The Eifel is not a tower; that one is spelt with a double ‘f’.
The Eifel is a low mountain range in western Germany and eastern Belgium, which spans a renowned scenic rural area. It’s a favourite daytrip destination of mine within an hour’s leisurely drive from Köln and which rewards me with something new and spectacular every time I venture there.
This past Easter Weekend was no exception. When my friend Rudi suggested that its blooming time for the wild daffodils in the Eifel, I bunched the family into the car, packed a picnic of breads, cheese, hams and pesto and headed east.
Flowing hills, bushy meadows and yellow blooming canola fields broken up by patches of forest ensures scenic splendour all the way, that type which is often difficult to capture in words. I did find the ‘Fuhrbachtal’ valley outside of the small village of Kalterherberg easily enough and enjoyed a cool and leisurely stroll down the valley to do some flower searching. It didn’t take much of a search, as in Germany everything is so well organised and well kept that nature walks simply entail following the path. That’s simply what we did, and sure enough, we found some beauties.
The ‘Fuhrbachtal’ is on the border of Belgium and southern Holland, which also means that this is a World War 2 hotspot area. I, however wanted to enter Germany from Belgium, the direction the Allied Forces did on 12 September 1944. So I first drove into Belgium with some small country roads through some magnificent scenery, stopped on the edge of the Hürtchenwald for a picnic and photoshoot before driving through the ugly town of Neu-Moresnet. I had to visit Neu-Moresnet simply to mark of some irrelevant fictitious to-do list item that I have been in the town where Heintje Simons nowadays live. Remember Heintje? He was a darling little singer from the Netherlands who wooed amongst others the South African radio listeners in the seventies with songs like ‘Mama’ and ‘Heintje Boembantje, boem, boem, boem’ or something in that vein. (I have no idea what he was actually singing, but this was how my brother and I sang along in those days).
We didn’t see Heintje, and I didn’t even stop in this town, as what I saw in the drive through was not inspiring at all, plus I was on a mission to enter Germany through the Hürtchenwald and the town Roetgen, find some remains of the Siegfried Line and take some pictures.
Roetgen is the first German town to fall under American control. They marched into the town on September 12, 1944 at 14.30. After the American forces entered Germany at Roetgen, they engaged the German forces in what became known as the Battle of Hürtgen, a fierce series of battles in the inhospitable terrain of the forest which lasted to December 1944 and in which the Americans lost at least 33 000 men to death or incapacitation. We too entered the town of Roetgen from Belgium and I found some excellent remains of the Siegfried Line. Fascinated to find these remains, I walk amongst them and let my mind wander to the ghastly historic events, which took place at this exact place where I was wandering around; I took some pictures and simply contemplated the insanity of war. As Chris de Burgh so aptly states in ‘Borderline’,
‘But these are only boys, and I will never know,
How men can see the wisdom in a war…’
Hürtgen Forest is however not only the venue of these battles and the beautiful thick forest scenery, but also, according to local folklore, the forest where Hansel and Gretel were kept, fed and oh so nearly served as dinner. We did keep an eye out for them too, but (fortunately) didn’t see any traces of them, nor of the witch.
As always, I chose some further ‘small roads’ back to Cologne and with the usual luck of discovery found a stunning piece of ‘watered castle’, the ‘Weiße Burg’ in Friesheim, complete with moat providing stunning photographic opportunities.
Tomorrow we head off to Holland for an extended drive.
The Europeans are a classy bunch, well, mostly. The high fashions of Paris, Milan and London are well known across the globe and browsing throung the streets confirm this. At this very moment I’m sitting in Extrablatt am Neumarkt in Köln having a breakfast and I’m amazed at how well dressed every-one around me are. Scarfs, jackets, boots and cardigans of the highest quality, design and fashion are in abundance. Even jeans are wore with style so typical of European way and not in the casual way the Saffas will wear them. Its not always easy to put your finger on the exact difference, but the general look certainly is different.
But, ‘o my word’ the Europeans are bad at beach attire! The men, I specifically mean the men, are incomprehensibly bad when it comes to dressing for the beach. Let me put it clear that I find very little fault with the swimming attire the European beach-going ladies wear (or not wear). But why the men have stuck on wearing only ‘speedos’ or even worse, those tight fitting little trouser costumes with the short straight ‘legs’ sometimes even with the little fish belt and buckle, that I last wore as a five-year old boy back in the sixties, I simply cannot comprehend. As soon as a boy turns 7, the mom should put him in baggy shorts, and nothing else, and that is what he should wear to the beach for the rest of his days. But then again, its probably better for them to wear those ugly costumes, than the few (mostly guys, it seems) who wear nothing and parade around on the fringes of some normal family beaches in the Adam suits. These Europeans surely have some strange habits.
My preference, though is travel, photos and stories, not fashion. So travel I did once more during the past summer holidays. With parents visiting and us having to hit the road all the way to the Costa Brava in Cataluña, that stunning country bordering Spain,
we decided to try out the very popular RV (recreational vehicle) or camper van as they are also called, as means of transport and accommodation. I am used to camping; in South Africa, I own a 4×4 trailer and we have done many off-road camping trips to nature reserves, wild life areas such as Baviaanskloof, Marakele, Mapungubwe, Kruger National Park, Botswana and Swaziland. Take note, these are all remote wilderness type destinations, none are beach holiday ‘caravan parks’, which means the shear thought of camping in the RV in a crowded caravan park where the tent ropes of your neighbour stretches into your braai area was daunting, to say the least. I do, however, believe in trying out new things first and then decide whether its good or not in stead of just writing them off from preconceived perceptions, thus entered behind the wheel of the monster camper with some uncertain anticipation and hit the road.
