Just one thoughtless person

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You may be aware that we’ve been besieged in the Kogelberg region, by huge veldt fires since New Years Eve. The area is a United Nations Biosphere – the biodiversity is believed to be greater than anywhere else on the planet; more than 1500 distinctly different forms of flora can be found in this narrow coastal strip, which stretches from Cape Town up South Africa’s south eastern coast towards Mossel Bay and Knysna.

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New Year’s Eve saw one reveller* light a marine distress flare, which almost spent, fell into the tinder dry fynbos nearby.

The prevailing south easterly wind at this time of year quickly turned a few flames into a conflagration, which then raced towards neighbouring Pringle Bay and across the Kogelberg, from where on day ten, it was in sight of Gordon’s Bay, having burned its way many kilometres across the mountains.

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On Friday morning, the wind swept around to a gale force north westerly, which blew the whole fire front back to where it had started, creating even more destruction. Almost 20,000ha of pristine fynbos has been lost.

The supreme efforts of the fire fighting teams and helicopter water bombers managed to control the situation with the help of some blessed rain and by Saturday morning, the worst was over. At least for the fire fighters. For the many that had lost their homes, the heartache has just started.

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I went out yesterday (Saturday) to try and capture the essence of the devastation. These photographs show just a tiny glimpse of the fire damage. More than 30 homes have been lost and at least one death is attributed to smoke inhalation. I see no reason to venture into people’s sorrow and difficulties, so my focus here has been purely on the flora.

All of these photographs have been shot with the Fuji X-H1 and either the 90mm f2, or SBH (16-55 f2.8 zoom).

On a final note, fynbos requires fire in order for its seeds to germinate and much effort is expended year-round to keep invasive species to a minimum. In addition to their ability to overrun the fynbos while using precious water, these plants, bushes and trees also burn at considerably higher temperatures than our native fynbos and in so doing, destroy the seeds which would ensure survivability of this extraordinary gift from Mother Nature.

So, will the fynbos survive? Some rain in the next couple of weeks ought to start the seed germination cycle and hopefully, soon we’ll then see some hopeful green shoots pushing their way out of the sand and ash.

  • Our reveller is currently languishing in jail and unlikely to see his home and family for some considerable time.
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Write caption…

#hardschool

 

It wasn’t meant to be like that. The plan was a birthday party, high in the Swiss Alps with lots of food, booze and good company.

 

What eventuated was lots of food, booze and good company, plus the unplannable (even by the super efficient Susanne) – extraordinary good humour, dancing, singing, joke telling and several savage attacks by the Beer Dog. The #hardschool shouldn’t surprise you.

 

 

We’d flown from Cape Town and thought we’d travelled far. Nope, the Floisands had come from San Jose and the Penningtons from Auckland in New Zealand. Dave’s that kind of bloke.

 

 

I’ll leave you with the photographs from Saturday evening’s post braai/roast dinner partying, with most of us bobbing around in a lake of Achim von Arnim’s Haute Cabriere quiet champagne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin

Across eastern Europe

Yes, I know this is out of sequence, but I’d initially decided not to write this blog entry at all. Then I changed my mind.

 

****************************************************************************

 

goeuro.com says it’s 517km from Warsaw to Berlin. And for the ridiculously low rail fare of €29.90, it’s a bargain, much better than a ride to the airport, check-in, security, waiting for the flight, an hour aloft and a back-to-front repeat of the process on arrival.

 

This is our first experience and already, it’s clear that Europe’s rail system is fantastic. Six hours, minimal border checks, no luggage restrictions, almost zero security, 220V electricity, free wi-fi and a (reasonably) comfortable seat with a fold down table. What’s not to like?

 

Paris

Paris

 

Munich

Munich

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Paris

Paris

 

Munich

Munich

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

The landscape passing the window is flat with almost no relief. I find myself imagining Hitler’s Panzergruppen rampaging across these flat expanses, with little or no regard for anything save reaching Poland and the grab of  as much lebensraum as fast as possible. There is certainly no natural barrier that could have slowed their advance.

 

Berlin is no warmer than Warsaw and the couple of hundred metres from the Hauptbahnhof to our hotel is fast, easy and means that we arrive damp from the falling sleet, but otherwise ready for city two.

 

We’ve been here before, the city leaving us both indelibly marked with it’s history and the willingness of its population to air their transgressions, largely in (we assume) an ongoing attempt to cleanse both their stadt and themselves of the ignominy.

 

FYI; Berlin has a huge public transport system, but until arriving, neither of us had realised that the tram system really only serves the eastern part of the city.

