. More than 40 years later, no housing has been built, due to squabbling among the various groups involved, lawsuits, popular indignation, etc. And some of the former residents of District Six are even moving back into a few of the newly-constructed small apartment blocks in the area. Then we drove to the Langa Township, which consist of partly “nice” apartment blocks and partly tin shacks. Our guide took us on a tour of the area, which makes Watts in Los Angeles look like an upscale beach community. The shacks are merely four tin walls and a roof cover to keep out the weather. There are a few communal water pipes scattered throughout the area, along with communal shower buildings and communal toilets (serviced twice a week!). And yet, for all that, the people we encountered seemed, if not exactly happy, at least resigned to their lot for the present. They all smiled at us and welcomed us and seemed to take life as they found it and hoped for something better for their children.
A favorite on this tour was a visit to a local Township shebeen, really just another tin shack, but one where a local woman makes and brews and ferments her own brand of beer each day. Our guide told us the name of the beer, but since it has a tongue click in the middle of it I can’t reproduce it here. Ask me sometime. Anyway, in the shebeens, the customers sit around the edges of the walls while the brewmistress uses a small bucket to scoop out a bucketful of newly-brewed beer from her brew vat (looked like an old washing machine to me). No cups or glasses are used in the shebeen. The bucket is passed around and each person drinks directly from the bucket, careful to hold it steady so there’s no spillage of the precious liquid. The beer looks like dirty dishwater, and has a consistency of a rather thin porridge, but it’s pretty much tasteless. Yes, I did drink some; see my pix on Facebook. The two brave tourists (me and a German guy) who opted to try the beer were offered the first tastes, undoubtedly by design, so the bucket was as uncontaminated as it would ever be. To this day I haven’t suffered any major side effects, and the rash on my tongue is almost fully healed.
Next we stopped at the smallest hotel in the township area of Khaylelitsha (I can’t pronounce it either), right in the middle of shantytown. People actually pay to stay there. It was clean and neat and run by a friendly (what else?) matron. Just a short visit until we turned a nearby corner on foot and entered a local township pre-school. Three-to-five year olds, eager to see visitors and have a break in their daily routine. Bunches of cute little kids who put on a brief show of songs and dances for us while their teacher made a dignified plea for donations. For a good cause even I will give something. After the van dropped me off at my hotel, I opted for another mezes and beer lunch at Baran’s balcony overlooking Greenmarket Square. More local shopping and a short nap to recover from my exertions in the township, where, I forgot to mention, we witnessed an old woman burning the fur off of sheeps heads in a wood fire. Maybe I put that out of my mind on purpose.
I thought I’d try another Internet place I’d found to watch the sunset that evening, a place called Rafiki’s on Upper Kloofnek Street. When I got there the balcony was filled with backpackers and somewhat grubby twenty-somethings. It was loud and noisy and everyone smoked, and even outdoors the smoke on a balcony is not much fun to be around. I had one beer and left. Not my cup of tea anymore, if it ever was. Instead, I walked down to Mama Africa’s, another place on Long Street that had gotten good reviews. It’s an African food restaurant with a nice bar area next to a bandstand for the musical entertainment, which each night is a marimba band. Three guys play the xylophones, one regular drummer, at least one African drummer and one or two singers who have to be heard to be believed. Truly astonishing. They didn’t use microphones, as their range was sufficient to carry into the main dining room, and probably even over to the V&A Waterfront. I bought three CDs, one for me and two for gifts.
As is my usual wont, I sat at the bar to have dinner. My choice for the evening was Mama’s wild game platter: servings of kudu, crocodile, ostrich, springbok and venison sausage, with sides of dipping sauces. Really tasty, tangy food and, accompanied by that fantastic band, it was another fun evening in Cape Town. And for the over-indulger, next to the bar area was a Breath-alyzer, to make sure you were sober enough (at least, legally sober enough) to drive home.