Many of my travel companions in the past must have rued traveling with me, as I tend to add time and kilometres in curiosity of places and other roads than the obvious straight line. The result of this was that we added 600km to our already 1200km trip from Köln to the Costa Brava but the positive is that we were able to explore the Loire Valley of France and to witness the decadence of the royalty of 16th century France. The architecturally magnificent Chateau de Chambord being one fine example of this decadence. This castle was built for François I in the 1500’s and took 30 years to build. It was built as a ‘hunting lodge’ and apparently with money laundered from the church. Must have been some hunting party when these guys came together to shoot boar as this chateau has 440 rooms. Since it was built in the wild and for hunting purposes, the effort and cost to furnish it was so vast that it was never furnished on permanent basis. Each time it was used, everything was brought with the hunting party; imagine that! No wonder François spent only 7 weeks there in all his life, and no wonder the French revolted some 250 later.
Our end destination was Lloret de Mar (pronunciation lesson nr 14, Lloret is pronounced Joret as double ‘l’ in Spanish is a ‘j’. Disclaimer though for the Capetonians, please don’t start calling Llundudno Jundudno as it is named after a Welsch town, not a Spanish one). Lloret is a smallish town on the spectacular Costa Brava, some 70km north of Barcelona and this is where my daughter decided to spend the next 8 months to learn Spanish. I too asked the question ‘why learn Spanish in Cataluña?’ but when I saw the beauty of Lloret de Mar, any other reason wasn’t required anymore. With beaches (ignore the men in their bathing shorts for proper comprehension here), cafès, villages, parks, horse-riding and Barcelona at her doorstep, it will require some discipline to focus on the studies, thus preparing her well for what lies beyond being able to speak Spanish.
And exactly here, at Lloret de Mar, is where we camped in our RV for a week. The RV camping went well, as its very easy camping with everything in its place. Setting up camp very much consists of
park your vehicle,
turn the fridge from 12V to 220V,
stack out your chairs and table
and open a beer!
Lloret de Mar, as most of the towns on the Spanish coast, stems from old fishing towns where some remnants of the days gone by are still visible. A pristine example of the ‘old town’ still relative intact is the walled old town of Tossa de Mar, a few kilometres north of Lloret. With a sandy stretch of beach lined with multiple restaurants where the tapas, wine and beer are excellent and the view across the sandy beach from your dining table exquisite. To the south the beach is intercepted by a rocky hill with the old walled fishing town and remains of the church still beautifully preserved. Walking the inside path of this old village provides the most stunning views across the roofs of the town to the west, the sandy beach to the north and the pristine rocky seaside to the south, and when we were there, the rising full moon over the Mediterranean to the east.
We had to return home, the holiday was over, and Köln a long drive (10 hours for 450km in the August holiday traffic of southern France just to get to Lyon) away. Then the reality shock of returning home hit me and I realised that my family has now reached that first major change which happens to all families, but for which we were not nearly sufficiently prepared. We had to leave our eldest behind. Cara finished school in June and her first ‘after school’ objective is to learn to Spanish. This is why we headed to Lloret specifically, because this is where my daughter will stay for the next 8 months to learn Spanish before embarking on her university studies. It was one of the hardest parenting duties I have ever had to do, driving back home while your kid stays behind, in another country, nogal!
But then, thinking about it rationally, I realised this is exactly why we moved to Europe originally. We came here for new challenges and opportunities and this has always been a major item on Cara’s bucket list, to live in Spain, learn to speak Spanish and to work with horses. That is precisely what she is now doing. Thus, slowly but surely we are fulfilling what we set out to do, sometimes with a very serious emotional shock accompanying the reality of our decisions, but also with the gratitude and a sense of achievement overshadowing that emotional hesitation. Still, as her younger brother said when we arrived home and the visiting grandparents also left for South Africa ‘our home is suddenly weird’.
… where purple is the reigning colour, kind soft, nice smelling lavender purple! Thus you can see it can never be Prrrôôôvince as the Capetonians would so love it to be.
Rather try the correct Pgôwaañs pronunciation with your lips truly spouted for that French flair effect. And then clutch your baguette under your arm, whether you’re wearing a shirt or not, and munch on your early morning croissant (apply same pronunciation rules as above) with a good, small, strong coffee and just look, smell, drive, walk, photograph and discover the real Provence.
It’s so clichéd to try and write something extraordinary on topics such as Provence and the joys of sniffing out those little-town gems and little mountain roads since even old Julius, Brutus and the other Roman emperors spent their weekends enjoying the Provencal cuisine, baths, gladiator blood-sports, sights and sounds. Jip, this part of the world is truly part of old civilisation, which means there’s so much more to see than lavender. Don’t get me wrong on the lavender thing, though. If you plan to visit Provence, it will be worth your while to plan your visit for late in July, early August, as the spectacle of blooming lavender fields and the ripe wheat fields adjacent are right up there with the likes of Namaqualand, Cape fynbos and Overberg canola fields in springtime.
As with all quality tourist destinations, the big bugging factor is always the tourists! Here it’s obviously continuously present as well and it had me ponder the logic of a big bus tour-package rushing through rustic little roads with hordes of, …. well tourists being dropped off with a ‘be back here in 90 minutes cause there’s still plenty of places to see’ instruction from the guide with the little flag held up high. Provence is not a place for this kind of travel. Provence must be taken at leisure, with a glass of wine, something to chew on and with no fixed itinerary because you never know when you stumble onto that picnic spot that just needs to be tested with your baguette, Provencial sausages and cheeses, olives with herbs, salads and to be finished off with the local nougat for something sweet.
