"First Stop Jo'berg"
First Stop Jo’berg
I flew from cold, rainy London to Johannesburg on the day after my Birthday. This meant I was facing a 10-hour night flight having had barely any sleep the previous night due to big parties and serious amounts of alcohol. Oh well, no rest for the wicked!
Actually, the flight passed surprisingly quickly thanks to the guy sitting next to me on the plane. I had thought that he and the woman the other side of him were traveling together because they were so engrossed in conversation when I reached my seat. However, I was included in the chitchat as soon as I sat down, and it turns out he was just a very good icebreaker.
The three of us ended up drinking copious amounts of wine and free Champagne supplied by the flight attendant as he was under the misconception that we worked for BA. He-he. We didn't lie or anything, but we didn't exactly deny it either.
On arriving in Johannesburg, and on the journey between airport and hotel, the thing that struck me most were the black people, including children, begging on the road at traffic lights. (I've seen this kind of thing before, but it gets me every time.) Also, it was immediately obvious that people working in the service industry were predominantly black. Apart from the immediate implications of the culture, I was glad to be back in the sun and was looking forward to getting out into it. White isn't my color.
My partner is from South Africa, he no longer lives there, but he met me in Johannesburg for a two-week holiday. On the night of my arrival, we went to dinner at a restaurant called The Butcher's Shop (no prizes for guessing what their specialty is!) The reason this restaurant warrants a mention though is because it is famous for its steak knives. These knives are so often stolen that they are now engraved with PDSTFK, which stands for, 'PLEASE DON'T STEAL THIS F***ING KNIFE'! Well, it amused me anyway.
The following day, a group of us met for lunch in Melrose Arch Hotel This is flash, new, contemporary establishment where you sit at tables immersed in a shallow pool. Funky setting, but the food was a little disappointing. Somehow, the 6 bottles of bubbly made up for what the food lacked!
On my second day in the city, I decided that I really ought to fit in a bit of culture. I was also keen to visit one of the townships to get a glimpse at the poorer way of life that is customary to so many of SA's population. Mike and went on a city tour. We drove down Claim Street where Mike once worked. This was once an affluent area and the hub of the city. Sadly, it now a ghost town with many of the buildings bricked-up and those that aren't are overrun with squatters. I cannot begin to describe how eerie this experience was. Mike pointed out where his office was. His decision to leave strangely coincided with the day that three bullets came through his window. I can simply not imagine.
The tour also took us to Gold Reef City. Very much a tourist attraction, but nevertheless interesting. It was just unfortunate that we didn't have time to try out any of the rides. We did go down into the gold mine for a tour though, after which we watched a demonstration of how a gold bar is poured. Afterwards, everybody was given the opportunity to attempt to pick up a gold bar. The person that manages to pick it up between their thumb and middle finger may take it home. Needless to say, to date, nobody has succeeded.
The other highlight of the tour was the trip to the township Soweto. SA townships have a reputation for their corrugated iron shack-houses, shabeens (illegal drinking dens) and shootings on every corner. Trepidation lurked in my stomach as we approached. I was ready to dice with death (albeit with my head down).
However, as we drove through the streets of Soweto, I couldn't spy even 1 shanty-shack, but rather rows of (small) bricks-n-mortar houses. Quashing my disappointment, I decided that this must be the nice--side-of-town. Not so, no shacks were to be found in Soweto.
Oh well, instead, I turned my attention to keeping an eye out for gunfights - not a bean.
And the shabeen? Well, I was expecting to be hustled in, incognito stylie, and the potent house brew be thrust into my hand in a tin mug.
Erm, no. We 'lunched' at Wandies. The infamous 'shabeen' of Soweto. It was very nice - alfresco dining in the forecourt, traditional African decor inside where an eat-your-fill buffet was spread. All very respectable, and as for being illicit, well, I think their liquor license went 'til 2am.
Apparently I would die another day.
Note: I'm not being perverted here. Of course, it must be a good thing that Soweto has come so far since the days when it was a dangerous shantytown. However, I don't believe that Soweto is a true representation of the poorest standard of living in SA. The people of Soweto have benefited from the tourism influx. Or some might say, the sick intrigue of people like me into how the poorer half live. Still, it works for them. And by the way, I would go back to Wandies - great food, great guy.
That evening, we toasted our 'brush with death' with sundowners at The West Cliff Hotel. Go here if you ever visit Jo'berg. Gorgeous views. You have get there early to secure an outside table by the pool though!
Ever so slightly tipsy from said sundowners, we then embarked on a spur of the moment evening excursion to Sun City. I feel another story coming on...
Unfortunately, I did not experience this 'institution by day (I love swim-up pool bars!). However, by night, it was still quite a sight to behold. Although, I have to say, it was much quieter than I expected! We had a general meander through the grounds before choosing to dine in the piano-bar style restaurant. This was a lovely setting and aperitifs alfresco, overlooking the 'beach'. After dinner, I partook in a little 'game watching' in the casino. I have to confess, this was my first casino experience ever, and I loved it. What's more, I left ZAR800 up!
A couple of days later, we passed through Stellenbosch for a wine tasting and a 'picnic'. I have to admit that I had a monster of a hangover on this morning. I remember how much effort it took to smile in the picture you see above! Otherwise, it was a lovely morning. We arrived at around 11am, and began wine-tasting immediately. Mike's brother David (left in the pic. above) is a restaurateur, and so we had a special tasting laid on under the implication that he was preparing his forthcoming wine list. We tried 13 wines, no less, that morning, and I was feeling much better by the end of the session. (I really must dig out that number I wrote on a post-it somewhere: it was for some kind of organization like AA or something!) Anyway, after our wine-tasting session, we went for a 'picnic' lunch in the grounds of Stellenbosch winery.
Perhaps it just me, but the very term 'picnic' has always conjured up images of slightly squashed cheese and tomato sandwiches, a packet of salt 'n' vinegar crisps and a carton of Ki-Ora. It turns out that this notion of a picnic was merely a childhood illusion. The picnics at Stellenbosch, packed by the winery, consist of 5 courses of various delicious gourmet delicacies. One then selects the wines deemed 'favorites' from the tasting to accompany the wares. (In our case, sparkling, white & red, a bottle of each respectively!) Quite the gastronomic experience, and needless to say, we all had an elephant's sufficiency!
After a very long indulgent luncheon, the three of us continued our journey to Fan Court, and arrived at around 8pm.
This location deserves an aside to itself! There is no denying that it is indeed, quite splendid (although, simply not in the same league as Chateaux d'Escliment). Allow me to describe Fan Court as a country club: Read golfer's resort, cum fantasy, cum delight, cum dream, cum vice, cum status symbol, cum playground, cum odyssey, cum hideaway...yeah, you get the drift, right? It's a golfing location!