Cape Town Follies - Episode Two



De Cape Town Ladies Sing dis Song…
(Please read Episode One before reading this Blog)

Do dar, do dar! I made it. Our plane swung around for its landing and I was able to see the length of Table Mountain on my right as we came in for our final approach. Awesome, much better in person than in pictures. I said goodbye to my buddy in 32E and, after another long-distance walk to the baggage claim (what is it with these spread-out airports and their lack of easy people-moving?), I got my bag, changed a small amount of euro into rand and proceeded outside to catch the city shuttle bus I had read about. It turned out the shuttle bus went from the airport to the Civic Center, which was around seven blocks from my hotel, so not a major concern. At the Civic Center, however, the kindliness and helpfulness of the Cape Tonians began to show itself. The shuttle bus driver gave me a free ticket on the city bus from the Civic Center to half a block from my hotel! Wow, this could be a really nice trip. I took that bus and was there in minutes.
The Tudor Hotel, which bills itself as the oldest hotel in Cape Town, is located on Longmarket Street, right in between Long Street (the major action street in the city center) and Greenmarket Square, probably the best of the local bazaars. Great location. I dragged my bag and myself into the hotel and was greeted by a young black man named Pule, who acted as if I was his long-lost brother (metaphorically speaking, of course) come to visit. He couldn’t have been nicer and friendlier and more welcoming. He got me acclimated and settled into my room, one of the nicest, albeit basic, three-star rooms I have stayed in anywhere, with twin beds and the other standard amenities one expects. The only thing it didn’t have which I would have wanted was a small room fridge for my cold water. A very minor omission.
Since it was then around 4:30 PM, I decided on a short walk and a long beer. I checked out Greenmarket Square for future shopping possibilities, walked to the Tourist Information place just three blocks away and then came back to Baran’s, a streetside restaurant with a great balcony overlooking Greenmarket Square. A tall, cold Castle beer and a plate of mezes (appetizers with pita bread, including hummus, isot kebap, shakshuka, exme, kizartma, dolmades, cacik, ispanak Tarawa and chicken livers) and I was happy as I looked down on all the tourists and travelers and locals. There was a street band playing and a slight breeze cooling down the 30-degree-Celsius temp and all was finally right with the world.
My initial impressions, brief as they were, indicated the city center was surprisingly clean. The atmosphere felt….vibrant. Lots of energy and friendly people, smiling and apparently happy. I felt I was in a good place. My next thought was, fleetingly I must admit, for I had little time for that, of my many friends and acquaintances who never traveled anywhere, who lived their lives of noisy desperation in their small towns and small neighborhoods and never, never got to experience the wonder and joy of traveling in our big, fantastic world. And I was so, so glad I had gotten out from that crushing mindset and had gotten to see as much of the world as I had – and would continue to do so. South Africa was my 47th country, and I looked forward to many, many more. Life is good.
Two beers and very little sleep and those airport 500-meter Olympics pretty much did me in, so it was early to bed to await the next day with anticipation and eagerness to see what Cape Town had to show me.
Okay, Saturday morning, February 25, up at the crack of 8. I had a basic but good breakfast at the hotel, where I met hostesses Cheryl and Olga, who would be taking care of me for the next two weeks. They both had the winning personalities I was quickly coming to expect of Cape Town residents and lots of information for me, and I gobbled it all down as I gobbled down my bacon and eggs and toast. Then it was time to get myself acclimated.
It was a nice morning’s walk over to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, known as The Waterfront in Cape Town but hereinafter referred to as the V&A. I debated for awhile about the best way to get myself oriented, and finally decided the old tried and true method was still the best: the Hop On Hop Off bus tour, known affectionately by me as the HOHO. As usual, there were several choices: the Red Line city tour, the Blue Line wine country and coastal tour, the night tour, the canal tour (that one was via boat) and the sunset tour of Signal Hill. Today it would be the Red Line to see all of the basic sights around town. It turned out I could walk to almost all of the city center sights from my hotel, but riding around on an open-top bus in fine sunny weather is always a good way to pass the time, so I took advantage of it. Besides, the price was amazing: only 14 euro per person. Wow! In Dubai it was 66 euro! Such a deal.