We were very fortunate to have the company of a sister and brother-in-law who accompanied us for a week of traveling Provence, likeminded travellers with very little emphasis on speed and plenty of focus on seeing, learning, tasting, and sipping the local stuff. This resulted in us very quickly becoming too slow and enthralled for our rough initial itinerary, so much so that I had to bully them out of a Paris and Aix-en-Provence stopover to ensure we see the rural area ‘must-sees’.
When I grew up in the 70’s and South Africa started our television broadcasting, one of the household favourites was a French translated series ‘Die meisie van Avignon’ (La demoiselle d’Avignon). South Africa was in love with the series, and probably the ‘mademoiselle’, thus I simply had to see if we could find her in Avignon, and planned our Provence trip to start there. We did not find her, but what I did find was the immaculate walled town, stunning half bridge over the Rhône River and the incredible square and Palais de Papes. This is the papal palace where the Pope Clement V and his court settled when they fled Rome due to political turmoil. From 1309 to 1377 seven French-born Popes lived in Avignon, and even after Pope Martin V returned and settled in Rome, Avignon remained to be an important cultural centre.
But way before the 1300’s this was the playground of the Romans. Though further north in Gaul some little village famously held out against the forces of the Roman Empire (with a little help and nutrition of wild boar and their druid’s magic potion), here in the south the Romans reigned supreme and build roads, aqua ducts, theatres and even an amphitheatre where they quenched their blood thirst on Saturday afternoons before going out on the town for an evening meal. Magnificent remnants of those days are still widely visible with extraordinary views from the top of the amphitheatre over the rooftops of Arles, and a beautiful roman gate at the quaint town of Saint Remy de Provence.
Many years later, here, at Saint Remy de Provence, just over the main street from the roman gate is where Vincent van Gogh voluntarily booked himself into an asylum in May 1889, just after he cut off part of his left ear in some bout of ‘eccentricity’.
Though he was obviously in despair, he continued to be extremely productive, producing more than 200 paintings in a year while living in Arles.
I get itchy for the rural areas and small roads very quickly and thus misused my position as driver cunningly by turning north-east and heading for the quieter Vaucluse area where the lavender fields were in full bloom, in abundance and surrounding age old towns of Gordes, Venasque and the amazing Abbey de Senanque. We pitched base camp in the gorgeous Malemort du Comtat. Malemort is slightly of the beaten track which means you can enjoy time away from the tour-bus tourists jumping into the frame of each and every photo opportunity, fiddling there hair into place, making themselves big into some Alexander the Great type pose just to run off to the next photo shoot, not even taking a look at what exactly was their background in the photo just snapped of them. Here we could spent two long evenings at two different venues amongst locals coming back from a hard days work and sitting down for a semi communal beer drinking evening, observing and interacting with them while enjoying the local herbs and flavours on olives, pizzas and hams (somehow I prefer the term jambon over ham for these local delicacies).
Before heading back north after a hugely enjoyable week in Provence, we had to stop in Carpentras for the weekly market day. Maybe here a tourbus dropping you off and picking you up would not have been such a bad idea due to the parking problem; such is the popularity of the market. From clothes, fish, fresh produce, meats, nougat (extremely expensive if you don’t bargain properly to the amusement of Heleen) to antique tools, baskets and even bunches of lavender are on display in huge quantities.
It was a great week, though a tiring week of traveling roughly 3000km, listening to 355 songs (trust me, I set-up the iPod playlist, it was 355 songs), having a beer or two, scratching many mosquito megabytes, blowing up matrasses, chatting in cafés, awing the lavender, following the Romans, celebrating van Gogh, dipping our toes in the Mediterranean, enjoying pizza and Provencial tastes over a glass of wine or two or six. It was a successful trip.
It was only the western part of Provence and a week was not enough.
… and yes, he’s got a cool beard, Hashim Amlaaaaa.
But greater than he’s beard was the Proteas’ visit to Amsterdam to prepare for the ICC Champions Trophy and their preparation included an ODI against the Netherlands. This provided the opportunity for many Saffas to see ‘their boytjies’ up close and live. Kitman says in 45 years it’s his first live match attendance of his team, and in Amsterdam nogal!
What an exciting and unique outing to be part of the small crowd at VRA Cricket ground in Amstelveen, in Het Amsterdamse Bos.
Sitting on the small stand (the ground has a capacity of just 4500 spectators), in this beautiful cricket setting felt like watching international cricket at the Irene Oval or some rural venue like, say Bergville or Himeville. There were obviously plenty of South African flags and colours, though most of us (yes, me too) had to wear our Springbok attire, as we don’t own Proteas clothes. Maybe, just maybe the boys will deliver in the final and bring home (err sorry, I mean take home) a trophy, which will force my hand. However, what was more enjoyable than seeing the many Saffas around the stadium was the actual Dutch support for their team in this perceived foreign game. And how the Saffas grouped their neutral friends to be South Africans for a day. In front of us sat a group of international students of which two were South African. There they were, a Swede, two Canadians, two Americans, some-one else and even a Britt, al ‘proudly’ wearing their SA flags on their cheeks. It did take explanation on the nuances of this odd game for the entire day to the Canadians and Americans but on their support for South Africa there were absolutely no doubt.
