“Where are you buggers now? You’re never at home.”
We’re at home. Have been pretty much since late October, save for a weekend trip to Jozi for a 70th celebration and long overdue (and in retrospect, much too short) return to the bush.
And what’s more, we won’t be far from Rooi Els for quite a while.
So, back from October’s short(ish) trip to London to see Laura and Julian and two weeks in Scandinavia, we’ve only been in South Africa and enjoying it thoroughly.
The trip to the bush was a bit of a journey of (re-)discovery. We loaded the still almost brand new AndyLandy and drove what felt like north, but was actually almost due east to Tsitsikamma and the Storms River Mouth.
We spent most of the six-plus hour drive with our eyeballs bugged-out, almost touching the windscreen, as one after another, South Africa’s drivers in both directions displayed a bewildering array of bad driving habits. Blind bends, double barrier lines and driving in the emergency lane (to enable overtaking where road conditions/markings forbid) were the less frightening things on show. Many cars and buses being piloted in such kamikaze fashion were carrying passengers, the taxis often fully laden with 15+ souls all seemingly on their way to the scene of the accident.
The Tsitsikamma National Park is possibly one of the most spectacular in SANParks pantheon of resorts and something of a second home for us, as we spent to many holidays here when Laura and Julian were growing-up.
Not much has changed since our last visit. The Park’s reception office is now at the main gate and the restaurant currently being re-built. Our two bed Oceannette was well appointed and offered full 180 degree views of the spectacular rocks, shore and ocean. Very nice.
I had forgotten the near precipitous stairs down to the Oceannettes however and carrying food, luggage and cameras has forever etched in my mind the need to book a cabin with no steps next time.
Two days, one spent with visiting friends now living in Plettenberg Bay and we were on our way again. This time to Queenstown.
500+km from Tsitsikamma, over some badly potholed roads, especially after passing Grahamstown, the drive was made worse by a clutter of roadwork-driven stop and go delays. Each one required a 10/15 minute wait, making a long day even longer.
It’s also not really the best place to discover that your B&B belongs to a trucking company and hidden amongst the heavy vehicles parked on the site is what looks suspiciously like a stolen BMW 3 series, it’s door and ignition locks drilled out, its cream coloured interior in a pretty bad state of repair.
The welcome-lady who was due to let us in and show us around had gone off to have her hair done. Fortunately, the owner gave us instructions as to how to get in via the back door without a key and we were well settled in by the time said lady returned, with head intricately braided and apology noticeably absent.
Despite being called a B&B, breakfast was not only absent the following morning, but we were chided for not telling our hostess that we wanted breakfast and were willing to pay a healthy add-on to the (we were fast discovering) ridiculously high room rate, for our repast.
We weren’t, left earlier than we had planned and dined at the local Mickey-Dees, amongst the last of the homeward bound party-stragglers from the night before.
Neither of us had been to Bethlehem before and our first visit bought yet more accommodation hassles. This time, we arrived to find that we aren’t even expected, despite my holding a printed booking sheet confirming our overnight as well as proof of payment for what was now clear – a ridiculously high room rate.
Our dozy host blames the booking agency (but later in the day, ‘fesses-up that the mistake was his – he’d forgotten). We are shuffled into the only room clean enough for visitors. It is small and while quite comfortable, but discover that once again, breakfast is an add-on.
Fortunately, there’s a shopping mall across the road and our first Spur steak dinner of the trip follows.
On to Hazyview.
We’re making these 500-odd km days to ease the stress and strain of long distance travel – so we can better deal with and take appropriate action to avoid the appalling driving we’re encountering as much as ensuring we’re not permanently crippled when we unfold ourselves from the car. And, don’t be fooled, while 500km suggests a five hour(ish) drive, in reality, it turns out to be between six to seven hours whether you want it to or not.
Hazyview – at last! A B&B that is expecting us. Our room is ready and pleasant, as is the welcome. Breakfast is extra, however.
That wasn’t so much a surprise by now. We once again elected to buy something good en route and stopped at Bourkes Luck Potholes to see nature’s strange rock sculptures and en route back to the car, discovered an excellent toasted (egg and bacon) sarnie at the café, to top off our brief visit.
We think that it’s about twenty years since we’ve been to the Kruger Park and booked at the Bateleur Bush Camp, which has been opened since our last visit. It’s midway between Phalaborwa and Punda Maria, deep in the bush, at the end of an untarred, private road.
In short, spectacular. The game was lined up at the roadside to welcome us back with a cheery wave, the weather cooled after our 35C arrival and all-in the Park was as brilliant as it always was. We’ll be back.
As in arriving, leaving the Park is slow – 40km/h on the sand roads and 50km/h on tar meant nearly three hours to the gate and then an eyeballl to eyeball argument with the satnav which wanted to take us to our friends bush house near Bela Bela (formerly Warmbaths) via Giyani. South African readers will understand…
In a sublime blend of insistence and disregard, we ignored the bleating guidance system and headed for Louis Trichard (now Makhado) and the N1. Another journey of Oscar-ready driving performances, although in reality, most were only suitable for a Darwin Award. Even the national road made no difference to the performance. Many drivers added to their display of driving skills by tossing bags of litter along the way. Is this a modern day trail of rubbish, clearly replacing Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, to assist them in finding their way home again? Sadly, that won’t work; there’s so much crap strewn along our roads that it would be impossible to find one’s way anywhere by that method.