 

Doh! Guess why?

 

Munich

Munich

 

Munich

Munich

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Paris

Paris

 

Paris

Paris

 

Paris

Paris

 

There are any number of ways to get anywhere though; bus tram, U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (overground) and of course, taxi, Uber and so on. Curiously, the public systems never seemed to reach exactly where it was that we wanted to go. For example, a bus seemed to be the best method of reaching the German Museum of Technology, but alighting at the designated stop, we were left with a 700m/800m walk to the museum.

 

It’s an excellent museum, BTW.

 

A visit to the Brandenburg Gate? The tiny two car, two stop U-Bahn service from the Hauptbahnhof to Brandenburger Tor is fast and deposits the traveller within 500m of the Gate. Half a kilometre doesn’t sound far, except when it’s -2C and sleeting.

 

Likewise, the newly opened DDR Museum. Bus, walk – surprisingly far.

 

Munich

Munich

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Paris

Paris

 

Munich

Munich

 

Munich

Munich

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

I’d wanted to see what had been the Communist controlled part of the city, the ugly concrete architecture and photograph what it might have been like. But, like the damage wrought in WW2, the brutal cement has gone, plastered over, or simply demolished, replaced with more modern homes and commercial buildings, bright colours and double glazing. Like Warsaw, the older parts of the city are mended with an eye to the city’s pre-Hitler history and similarly ersatz; appropriate, correct and all too facsimile-like.

 

The weather improved a bit towards the end of our stay, but despite the approaching Spring, copious cups of hot chocolate were consumed to stay the chill.

 

Berlin – Munich on the train, another six(ish) hour journey. More interesting than Warsaw – Berlin because there are towns, cities and lots of landscape to see. Deutsche Bahn is as efficient as you’d expect and despite a delayed departure, 600km later, the train pulled into München on time to the minute.

 

Once again, we’re staying close to the station. It’s deliberate of course, once off the train, we’ve only a couple of hundred metres to walk with our bags.

 

The weather is much as we’ve encountered elsewhere, although Spring is palpably on the way.

 

Like many other German cities, Munich has repaired the ravages of the war, developed and grown into the bright, modern capital of Bavaria, home of beer and BMW. We don’t have a sightseeing agenda and choose to walk the Altstadt, Viktualienmarkt, Rindermarkt, parts of the inner city, past the Art House (museum) and to our utter amazement, spot a surfers’ paradise next door on the Eisbach River.

 

The Eisbachwelle is fed by what I imagine is snow melt, the river is throttled, it’s pressure allowed to build, then released to create a more than passable wave, at least sufficient for the crew of neoprene-clad board riders on the icy wave, entertaining the watching crowds.

 

A visit to Munich is never complete without a visit to the Hofbrauhaus, home of the Oktoberfest. At 11:00 on a stone cold Saturday morning, it would be hard to expect much beery high-jinks underway as you make your way for what you expect to be a quiet pint. Nope. It’s not quite NO’s Bourbon Street on a busy evening, but the place is rammed nonetheless, the oompah band in full swing and the signs of alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour everywhere. From the colours and enthusiasm on display, I’m guessing there’s a big footie match on today (I discover later that Bayern Munich beat Dortmund 6-0). The city’s pedestrian precincts are heaving with shoppers and a few tourists. The bars and restaurants are cashing-in for all they’re worth. We leave.

 

It’s doubtless a great city and a good place to live and work. A bit soulless though.

 

An SNCF TGV carries us to Paris in what we now expect to be comfort, speed and efficiency. Our chosen Hotel Ibis opposite the Gare de l’Est is but a few steps and within minutes we are settled, awaiting the arrival of friends (Steve and Martina) who are en route from West Wales to join us for the week.

 

The absolute pleasure of old good friends can’t be overstated. We’ve known each other for more than two decades and are entirely relaxed in each other’s company. We travelled the Orkneys with Steve and Martina last year and established an easy routine, which we resume within minutes of our first sip of Parisian wine together.

 

We walk the north central suburbs together and then south to lunch at the truly spectacular Le Train Bleu upstairs in the Gare de Lyon, avoiding the rail strikers, locked out of the restaurant’s revolving doors by a quick thinking maître d’.

 

Munich

Munich

 

Paris

Paris

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Paris

Paris

 

Paris

Paris

 

Another day sees us meander over the Seine and lunch in a centuries old stable, converted into a roast chicken destination eatery.