Cricket is not big in The Netherlands, though they have played cricket at this specific venue since 1939. The die-hard Dutch enthusiasts that were there are all huge cricket fans, passionately supporting their team and seriously hoping for another upset, as they have done in 1994 when they beat South Africa in an ODI. And while pondering this stunning event with my Dutch neighbour on the stands over a large local brew (reminder, the venue is set in AMSTELveen) in the very welcome and long overdue European sun, my said neighbour (to my shame I forgot his name) introduces me to a Dutch cricket legend Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk. So there I am, chatting away (as if I’m a Robin Jackman of some sorts) on the tactics, strengths and weaknesses of the 22 players in action with a guy who has scored a 4 off Allan Donald and who has gotten rid of Brian McMillan through a catch on his day. Klaas-Jan is certainly a cricketer of note; still holding the Netherlands’ individual highest score of 134 not out in the 2003 World Cup and being remembered for his 64 against England in the 1996 World Cup and obviously still a hero in the local cricketing fraternity as was evident in how often he is stopped for a few words where-ever he goes.
As with all sport, cricket can be such a cruel reality, as I am sure Dutch number 2 batsman Eric Szwarczynski (ironically born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa) will still be thinking in weeks to come. After a brilliant spell of 98 against the current number 1 team in the world to then be run out from an excellent straight drive from your batting partner unfortunately through the fingers of Behardien, the bowler, onto the wickets to catch you out of the crease is probably the cruellest way to get your marching orders; a chance in a lifetime gone begging.
In my humble opinion (I’m not really on the Robin Jackman level of cricket knowledge) I am however worried that, though they won on the day, the Proteas are not where they should be. Thanx to JP Dumminy, who stood tall for his 150 not out the win ended as fairly comfortable, yet not too convincing. For us, however, the result was academic, as the outing, the sun, the sights and the pure delight was what made the day. This is what needs to be enjoyed when presented, results can be fixed.
While living in Europe, every opportunity must be utilised, and this was no different. We had the opportunity to buy some real Boerewors from http://www.boerewors.nl and chucked in a couple packs of ‘karnemelk beskuit’ from www.beskuitblik.nl too. Can’t leave Amsterdam with just satisfaction and a cricket win under the belt; you need something tangible too even if I clearly know it will not last very long.
My sincere thanx to the Proteas for playing this game, getting amongst the fans who don’t often have the opportunity to see them other than on the telly, but who never lose the urge to support and appreciate Proteas cricket. Now, boys, go ahead and grab that trophy, even if your current warm-up against Pakistan doesn’t look too good.
I mean, after all, …. ‘he’s got a cool beard’, you boys are feared.
At the moment I live in Köln (Colonia, Cologne, Keulen), the city famous for its majestic Kölner Dom, its Kölsch (beer) and its Eau de Cologne (4711) or as the old Afrikaners called it ‘olie kolonie’, but I come from South Africa; Northern Natal South Africa, where there is actually quite a link with Germany. German settlements in Northern Natal, which I have visited, include the tiny Luneburg, Hermannsburg, Wartburg, Ratschitz Mission
near Wasbank and the German Church at Elandskraal near Rorke’s Drift. I remember the permanent impact from the late 70’s which the German Church bazaar in October (it now makes sense) at Elandskraal made on me, complete with Oompah band, free-flowing beer and many different ‘würstchen’, smoked biltong, cold meats and maybe even a few ‘leder hösen’ doing the rounds. Most of these settlements were established as missionaries.
This post however needs to start many years before my ‘junge’ days in Natal and first exposure to the interesting German ways and culture. It starts with my great great great grandfather, Johan Carel Wilhelm Hörschelmann (who quickly became Herselman in South Africa) in far away Thuringia’s city Eisenach. It is here, where he was born and where he was baptised on 9 March 1760 in the ‘Evangelisch-Lutherische’ church. Outside Eisenach is Hörschel, the Hörschel river and Hörschel mountain where he originally comes from and where my surname comes from. These old guys weren’t too clever with spelling and some of the more stupid ones spelled their surname as Herschelmann or Hesselman.
Germany was a difficult place to live in those years. With two centuries of bloody battle between the religious factions in Europe and Germany in the middle of all the conflict. The outlook of religious freedom, exemption from military service and even a better tax regime elsewhere were all reasons why many Europeans emigrated to the new world of America, Australia and South Africa. It was the same with Oupa Johan Carel Wilhelm. He was most probably tired of only being able to see ‘fußball’ and no rugby, (remember this was before satellite television) so he made a plan and joined the Dutch East India Company and arrived in Cape Town.
Stepping off the ship and taking his time at the Paulaner Brauhaus for a beer before discovering the delicious the peri-peri prawns at Quay 34 in the VA Waterfront in 1785, he then started his career as a soldier. He obtained his ‘burgerregte’ (citizen rights) in 1791 and became a farmer in the Swellendam district. On Christmas day 1796 he wed Catharina Sophia Schoenmaker and in 1799, on 21 April, he married Maria Elisabeth Rheeder. I’m not sure what happened to Ouma Catharina Sophia. It seems Oupa hanged around Swellendam until 1816 before the wanderlust took him up the Langkloof to the farm Misgunt (33°52’21,96”S and 24°05’47,76”E) in the Walletjies area.
Most of the property around here is still owned by people with the surname Herselman today. And the South African Herselmans spread from this, some to Northern Natal and later back to Germany, settling for the time being in Köln.
Eisenach in the Thuringia is not only famous for giving the Herselmans to South Africa, it is also the location of Wartburg Castle and thus it is somehow fittingly that I grew up in Natal knowing the Wartburg near Greytown in Natal. Wartburg near Eisenach is a stunning stunning castle outside the town built as far back as 1067 on a hill with magnificent views over the surrounding countryside. It is here, in the Wartburg castle where Martin Luther spent time in 1521 in hiding, ironically from the church and emperor who outlawed him after he wrote his 95 theses. In a small room he stayed, writing and he translated the New Testament into German in just 10 weeks. It was also in this small room where he supposedly threw the devil with his inkwell in confrontation.