Once we’d seen the city sights, the bus hied off to the Table Mountain Cable Car entrance, then around the Lion’s Head mountain and over to Camps Bay on the Atlantic Coast. I decided to get off and walk along the beach for awhile. Camps Bay is a really trendy area of Cape Town, home to jet-setters and rock stars and other high rollers. Big-time movie stars have flats here and can often be seen partying the night away at the local discos and music clubs. Madonna wasn’t in town when I was there, but Percy Montgomery did walk by my restaurant as I was having lunch (major SA rugby star).
Yep, I was craving seafood, so got sucked into an overpriced, but really tasty, lunch at Paranga on the beach. My waitress Bernice was a lovely SA woman and, since I was early for lunch, she had time to spend talking to me and giving me some local pointers. She also talked me into the 50-euro-lunch seafood platter: prawns, calamari, lobster, langostini and fish. Still a sucker for a pair of pretty eyes. Ah, well, the company was very nice and the seafood was excellent, so what the heck. The two Windhoek beers from Namibia also went down well on that hot sunny day. Gotta love the beach communities.
After a short beach stroll, I caught the HOHO back to the V&A, where I wandered around getting accustomed to the area and seeing what was there. Around 4 PM or so I walked back to the Fireman’s Arms pub for the England v. Wales Six Nations rugby match. Couldn’t miss that! Great local pub with food and several rooms, and the crowd cheered on the English side but it was to no avail, as Wales came from behind to whack the English. But the beer was cold.
I walked back to the hotel, presuming I’d find a good restaurant open, but was surprised to find that mid-evening on a Saturday there weren’t too many choices available. I finally had some pasta at a place called Da Capo near my hotel and called it an early night.
I made it to the V&A early Sunday morning in order to book my tour to Robben Island, only to discover that everything was sold out until Tuesday! So Tuesday at 11 AM it was. I booked and paid in advance for my tour and wandered off to see what else was available at the V&A. I did a short canal cruise, which was nice and relaxing, watching the millionaires’ homes glide by, then walked over to the Bo Kaap area on the side of Lion’s Head. This area was where the freed slaves went and, since they had been deprived of any color in their lives previously, went wild and painted the outside of their dwellings with wild, vibrant, often clashing colors. There were pink and purples next to each other, or orange and green or red and pink or blue and orange or whatever colors the natives felt like splashing on that day. Wild area.
I was still walking, and made it down to the Castle of Good hope and the Grand Parade, which these days is just a large parking lot. As I was resting on a low wall outside the Castle, a tour group stopped in front of me and their guide began giving them their lecture – in Hungarian! It was like being home, but with better weather. I walked back up the Strand to find the Harley Davidson store, only to find it out of business. Sorry, Tony, maybe next time. By that time I was in sore need of liquid refreshment, so I hiked back to the V&A and found Ferryman’s Pub. I staggered up to the bar in the dimly-lit main room and ordered a nice cold Hunter’s Gold cider. As I was waiting for my drink I felt a tap on my shoulder. Oh oh, who do I know in Cape Town, or what have I done wrong now? I turned around and it was……32E! My English buddy from the plane. He was leaving that afternoon and had stopped in for a drink before taking off, so we chatted for an hour or so before he had to leave. Small world, hah?
I decided to do the HOHO sunset tour up on Signal Hill, which was nice. I watched the sun go down into the Atlantic with the other locals and tourists and enjoyed the serenity and warmth of the Cape Town community. It was beginning to grow on me.
Monday, February 27, start of my first full week in Cape Town. It was to be a day of errands and sightseeing. After a consultation with Pule, who told me what I needed to know to do what I wanted to do, I walked down to the upper end of Long Street to the city campus of the University of Cape Town. There I caught a shuttle bus to the main campus on the other side of Table Mountain. Upon arrival, I asked a student for directions to the student store, and finally found it off a small open dining area in the middle of the campus. This journey was for my daughter Morgan, as I try and find University t-shirts for her wherever I go. I was lucky this time and found the one t-shirt left in her size, which I immediately bought, then caught the shuttle back to the city campus. Since I was in the area, I looked for Rick’s Café Americain with a view to eating there one day soon, but was unable to find it. It was, as I later learned, in plain sight but difficult to see for all that.