 

On our penultimate day and feeling the pressure to be real tourists, Steve, Martina and Di take an Uber to visit Versailles, leaving me to aimlessly wander the 10th arrondissement, Quai de Jemmapes and south west to the Porte St Denis, a splendid hamburger lunch at PNY (Paris/New York) and a couple of hours with my feet up before they return, cultured-out and ready for yet more food and wine.

 

Like so many European cities, the area around Gare de l’Est and the next-door Gare du Nord is awash with what appears to be semi-vagrant immigrants, mostly of Franco- and Italian-African origin. There is an air of impermanence and one is left to imagine theft, pickpocket and exchange rate scams are legion. Walking the streets is uncomfortable and I am glad that when buying, I specify my outerwear with pockets large enough to conceal a camera of some kind.

 

Fortunately, we don’t fall prey to the street hasslers, but it’s best to be aware and take precautions nonetheless. I wonder what Europe’s governments will eventually do with/about these largely unwelcome visitors?

 

Munich

Munich

 

Munich

Munich

 

Paris

Paris

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Paris

Paris

 

We are awash with plans of places to go and things to see, but settle for our own pace, happy enough to leave some things for next time.

 

All too soon, Steve and Martina leave on a bus for Charles de Gaulle and we walk the 500m or so to Gare du Nord. We’re all irritated at our hotel; the lift had been out of service for three days and every enquiry as to its restoration was met with the expected (IDGAF) Gallic shrug, guaranteed to inflame even the calmest of visitor.

 

I complained to Hotel IBIS via Twitter, but got much the same response, albeit a more corporate shoulder hike. A pity, we’ve spent many, many nights in these otherwise excellent hotels – only to have the experience spoiled by what really amounts to little more than piss-poor management.

 

Eurostar sped us to St Pancras. A couple of minutes to cross to platform 11 and six minutes later, we exited, 30m from our hotel, looming over the International Station at Stratford. Laura and Zach live on the other side of the Olympic Park, some 20 minutes walk away. Julian a little further. The craft brewery downstairs is as good a meeting place as any and within a couple of hours of arriving, we’re a family once more.

 

We’d travel across Europe any time to do that.

 

Munich

Munich

 

Munich

Munich

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Berlin

Berlin

 

Berlin

Berlin

Sunset

AfrikaBurn

She said; “Would you like a fortune cookie from the Universe?”

 

“Yes please.”

 

And there it was; “The universe seems neither benign, nor hostile, merely indifferent.” Carl Sagan.

 

Welcome to AfrikaBurn, South Africa’s annual four day festival of art, creative activities, music, dancing and other largely adult fun, deep in the heart of the Karoo at Tankwa, about 300km north of Cape Town. A direct descendent of Burning Man, AfrikaBurn is now in its eleventh year and growing annually, despite its remote location 100km along Africa’s longest unpaved and dusty road.

 

My first Burn and as much learning experience as culture shock. Fantastic photographic opportunities, wonderful warm days and bitingly cold nights – this is a desert after all. I’m partying with 13,000 other revellers, mainly South Africans, but scattered through the crowds, representatives from just about every nation on Earth.

 

And, given the continent’s largely violent recent history, nary a cross word from anyone.

 

Enough verbiage from me. Here’s an insider’s view – captions where appropriate.

 

Did I mention nudity?

Did I mention nudity?

 

 

 

Did I mention nudity?

Did I mention nudity?

 

 

 

The end of the giant Clan sculpture

The end of the giant Clan sculpture

 

 

 

DMV: Department of Mutant Vehicles

DMV: Department of Mutant Vehicles

 

 

 

"Skollie Patrollie" (Afrikaans: skollie = bad/naughty)

“Skollie Patrollie” (Afrikaans: skollie = bad/naughty)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The giant Clan sculpture, burned on Friday night

The giant Clan sculpture, burned on Friday night

Warsaw

Warsaw

 

If the way things went at the start of this trip were a suggestion of what might happen, we should probably already be wondering what might be next. Travelling with the Pertons has always been something of a challenge and one of our journeys without some quite serious hiccough would no doubt feel incomplete.

 

It was around 14:45 on Friday last, a while before our housesitter was due to arrive to drive us to the airport, that she turned-up having heard that the N2 (the road we use to access the airport) was closed due to a protest in Somerset West. Added to the stop/go roadworks on Clarence Drive, the coast road that connects us to the rest of the world, an earlier than usual departure was suddenly necessary.

 

 

 

 

Curiously, the roadworks didn’t cause much delay, but my decision to parallel the N2 on what is quaintly referred to as Stellenbosch Arterial Road, did. The traffic crawled, while in the distance, the inbound traffic visible on the now cleared N2 was speeding along.