It was also here, at Wartburg castle where a language professor from Dresden heard us speak Afrikaans to each other, was so intrigued that he came over and asked ‘welche sprache spricht wir?’ (What language we speak?) and was even more intrigued about Afrikaans as language. He was so happy to finally hear the language, as previously he’s only heard of it and I was particularly happy to be able to share it with someone interesting, and behind from the old iron curtain, nogal.
Thus, my heritage from my father’s side contains a strong direct link with Germany and I am actually very happy that he had such a serious wonderlust, as I pick up from internet research that many of the Hörschelmanns only ventured as far as Estonia. Imagine that, I could just as easily have been born there. Thanx Oups, otherwise I never would have ‘missed the rains down in Africa’.
I love music. I listen to music and it makes me think. I hear the words, I link it to real life issues and happenings and I get inspiration, motivation or sometimes simply a smile. Most songs actually have a useable message in there somewhere; think of the profound life lessons in classics such as ‘Oops, I did it again’, ‘Papparazi’ or ‘Daar onder lê drie pikkewyne’ (Down there lies three penguins) and ‘Baby Tjoklits’.
Me? I tend to prefer the real stuff. The Linkin Park, REM, Jan Blohm, Valiant Swart and of course Meatloaf type of stuff that is simply the inspiring uplifting songs with meaning, questions or philosophy entrenched in deep rhythm, rock, blues ……….. and ‘time’. I can’t stop wondering about some mystic ‘boer’, what I’ve done, in the end, a Van Goch touched canvass, those local odd-fellows behind the firehouse and how terrible it is to waste a kiss!
And that is the one song that I often refer back to when I’m hesitant to jump on a new opportunity, ‘A kiss is a terrible thing to waste’, as performed by Meatloaf and written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman. This song is about letting the future in, and not allowing the things you leave behind to drag you back.
However, last night on my way to my German lesson, as part of letting my future in, I was rudely taken back to the past and I realised again that we couldn’t ignore nor forget the past. We have to learn and improve from it. As I stepped off the bus at Sülzburger Gurtel a small little plaque in the pavement caught my eye. It was the commemorative plaque of Benedikt and Lina Juhl, plastered into the pavement tar and which simply stated that this is where the couple lived, before they fled to Holland, were imprisoned to Westerbork (see my blog posting Hup Hup Holland) and then deported to Sobibor, Poland in 1943. There they died on 21 May 1943, next week 70 years ago.
And then I sat in the class, sharing the confusion whether its ‘die, der or das kugelschreiber’ and how funny it looks when you write out 999 in German (pretty much in Afrikaans too) as ‘neunhundertneunundneunzig’, with an American, an Aussie, two French, three Spaniards, a Cameroon, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, two Italians, two Greeks, two Zimbabweans and a Pole and I thought to myself ‘what a wonderful world!’
The above paragraph-long sentence at least shows that my German lessons are working.
Blasé it may sound, and rightfully so. I have seen and travelled to stunning cities through Europe in the past 18 months and have enjoyed every one of them. However, you reach them all on tarred roads! Some times you need back to basics, back to dirt roads, under stars and in nature; wild nature where beasts roam free and spaces are open and wide. I was hungry for the kind of basics that doesn’t exist in city streets and built-up rural Europe.
‘I had a dream, a dream of bushveld braais, game viewing, friendship en early mornings in the veld’
I organised such a trip with family and friends and headed off to South Africa for a three-week holiday recently. When living abroad, you cannot just pitch-up at OR Tambo and announce you’re here. It’s important to plan seriously what should happen when, simply because there are so many people to see and chat to, it gets hectic. Vacation planning to neither me, nor Heleen comes naturally. In our minds a good holiday is setting up location and then having nothing specifically to do, and having the whole day to do it in. But we have learned the value of planning visits back home by now, to get the most out of our time, and to get the most out of friends and family. We also have the enthusiasm and help of a sister-in-law to make it happen which proved invaluable when more than 20 people festively showed up at her place for ‘our’ Sunday welcoming (okay, I must probably admit that there also was a 60th and some other birthday which added as motivation for all to attend) ‘braai’, even a little rugby, plenty sunshine but no Chevrolet. To my few European readers, let me repeat, ‘plenty of sunshine’. Two pairs of grand parents and a wide spectrum of friendship complimented a perfect Sunday braai where all were simply dressed in shorts, t-shirts and bare feet, because they could. It has been a long cold winter in the north. But I’m sentimentally digressing.
Balule (named after the Tsonga word for Olifants river) is very close to heaven (at 24°03’12,79”S, 31°43’59,83”E). Balule is very centrally located north of Satara and lies on the banks of the Olifants River, in the true bushveld savannah of the big five sanctuary in the Kruger National Park. It has very basic facilities, no electricity and a lowish, thinnish fence, which means you really get the best of that wild exposure only Africa can provide with hyena and hippo frequenting the fence. This was to be our base for the week from where we would recce every little dirt road, every little river loop and every picnic site within a day’s travel from Balule. And we did.
To speak about Balule and not sharing the Kruger National Park info to provide context (again for the few European readers, and to be read in conjunction with the ‘sunshine’ remark earlier) will simply not do justice to this world class, nearly 2 million hectare tourism destination.
The Kruger National Park was established in 1898 to protect the wildlife from us! And unfortunately, we are still struggling to protect them as the 618 rhino’s that were killed in 2012 and 203 in 2013 (up to 3 April only) show.