What I did find in my wanderings was the Mount Nelson Hotel, famous the world over for its ambience and colonial splendor. After an imposing entrance through a white-columned gateway, and a long walk up a tree-lined drive, the actual hotel proved something of a disappointment, Oh, it was nice enough and definitely reminiscent of those great old days of the British Empires, but I guess I’ve just been in too many five-star hotels over the years to be in awe of another one.
I lunched at the Royale Eatery, known far and wide (at least on Trip Advisor) for their yummy hamburgers. And they were, too. Big, juicy burger on a stout bun accompanied by sweet potato fries. Wow! I noticed the other diners all ordered hamburgers also, but were eating theirs with knife and fork. Obviously not Americans, who know a sandwich when they see one. I had the beef mixed with chorizo and topped with chiles and guacamole. Only sour note (pun intended) was that the restaurant’s home-made lemonade wasn’t really very good.
After lunch I window-shopped Long Street and wandered through the Greenmarket Square bazaar. I also walked to the Gold of Africa museum and restaurant, where I made my dinner reservations for the following night. Complete with a drumming session for tourists and amateur drummers. I couldn’t wait. I bought a new watchband, as mine had cracked irreparably and had a mid-afternoon cider at another Irish bar on St. George’s Mall. I changed some more of my euro for rand (and got a 10-1 ratio, which was very good), plus withdrew some more money from a local ATM, so I was flush for the time being. It was a lazy afternoon and evening.
The following morning was my Robben Island tour at 11 AM, leaving from the V&A Waterfront. For those who don’t know, Robben Island was a former South African prison, the one where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years or so, and is a landmark that must be seen by all visitors to the area. It was a sobering experience, as any visit to a prison must be. The boat trip was around 25 minutes each way and we had former inmates guiding us around and telling us about the conditions there in the past. Not a pretty sight, but, again, one that should be seen by everyone.
After a rest and shower, it was still too early for my Gold of Africa Museum and Restaurant set-price 14-course meal and African drum session, so I stopped off at the Alexander bar for a beer and some snacks. Nice little place, very art deco. While sitting at the bar I wrote my postcards and brought my journal up to date, and by that time it was time for drums and dinner. Well, it was great, like everything else about Cape Town. Apparently there were a couple of birthday parties booked for the night, as there were two large groups who joined lonesome me for the drumming session. An African drum leader showed us what to do and how, and we drummed our little fingers off and our hearts out for around 45 minutes on the medium-sized bongo-style drums. I was sweating by the time we finished, so it wasn’t just some wimpy little exercise, but rather a full-blown workout. So if you’re planning an African theme party anytime soon, and happen to have a spare African drum around, I’m your man for the entertainment. Baba-lu!
The evening included dancers and large puppets and wonderful African food. I’ll include the full menu in the expanded version of this Blog, which should appear in my next book, but for now, some of the dishes were: Cape Smoked Fish Pate, South African Roostekoek, Cape Malay Beef Bobotie Samoosas, Creamed Fruit Chutney, Moroccan Prawn Briouats, South African Lamb Tomato Bredie, North African Couscous and mint tea. Wonderful. I waddled back to the hotel and plopped my poor expanded stomach into bed.
Wednesday was my full-day tour of both sides of the actual cape, including the west side beaches, the Cape of Good Hope, Hout Bay and other areas of False Bay. The tour agency van picked me up at the hotel at 8:30 AM and, after gathering in another two couples, we were off to the races. Pule had made my reservations for me for all of the tours I did from the hotel, and they were, each and every one, efficient and informative. Today we were in a mini-van and we began along the west coast, down to Hout Bay for a short break. No one wanted to take the seal island trip from there, so we just motored on after checking out the marina and incredible scenery of the area. We made it to the Cape of Good Hope ahead of the tourist hordes, so were able to get our photos in at the marker before being shoved out of the way by those nasty French and Germans who seemed to think that if they didn’t get their pictures taken the entire area would be blown away.