Eventually, Bela Bela hove into sight and with it, two blissful days of no-driving sanity at Mabalingwe, amongst old friends.
Home calls and all too soon, we were back on the road to Kimberley.
Getting smarter about our forgetful B&B breakfast bandits and before leaving Magalingwe, I check with our hosts regarding arrival times in the city and breakfast. The timeframe is OK – we have a 700km drive today – but once again, breakfast is extra. So much extra that we could go to the local Wimpy and choke down their biggest Mega Breakfast and still save 50% over the usurious rate these thieves want to charge us.
It needs to be said that our accommodations are elegant and comfortable, but our third steakhouse (a Spur again) dinner in less than a week is enough. If I see red meat once more…
We spurned breakfast and decided to rather pay off the balance on our bond, instead opting for a toasted sarmie in a wayside petrol station/café. Not usually my breakfast of choice, but our stop at Leeu Gamka forced me to re-think that stricture. Fresh bread, well toasted, a good filling of cheese and tomato and accompanied with hot from oil, salted chips. Nothing wrong with that.
We’re headed for the highly recommended Karoo National Park at Beaufort West. We’ve never stayed here before, but the welcome is warm, our chalet comfortable and the helpful young man at reception even stapled a breakfast voucher to our paperwork.
“Yes, it’s included. We’re open from seven until ten.”
National park. Free breakfast. Huh?
It was our last evening and we’d planned an evening braai, as much to finish up our provisions as pleasure. However, the wind is howling and it’s chilly outside – hardly weather to be standing around watching your embers being blown into the tinder-dry veldt.
Still, it’s a great spot – we’ll definitely be back. The breakfast was pretty good too.
Well, you’ve got this far, so some reward if you’re planning to travel in South Africa.
First, wi-fi. Most places promise wi-fi, but it’s suitability for the task is dubious and an enquiry as to why it is as useful as wet string, brings little more than a cow eyed apology, or a shrug that would do the average Frenchman credit.
Don’t trust the hype. We both have data-able phones and also carry a Huawei mi-fi – a tiny hub that employs a SIM card to provide Internet access (providing there’s a signal) for 4-5 devices.
Driving home, we discussed how much we’d enjoyed the Kruger Park and how much we’d like to make this trip again next year. Driving is a given – it is possible to fly and rent a car, but the chances of spotting game seems to be reduced by an order of magnitude for every centimetre your eye level is reduced, so we really do need to travel in AndyLandy.
So, the plan is to investigate putting the car on the train from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then driving up to the Park. It’s expensive, but once fuel and two/three nights lodging is factored in, it suddenly becomes much more do-able. Then there’s the wear and tear on the vehicle and the almost inevitable speeding fine(s). Seems like a plan. More on that one, soon.
Finally, this trip saw us spend six nights in SANParks resorts. I’d never given the idea much thought before, but before leaving, bought a Wild Card, the cost of which (R850/year for South Africans) is offset by not being charged park access and daily driving rates. On this trip, we saved the initial R850 cost plus couple of hundred Rand extra – a great deal in anyone’s language.
Back home, the south easter (wind) that makes Rooi Els so (in)famous is hammering away at around 80km/h. We’re not expecting much respite until after Xmas.
Saturday evening – Stockholm. A few minutes before 18:00 and it’s all but dark. Our last evening in the city; tomorrow, we’ll use the Arlanda Express to whisk us to the airport to check in and by 15:00-odd should be airborne en route back to Cape Town.
The weather’s been kind, the city and its inhabitants, likewise. Winter is clearly on the way, however. The eyes and movements of the Stockholm-ites show that their preparations for the coming cold are underway and soon, the thermometer will slide from 10(ish) C to zero and not stop until the cold really bites. The dark too.
I’m glad to be heading south; a kind of one-way migration. Cape Town should just be seeing the arrival of Spring, bringing relief from winter’s mid teen temperatures, but still no rain to speak of – the city is in the grip of its worst drought in history.
Naturally enough, our politicians have been fiddling while Rome burnt the dams dried up and only now are beginning to address the problem – probably two years too late.
Enough carping. Stockholm doesn’t have water problems. In fact the city is built on islands, close to the nation’s eastern Baltic coastline. It’s magnificent, the public transport system, a marvel, the sights and locals a pleasure. We’ve had a great time.
I’ve also found lots to photograph and managed a bottle of wine with photo buddy, Hans Strand. He opened some fine burgundy and spent a couple of hours trying to encourage me to buy a D850. I’m OK with the one, but a new heavyweight Nikon? Not so much. Yet.
Thanks again, Hans. It was good catching-up.
The Swedes like the French, do a great deal outdoors. There’s little snow and ice at present, so most of the population content themselves with eating and drinking outside, often protected against the single digit temperatures by racks of infra-red and gas heaters. Smart people.