The Kruger is home to an impressive number of species (http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/), which includes 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals. Also included are bushman rock paintings and two majestic archaeological sites, Masorini and Thulamela. So, its obvious that from a conservation point of view the Kruger is setting the pace. I’m proud though, to also say that from a tourist point of view, it must be one of the best destinations in the world where one can get back to nature without having to fork out hundreds of rands, euros, dollars, pounds or zillions of Zim dollars. For a campsite you will pay a mere R210 for the first two persons on that site; that’s a mere €17.6830192 for two persons per night!
Enter at Orpen Gate in the Timbavati region and you immediately recognise that you are now in the real deal. In 115 years there were no cattle grazing, no ploughs and tractors or any other civilized activity on this beautiful bush landscape, except for establishing the excellent infrastructure to allow us to enjoy the bush. This is where God’s original creation is still intact and driving at 30km/h with windows down with birdsong and bush scenes engulfing you, I confirmed to myself, ‘it indeed was time for Africa’.
The bush, and nature as a whole, is not predictable and this is not a zoo where you can simply stare through cage barriers to tick off your list animal sightings. Man is the foreigner here and you should find the sights for yourself, not as the Aussie tourist I met around the campfire in Lower Sabie many years ago unwittingly suggested, ‘its too difficult to find lions. They should have a few cages at each camp where they keep the important animals for people to see them easier’. Duh!
However, we were extremely lucky this time around not only with the big five ticked off successfully (and I’ll let the few photos and video-clip confirm that) but also a few gems such as honey badger, jackal, civet and close to 80 bird species positively identified. The highlight though was the stunning leopard sighting near Timbavati as well as the 12 lions that killed a giraffe 2 km’s from our camp’s gate. We were provided with ample photographic opportunity and by the end of the week even the stench of the decomposing carcass to fulfil all the senses of the brutal reality of the African bush.
Purpose number one of the Kruger Park is obviously nature conservation with educational, natural and travel enjoyment a definite second on the list. A huge part of the tourism aspect is the opportunity to share experiences, share time and share anecdotes, jokes and simply ‘saamwees’ (togetherness) with close friends and family.
Sometimes not all can make every trip, and that was unfortunate that a few friends and family members could, due to personal circumstances, not make this trip. We rented two-way radios to enhance the experience and communication, as we were a group of 26 in 8 vehicles and this proved to be a great success. We were able to chat the whole day while driving, share sights and annoy those who forgot the coffee flask at Balule. I truly believe every person in the world should at least once enjoy the African bush in all its glory. It is here where people still take the time to slow you down, look you in the eye when you hastily order a Cadac ‘skottelbraai’ for your ‘urgent’ breakfast, and calmly say ‘Hello, I am Joel. How are you?’ before delivering on your blunt request, making you realise you have ample time, stop rushing.
All is not always well, though. The Kruger Park is located in a malaria area, and it is always strongly advised to take malaria medication as precaution.
As all medical advice will say without exception, ‘there is no debate, take the precaution and be safe’. I stopped at The Moot Hospital in Pretoria to get a prescription to buy the malaria tablets. We are a family of four and the verdict at this hospital was, just for the doctor to write the prescription each person will be charged the R700 consultation fee! Fortunately we made the call to walk away from these money clowns and stop at our old service provider, Intercare in Southdowns where the doctor did not hesitate to give us the prescription for free for all four, ‘since the medication is already very expensive’. Thank goodness for common sense.
I was, after the bushveld fortunate enough to also have a few days with my parents in the Eastern Free State’s sandstone haven around the Sterkfontein dam and Golden Gate National Park. This, as opposed to the warm savannah bushveld where I spent the previous week is the grasslands and sandstone Maluti mountain area of exceptional natural beauty. This is where one can find the bearded vulture (which unfortunately still evades me) and breath-taking rock-face and flowing hill scenery. A vary valuable lesson I’ve learned when travelling is to enjoy the moment, that Carpe Diem cliché, and this surely paid off. Again set in awe inspiring natural beauty and in the company of my appreciative parents I toned down on pace, stopped frequently to take pictures and share with them the beauty, enjoyed ‘roosterkoek’ in Clarens and chatted nostalgically about so many things we hardly get time for in our hasted everyday life.
Two world-class natural and tourist destinations, and add to that the friendliness of Pretoria and the passion and clinical athleticism displayed at the two rugby venues, LC de Villiers and Loftus Versfeld which I attended during my South African visit made me realise again what a great place South Africa is. If only those in power would realise the potential of the assets they already have in their hands, and positively optimise that.
For the sake of future enjoyment, I have drafted the following list of things to do when planning a similar trip:
If you plan to attend the Varsity cup semi-final (and this proved true for the final too), support Tuks
Buy your meat at Toits butchery
Rent a strong diesel powered microbus if you plan to tow your off-road trailer. Hyundai’s H1 bus is ideal, but their 2l petrol engine might just add a day to your travel time!
Have your beers very cold when you pitch camp in 38° Lowveld sunshine
Ensure your iPod interfaces with the vehicle
Take anti-malaria medication, but choose wise where to go
Choose wise who joins you on a trip such as this. Basic camping always is hard work. My friends and family comes with high recommendation, contact me if you want to ‘lend them’
It’s the first week in February and Cologne is in a buzz. In the workplace, meetings are rescheduled to create available time for the next few days, behaviour seem to develop a ‘dodging the responsibility’ flavour, and funnily dressed people start to appear on the streets. Even the rubbish removal schedule is changed. Something odd is going on, but to be more accurate, it has been going on since 11 November, its now simply climaxing.