We led the convoy of tourist vans up to Cape Point and the lighthouse. I could have walked up to the lighthouse, but chose the funicular instead, as I was still getting used to the excessive walking I was doing on my trip. I checked out the lighthouse then came back down and had a really good little pizza for lunch. Back in the van, we headed for Boulders Beach, home of one of the largest penguin colonies in South Africa. We parked the van and walked about 200 meters down a paved road to the penguin preserve, where we bought tickets for the experience. Upon entry to the fenced-in beach, sand dune and boulder area, we were funneled onto a wooden boardwalk raised above the sand so as not to disturb the penguins. We walked another 150 meters to the end of the boardwalk and found the penguin colony.
Now, all of the ads and write-ups of the tours tell you that there are hordes of the little black-and-white fellas crammed onto the beach, infesting the dunes and sunning themselves shoulder-to-shoulder (as it were) on the boulders. What you are not told, and what our tour guide only happened to mention to us as we were buying our tickets, is that the great majority of the penguin hordes leave the beach at sunrise to hunt in the sea, only returning around sunset. So, guess what’s left for the unwary tourist to see? Yep, around 14 mottled, crippled old penguins, a few moms sitting on their nest and maybe even a dead bird or two. Definitely not the great penguin hordes we were expecting. Disappointing. Yet another Shaft the Tourist adventure. I gave them a bad review on Trip Advisor.
We continued our tour up the east coast of the Cape (west coast of False Bay). We drove through an ostrich farm and then spent around an hour at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which are magnificent if you are a botanical garden fan, which I usually am not. Okay, it was a nice walk and included in the tour, but I’d rather have seen some penguin hordes. It was lots of trees and flowers and plants, oh my! Got back to the hotel around 4 PM, took a quick shower and headed out to find the Perseverance Tavern, Cape Town’s oldest drinking establishment and former hangout of Cecil Rhodes when he blew into town. It dates from 1808 and is a nice place to relax with a beer and some fish and chips on the front patio. I especially loved the wandering salespeople, one of whom offered to sell me an already-inflated air mattress. I was really beginning to love Cape Town.

Cape Town Follies - Episode One



The Airlines Strike Back!

So, I went to South Africa. Winter still had its icy grip on Budapest; in early February the overnight temperature was a startling minus 15 degrees Celsius, which is as close to zero degrees Fahrenheit as I choose to get these days. Too damn cold for me. Obviously, a visit to warmer climes was in order. But where to go? The Mediterranean area was always nice, but not quite warm enough at this time of year. North Africa, maybe, but I’d done almost all of the coastal areas I could do. Central Africa? Too much planning, shots, and not enough to do aside from sightseeing the natural wonders of the area.
Hmmm, how about South Africa? I’d heard Johannesburg was rather iffy these days, lots of problems and crime and danger, so obviously not for me. But I had acquaintances from Cape Town and they were always telling me I should go there. I did some research online and found, hey, it looks like a fun place to go. And it’s warm, with temperatures hanging around 28 degrees C (or 82 degrees F). Lots to do, beaches, day tours, city action; why not? So I checked my favorite travel website, Expedia.com, and found a really excellent deal combining airfare (two stops) and what appeared to be a good three-star hotel right in the middle of Cape Town City Center. My credit card was empty for a change, and just begging to be used. The card I had expired at the end of February 2012, but I hoped my new card would arrive before I left on my trip on February 23. Reservations made, paid for and confirmed via the Internet. Bog, I love the Internet!
My potential problems began shortly thereafter. My flights were booked on Air France from Budapest to Paris (although run by the Hungarian airline Malev) and from Paris to Johannesburg, where I had to change airlines to South Africa Airways to Cape Town. On February 3, Malev went bankrupt and cancelled all of their flights without refunds. Too bad for you! (It was on the same day that the battery in my watch failed, which was strike two; when would the third bad thing happen?). Luckily, my flights were with Air France, an airline I like, and two days later I received an email from them announcing the flight time changes, which would then continue on schedule. Gotta love Air France. First hurdle cleared.