 

Much tension in the car…

 

Airport check-in complete in next to no-time and with only Immigration to go before a nerve un-jangling drink in the lounge, we passed security and ran into the longest queue it is possible to form inside Cape Town International. It stretched from the security screening section all along the concourse, down the stairs, into the usual snake for access to the Immigration desks; at least 100m.

 

There were hundreds of would-be flyers queueing, many for flights due to depart in minutes. Looking at the aircraft on the ramp, there were international flights leaving for Istanbul, Luanda, a charter to somewhere in Germany, London and our own aeroplane to Dubai. At a guess, possibly fifteen hundred passengers, most of whom were in the same queue. Mindful of the impending departures, there was a constant calling of passengers likely to cause delays, or worse miss flights, to go directly to Immigration, bypassing the monster queue.

 

Our inching forward continued for the best part of an hour, which eventually bought us face-to-face with an Immigration official who was swearing up a blue fit in her very best Afrikaans. With only five of the twelve desks Immigration booths manned, the workload and need to hurry was proving to be way too much for her. We were glad to get our passports stamped and head for a drink, now possible because our flight had been delayed for about twenty minutes by the late arrival of the inbound flight from Dubai.

 

 

 

 

And yes, it’s easy to say; “You should try this at JFK on a sweltering New York afternoon,” but the truth is that Immigration (and most of the other services) at Cape Town International have improved beyond recognition in recent years.

 

I’m wondering whether the return of Malusi Gigaba as minister of Home Affairs isn’t to blame.

 

Dubai at stupid o’clock was the usual silicone-smooth transfer point and in no time our Boeing 777 was touching down in Warsaw. The weather? Clear and a balmy at -3C.

 

City access is always one of the issues I deal with before committing to any city stopover. Most are pretty good, Warsaw amongst them. All the choices are there; train, bus, taxi and everyone’s current favourite, Uber. We opted for the former and in twenty-odd minutes, alighted at Warsaw Centralina – the main rail terminus for the city. A walk of less than 200 metres got us to our charming, recently renovated and snugly warm apartment – our home for the next four nights.

 

En route, we’d noticed a branch of Vapiano* and decided an early supper there would put a nice full stop on the day, with several hours unbroken sleep to follow.

 

Like several Eastern European cities, Warsaw was extensively damaged during the second World War. Most of the damage has been repaired and the buildings re-built. It’s unavoidable, but there is a distinct feeling of ersatz, especially in the Old Town and areas around what was the Jewish Ghetto and rebuilt city wall. Nonetheless, we wandered the streets and alleyways and sampled pierogi for lunch.

 

The walk back to our apartment – the Uber driver we were waiting for was snarled in traffic and the system eventually cancelled our call. We wanted to see more of this fascinating city and opted to walk instead.

 

 

 

 

The nation’s politics is described as a “unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic”, which by its very definition, has all the hallmarks of the preceding regime. The ousting of the communists has really changed everything in Poland and since the ‘80s, both democracy and free trade have become deeply entrenched.

 

The nation remains strong agriculturally, producing much of Europe’s vegetables, grain and meat products. Manufacturing is strong and membership of the EU has given the Poles yet more to work toward. The cost of living is surprisingly low, employment high and the standards of both education and living are at least on a par with many other European states.

 

The tell-tales of communism are being razed daily, but it is still possible to glimpse a reminder; patched stoneware, telling stories of bullets and shrapnel, or the tiny entrance ways leading into the courtyards of the era, blocks of grim, grey apartments that provided basic housing and little else.

 

Lost? Either look for the Palace of Culture and Science, a communist-era wedding cake whose 30 storeys dominate the city’s skyline and provide an excellent landmark from pretty much anywhere. Alternatively, do as the guide book suggests; ask anyone who looks under 30 – they all speak English because it’s taught in school.

 

The newly opened Koszyki food hall is just a couple of blocks away from our apartment. It is a re-modelled market and now boasts, food markets, bookshops, several bars and lots of restaurants. A stay in Warsaw would definitely be incomplete without a visit.

 

 

 

 

Self-catering as we are, we’ve noticed that food and drink and eating out in general is significantly cheaper than other cities we’ve visited in recent times. A pleasant change that. It also made us understand that closed on Sunday means exactly that. A few restaurants were open, but little else – be warned.

 

Then, it what seemed like moments and we were re-packing and heading for Centralina station for the train to Berlin and the second city on our mostly eastern European explore.

 

Comments below please!

 

* Vapiano is a chain of Italian semi-self serve restaurants, which produce good, sensibly priced, reliable food. We first discovered them in Stockholm.