The ‘fifth season of the year’ begins on 11 November at 11:11 when carnival is officially declared open which indicates the start of the festivities. It’s a nearly three-month period; of which the tempo is fairly low key until ‘Weiberfastnach’ (Shrove Thursday), the Thursday before ‘Rosenmontag’ and when the highlight of the crazy time in the Cologne Carnival kicks off in earnest. As far as I could determine, the larger Cologne area is the German ‘Mekka’ (Iz it againzt ze rules for me to use that reference in this context?) of German carnival celebrations and has become a major tourist attraction too.
There are contrasting views on the origin of the word ‘carnival’, but for the sake of my narrative I like the one where it is believed that the word ‘carnival’ comes from ‘carne vale’, which means ‘farewell to meat’ and which leads into the Lent and the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting in the desert. The Cologne carnival is almost as old as the city itself. The Romans and Greeks celebrated cheerful spring festivals in honour of Dionysus and Saturn with wine, women and song. The ancient Germans celebrated the winter solstice as homage to their gods and the expulsion of the evil winter. Later, the Christians adopted into the heathen customs. It is traditionally held in areas with strong Catholic and Orthodox roots, while Protestant communities do not have a carnival celebration per se.
Medievel Italy is probably the real original carnival with specifically the masked parades in Venice being well known. From Italy the celebrations spread first to the predominantly Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal and France, who in their turn took the custom across the world to their colonies.
From France, it was introduced to the Rhineland area of Germany, where, in 1823 the first worldwide carnival took place in Cologne. Thus, this first week in February has been a huge babelaas (babelaas is afrikaans for hangover) for Köln for 190 years. I wonder if I’m up for the challenge to witness the celebrations in ten years time?
But now, it’s the first week in February 2013 and Cologne is in a buzz. The Germans, more specifically, I presume the Kölsch and all visitors to Köln during this week however don’t care and don’t think about the origins, I can assure you. To them it’s about the costumes, the beer, the bratwurst and the song and dance, which accompanies all parties of this public nature.
My limited experience of street parades, public fancy dress, floats and street chaos is the so much a smaller scale varsity rag (jool in Afrikaans) and which is done for a complete different reason. By the way, a little useless trivia, the Afrikaans term ‘jool’ is the acronym for ‘jou onbaatsigtige opoffering vir liefdadigheid’, which means its primary objective, is to collect funds for welfare. But in Cologne it’s huge and certainly not limited to students. Old people, young people, family people and single people all dress up, whether its just a funny hat, a full lion suit or the full-monty aristocrat costume, you are aware that its carnival where-ever you go. And these costumes are not only worn on Rosenmontag, but for the entire crazy period, from Thursday through to Rosenmontag.
Rosenmontag then, arrives with many a hangover still well embedded while the fancy dress for the new day is carefully decorated to the body. This is the big official day with the floats and parade the main attraction. The route of the parade is a full 6.5km through the main downtown parts of Cologne, while the length of the parade itself is nearly 6km long. Spectators line the entire route for the duration of the parade, which can last up to 4 hours to proceed past a specific spot to gaze with awe at the sights and sounds around and in font of them and of course, to collect sweets. ‘Kamelle, kamelle’ are the cries from begging spectators with the occasional ‘Kölle Alaaf‘ (Cologne, above all) chant to draw the attention to you, because hands full; no buckets full of sweets are thrown into the crowds. Understand me well, its not that every parade participant has a few hands full of sweets to hand out, there are actually motor vans full of sweets in the parade from where bags are continuously distributed to the participants to throw to, and some-times at, the crowds. We arrived home with more than a large shopping bag of sweets.
And then, because its February and still so very cold outside, as soon as the parade passes, you head for the bus to get back home and out of the cold. But there in our own little town of Rondorf we stumble upon the local parade just getting ready to start. Its much smaller, its much more localized, with the local farmer, baker, and church music group etcetera parading their stuff and with much more families with small children lining Hauptstraßse enthusiastically chanting their ‘kamelle, kamelle’ pleas. It seems most of the smaller towns in the Cologne area have their own parades late afternoon.
Fittingly to German efficiency, the last float procession is the AWB (it’s the cleaning contractors in Cologne, not the right wingers from SA) with their equipment, cleaning the streets as the procession passes, leaving hardly any traces of the chaos and fun that was had just half an hour previously. Except for this evening’s party somewhere with friends or in a bar, the crazy days are over for another year, and babelaas permitting, tomorrow will be a normal productive day again. And thoughts will probably already wonder towards the planning of next year’s costume to wear.
The call by punk rockers The Clash in 1979 was now very relevant. A war was declared, with the Springboks and the Roses (doesn’t sound too intimidating a war to me) agreeing to fight it out on the battlegrounds of the former cabbage patch, Twickenham, plus I was based in a faraway town across The Channel. I was in ideal circumstances to slip over the Channel for a quick London sightseeing invasion. Furthermore, my Marmite stocks were completely depleted and I had to heed to the call to refill this life essential provider of happiness. ‘It’s marvellous what Marmite can do for you’. I was thrilled to see that even the London Christmas lighting honoured this delicacy which was always so part of my life.
It felt a little bit like ‘home’ driving the rental car out of Gatwick as here too, as in South Africa, they drive on the right side of the road; the left side. I must admit, or boast, that the switching of driving sides is no problem anymore and even driving the manual Astra felt very familiar and comfortable. As a matter of fact, the whole familiar feel of England ito language, food, sport and everything else all contributed to make this very short weekend a delight. I grew up in Durban and thus the ‘English’ feel was rather nostalgic. Never nostalgic enough to support the English in sport, though!