I checked in with my US bank to see when my credit card renewal would arrive and was assured it would be in my hands by February 20. I was packed and ready to go by then, and waited each day for my new card to arrive. Feb 20 – no. Feb 21 – nope. Feb 22 – uh-uh. I was nervous but not actually convulsing yet. Being without a credit card would be inconvenient, but not catastrophic, as I could always get cash from the ATMs. But I would like to have my card as a backup.
I was preparing to leave for the airport on Thursday, February 23, around noon. At 11 o’clock there was a knock on my door. It was the postman with my new credit card. Saved by the bell! NOW I was ready to tackle the southern tip of Africa.
When I checked in at Air France in Budapest I was assured my bag would be checked all the way through to Cape Town, even though I had to change airlines in Johannesburg. I asked the check-in lady twice if that was the case, and she assured me it was. I even saw her attach the luggage strip to my suitcase indicating Cape Town. OK, I didn’t have much clearance time in Johannesburg, but this was one less thing I had to worry about. I checked in and the first leg of my trip was as uneventful as I had hoped. Got to Paris CDG airport on time, walked the quarter-mile from my arrival terminal to departure terminal (yep, it’s a looong way). We got out around 11:30 PM on our Airbus 380 for the ten-hour flight to Johannesburg. After a late dinner, I got some uncomfortable sleep and was ready to make my connecting flight the next morning.
We landed in Jo-burg on time and I raced through the terminal to the main check-in area. Another damn long way to walk/run, and no people-movers or moving sidewalks to help. Just a tiring slog. To make sure I knew where I was going, I stopped at the Information Desk next to the baggage claim area to enquire about the location of the South Africa Airways check-in desk. The young woman was friendly and helpful and gave me directions, but she then told me that, if I had just arrived on the Air France flight from Paris, I would have to pick up my bag and re-check it in with South Africa Airways.
WHAT?! I sputteringly told her I was assured my bag was checked through to Cape Town. She just looked at me commiseratingly and said, Nope, gotta get your bag here and check it in again. Well, scheisse! Trapped. It was then around 11:30, and my flight was due to leave at 12:30. Not much time left. I waited and waited and finally got my bag and raced off to find the South Africa (SA) Airways desk.
The Johannesburg airport must have a lot of problems of this type, as there were ‘helpers’ everywhere, eager to guide you to the right desk or line for just a small token of your appreciation. And believe, me, they were welcome at that point. So, young black man gathers me in and takes me through the main terminal area, up two flights of escalators to the top floor check-in area and finds a woman helping travelers at the self-service check-in machines. She enters my information, looks at me and says, “This flight’s closed.”
Aaaarrrggghhh!!! No, this can’t be happening! Not to me! I’ve only ever missed one connecting flight in more than 50 years of air travel, and this won’t be the next one! My helper grabbed me by the arm and whisked me off to a line for Baggage Drop-Off Only. It seemed I should have gone to the SA desk, but he was adamant, so I waited and got to the drop-off desk and the young woman checked my bag in and gave me a boarding pass for my flight! Wonder of wonders.
Of course, it was now nearly noon, and we know how the airlines love to close their boarding early, just to frustrate the last-minute arrivals. As we ran across the terminal and approached the screening lines, my helper looked back at me, said, “Come!,” and proceeded to hustle me through the lines all the way to the front. When we got there, the pre-screener looked at my ticket and said, “Oh, this flight departs at one o’clock.” Since it was then 12:05, I was relieved, to say the least.
I gave my helper 5 euro (he did help me, after all) and, since I was already at the head of the line, proceeded through the screening area. I found my gate and noticed people were boarding. Hmmm. I joined the end of the line and when I got to the front inquired if this was the right flight. Yep, it was, and I boarded without a problem. Lucky me. Of course, my seat assignment was 32F, which is the window seat on the right side in the very last row. I had the very last seat on the plane.
During the two-hour flight to Cape Town I had a nice conversation with the Englishman in seat 32E next to me; he worked for a Canadian company as a construction engineer and was presently finishing a project in Johannesburg, on his way to Cape Town for a relaxing weekend. I was hot and sweaty and tired, but I was on the last leg to Cape Town, and that was all that really mattered.