Given their propensity for outdoors, most of the photographs I’ve taken are in and around the city; people just doing what they do every day. For would-be visitors, spend some time researching the city, but don’t miss Gamla Stan (the old city), Södermalm, Nytorget and the permanent Fotografiska. The T-Bana – metro railway to you and me – is outstanding, with many stations displaying various art and sculptural works as a part of their decor. Even at lunch time when these images were shot, the T-Bana can hardly be called busy.
And that’s about it. No stunning highlights and thankfully, no low lights, this has been an excellent week in a smart, elegant city. Summing-up; for me, a really enjoyable stay, beating Oslo by the slimmest of margins. I sense a return trip in the coming year or so.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, we were supposed to be flown from London to Oslo by Ryanair last Saturday. Needless to say that was €300 down the toilet and I won’t be making that mistake again.
The vile Irishman might have chosen to indirectly punish us even further, as our self-funded replacement flight on Norwegian was rammed with Northern Ireland football supporters flying to the World Cup qualifier (I think that’s what it was). Charming they might be, but Irish footie supporters are noisy, boisterous and seemingly roaring drunk their every waking moment.
The game was on Sunday evening, with Ireland losing 1-0.
I was dimly aware – our first floor hotel room window over the hotel’s reception area actually opened – of loud conversations, chants of “Who are you?” and endless billows of cigarette smoke wafting into our room right through the night. At around 08:00 on Monday morning, I went down to buy coffee and found myself in the queue behind the archetypical red-headed Irishman who was attempting to buy beer from the deli/snack bar counter in the hotel. Meeting with an incredulous “But it’s only eight o’clock,” he responded with a tremulous “…it’s a national emergency,” but still he couldn’t thaw the heart of the Nordic lass on the till.
Things around here have quieted a lot since they took their hangovers off to the airport.
So, Oslo. As a friend pointed out recently, Lisbon is a great city to photograph. In my opinion, so are Paris, Tokyo and to a lesser extent, Singapore and Copenhagen.
Oslo does not make the easy/fun/good list. It is (Nordic) beautiful, serene, stylish after a fashion, clean and populated by the most helpful locals, but photogenic it doesn’t appear to be. Then, I expected one of the Viking, Kon Tiki or Munch museums to offer some photo opportunities, but that wasn’t to be either.
Oslo’s foodie market at Mathallen offered a few photo opportunities, but no more than similar markets in Madrid, Sydney’s fish market, or Venice to name a very few.
The city is basking in late autumn light and clearly prepping for winter. Rain threatens and I wonder whether a visit in (maybe) July or even January might have been a better option.
Still, it’s a really interesting city. Vigeland’s sculptures, Munch’s works, Ibsen’s plays and the work of the Nobel Institute make a fine backdrop to this modern and hugely relaxed society. I’ve enjoyed it, although rushing back doesn’t seem to be on the agenda.
Early on Thursday, we decamped for a concessional (on my part, as I hate them) guided tour* from Oslo to Myrdal, on to the Flåm (inelegantly pronounced Flom) railway to descend 866m to sea level in just 20 kilometres, at gradients as steep as 1:18 – tough for a road, but amazing for a regular rail line, with no funicular assistance.
From Flåm, we enjoyed a launch ride along two spectacular fjords to Gudvangen and from there, a bus (complete with singing driver) to Voss and finally another train ride into Bergen, arriving on time, moments before 20:00.
It had been drizzing most of the day, but was pishing down by then and a taxi seemed like an excellent idea. Having attempted to walk the route this morning (Friday), I’d have to say that last evening’s decision was beyond perfect as even with the help of Mr Google’s maps, we got took wrong turnings aplenty and would doubtless have found our hotel, but not before some terminal matrimonial damage had been done…
* Guided tour? Actually not. Norway in a Nutshell was brilliantly organised, but no guide and in truth, one was not needed.
And so, Friday dawned in Bergen. The weather forecast is predicting at least another week of this downpour and our foray to see whether we should attempt a walk to the station tomorrow for our train back to Oslo got us so wet that we’ve spent the last couple of hours back in our hotel room, drying out.
As we were returning to Oslo, we’d packed little more than an overnight change of clothes and stored our suitcases in our hotel’s storeroom. Given the number, variety and busy schedules of the transport we used, that turned out to be an excellent plan. Dragging luggage over that obstacle course could doubtless have done either one or both of us some serious damage.
Next week; Sweden.
Photo giant, Pete Turner’s death a couple of weeks ago both reminded and encouraged me to look at what I was/am shooting a bit differently. I’m no lover of super saturated colours, but a little tweaking never hurt anyone. Right?
Plus, I find the Fuji cameras I prefer when travelling produce spectacular colour, especially when pushed a little.
So, a week in London en famille, celebrating a milestone birthday with little else in the way of social commitments beyond a daily family lunch or evening meal, I got lots of time to wander, explore and play.
For the photographically minded, all these images were shot with either the tiny Fuji X100F or X-Pro2 and 56mm f1.2. I can’t possibly imagine why I told myself I needed to pack and carry four other lenses 🙁