In my 8th blog post ‘Rome’ I mentioned our friends from England who committed us to that delightful weekend in Rome. It was them at it again who organised the test tickets for Twickenham and though Jenny could not make it, it was a real pleasure to have a few beers with Dave, meet Rob and enjoy some test rugby on probably the headquarters of world rugby even though the rugby itself was a dull affair.
I suppose the mere fact that the Bokke ended their end of year tour unbeaten makes it a success in the books, but I’m still seriously worried at the way they do their business. Fortunately, the English were so far behind in terms of self believe, creativity and structure that the Bokke could scrape through. I just wish these guys will realise kicking is for karate, while running is for rugby. I suppose I should have posted this criticism before this past weekend, when the ‘poor’ Roses beat the ‘mighty’ All Blacks as I suppose the Roses made me eat my words of earlier in this paragraph. Luckily for me I’ve already written them.
I believe whatever statics quoted on the number of Saffas in London is wrong by 53.27%; there are many more. On the Underground after the game it was coincidentally funny when Oom Jan from Hartswater, Northern Cape chatted up two young guys from, wait for it, Hartswater, Northern Cape and who have been staying in London for the better part of 8 years. Oom Jan was on a weeklong rugby-supporting trip all the way from this little town so many miles (oops sorry, kilometres) away and here in London on the same coach he bumps into two guys from his hometown, and who knows him. They did find it hard to swallow though when Oom Jan showed them his son, a little further down the coach, as it seems this poor guy had much more hair and less kilograms when they last saw him! Tip to all South Africans out there, always watch what you say, there’s always someone nearby who can understand you, maybe even knows you.
On all my previous visits to London I’ve always declined visits to Madame Taussauds, as it seemed to be such a lame artificial place. But it turned out to be one of those experiences where, once you drop your bias, it becomes an exciting outing to pose for photos with the likes of Morgan Freeman, Lionel Messi, Nelson Mandela or Spiderman, even though they have all had feet of wax. The highlight was a delightful 4D show of the Avengers super heroes, even though the lady who sat behind me probably didn’t sleep for the next week, so tensed up and scared was she by the realistic in-your-face effects. I was already out of the theatre but I could still hear her sighs and moans of relief that it was over, and amazement at what she just saw, heard and even felt.
I like things to be understood in perspective. So ‘small’ and thus accessible is Europe that London by car from my Köln house is a mere 580km (512km if the Easyjet flies) while Durban from my Irene house in SA is 607km. It’s just as easy to visit London now than it was to visit Durban, and just think of all the cheeses, waffles, chocolates and types of sausages amongst many more things to see, taste and photograph while traveling through Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium to get to England. It’s just that tunnel under the sea that’s kept me from driving there!
…the simple words of a father laconically stating the obvious.
When I decided to start this blog, it was about the excitement of a new life, living and traveling in Europe. And most of my posts so far focused exactly on that, so much so that I believe I actually lose readers as each story is about ‘yet another De Wet trip somewhere’. However, living in Europe also has its normality and mundane day-to-day tasks which need to be done to ensure a sane living environment. I do believe most people embarking on expat living realise this and prepare for it, maybe even going to the extreme of taking ironing lessons before packing your bags.
However, it’s not always easy going. Distance in times of sickness is a very difficult thing and though the modern era of Skype, email, flat rate telephony and all the other methods of communication available, it still is no substitute for that personal touch often needed to console emotions.
And that is what this one is about. Its my tribute to my brother Johan, a 46 year loving father, husband, brother, child and friend who last week lost his fight against cancer, and the emotional dilemmas one experiences when you’re so far from loved ones.
Johan was aware that he had stomach pains for quite a while, and have been at the doctors for a couple of visits. Bacteria, hernia, spicy food were some of the prognoses, but then suddenly in January it was diagnosed as cancer, and quite progressed already! That was the start of a scary and tough, though also in a sense fulfilling 10 months which followed. I have learned in the past 10 months how the grace of God works through adversity to bring comfort and peace. I have also seen how friends and family come closer and closer and the good in people come to the fore when someone is in distress. I have seen how my friends, not having met my brother, stand up in support and going out of their way to comfort us as a family. AND, I have seen how he, Johan, the sick and dying one amongst us became the strong one, keeping his smile and positive attitude and even, on his deathbed comforting and praying for those around his bed.
I got the message three weeks ago, though not explicitly that Johan was dying, but that he was getting very weak. He has lost in excess of 30kg in the past 10 months and had very little strength left. At that point he was taken to hospital again and I had to make a call of visiting him.
My dilemma to myself was that by going to SA to visit him; was I admitting that he was dying and that I must go and greet my younger brother? And by not going and not seeing him I will have to go and attend a funeral without any last words later!
I chose to go and will forever be thankful to my wife, Heleen for convincing me to do so. I had 10 days of stunning time with my brother before he passed away on 22 October 2012. I had the privilege of braaiing with him, even watching an episode of Dallas (figure that!) with him and having deep serious conversations about life’s regrets and opportunities while we even solved the Springbok coache’s problems in those 10 days. Heyneke should now just listen!
And then, yesterday when I phoned home, speaking to my Dad as my Mom was not home, I asked him about the quietness of the house after the two weeks of many feet entering and leaving their house and his answer was simply: ‘yes its quiet. Everyone’s gone home, and ‘Johan is ook weg!’ (Johan too has gone).
So, Johan, I know you’re sitting smiling at our grief in heaven and I know it’s a much better place to be. I also know we will see each other again, and I know how great and comforting God’s grace is. But still it hurts, it hurts with a burning heavy pain in the chest type hurt and we miss you.
I do whish we had more time.
Rest in peace Broer.
‘(9) And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefor will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.’