Namibia – Land of beauty and space

‘On day four, it was time to move on. Francois and Talitha said their goodbyes and headed back to Wildernis, while we headed north-west, towards Mata Mata and its border post. We still had 10 days ahead to explore the vast distances and rugged beauty of the Namib and Etosha. Distance for today was 774km of dirt road; pure ‘lekkerte!’’

Mata Mata is one of the three conventional camps in the Kgalagadi and lies on the eastern border of Namibia with the convenience of a border post. One can enter and exit Namibia at this post if you stay in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for two nights, preventing the park becoming a transit route, which is obviously a good rule. Namibia has vast distances and travellers more often than not underestimate the travel distances and times. I too made that mistake. Not so much in my planning, but more so in my execution. Enjoying the goodbyes with Francois and Talitha, the showers in Twee Rivieren and the game drive from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata too much, meant that we exited South Africa about three hours later than initially planned. We still had 570km to cover from Mata Mata to Sesriem, and it was already after lunchtime. Of the 570km 90% was dirt roads, which translates to at least 8 hours of driving. Its normally not a problem, but this being wild country with plenty of wild animals, its not wise to travel after sunset. That clichéd quote ‘its better to travel hopeful than to arrive’ really rang true that evening, with frequent encounters with oryx, zebra, kudu and other large animals roaming the roads in the dark. Fortunately, we travelled well and arrived safely at Sossus Oasis Camp Site, Sesriem.

IMG_2450

Namibia must be one of the best-kept secrets and I actually don’t want to promote it too much through my blog, as I’m afraid of more people traveling there and spoiling it for us selfish ones. It is pristine, wild, mostly dry, tranquil but rough and expansive. And why I have a very selfish stance on trying my little best to keep it that way is because people spoil things. Sitting and enjoying our campfire late afternoon the next day, sipping a Pinotage from Tulbach and not speaking much, the serenity was abruptly ended by an Englishman and a German entering a particularly abusive shout-fest over their camping spot and access to the electricity. Right there and then, Europe spoiled a perfect African setting for the better part of an hour. But the rough beauty of the place convinced me to ignore them and enjoy the splendour of God’s creation.

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Kgalagadi

Though Lufthansa may be at risk, due to their lack of customer service (see my previous post Flight LH572 July 22, 2016 : An ugly story), we eventually did arrive in South Africa, and we did enjoy all the promised ‘braais’, ‘kuiers’ and catch-up with all and sundry; exactly the things Expats do when returning home for a visit. It was fortunately not ‘allesverloren’!

A truly special place is the Kgalagadi. Its one of those places which I truly wish I could show off to everybody I meet in Europe. It’s a pristine wilderness in the dry western parts of South Africa and Botswana as God intended and where wild beasts roam freely. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the most pristine conservation areas on earth, and that was the first destination of our two week Kgalagadi and Namibian safari.

Special places require special equipment. Though the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has normal dirt roads and its theoretically accessible with a sedan, its not advisable. Even when the roads are well maintained, you are still confronted with high sand walls next to most of the roads, which means while we are scanning the wide plains for Oryx, Springbuck, Lions et al from the raised elevation of the Land Rover, the sedan driver scans a meter high sand wall for ants, grouse and desert rats! To fully enjoy the Kgalagadi, one needs to have a bakkie, kombi or similar high, big tyres vehicle.

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Flight LH572 July 22, 2016 : An ugly story

When I blog on my travel, I prefer to focus on the good stuff, because travel writing is a good thing, it’s a learning experience and its about sharing motivation with others to pack their bags and find new places, meet new people, eat new food and create new stories. My Blog post number 39 however, is a sour, ugly one. I met people I would rather not. I don’t like it, and I am hesitant to post it. It’s a story of travel going wrong, which does happen, and giving me an eye-opener on how ugly and incompetent problem-solving by a world-renowned corporation can be.

I’m sitting in the Vienna airport with a cold beer waiting for my connecting flight to Doha after what was probably my worst ever weekend of traveling in my life and I’m struggling how to approach this blogging task. In my head I hear the good lesson I learnt from Dr. Humphrey Mathe over and over again. ‘When you have a difficult assignment to write about’, he taught me, ‘write it after time has passed, then let it sit for a few hours, then read it twice, and then re-write it so that you don’t include too much emotion’. Its wise words, and I’ll try, but its also an incident I would like to report on exactly how I experienced it. (this previous paragraph I wrote in July 2016, while still in the emotion of the incident. I let it simmer until today, but it still bugs me).

Continue reading “Flight LH572 July 22, 2016 : An ugly story”

The Italian Job 2 : ‘Veni, vidi, procedo’ (sic)

From the previous post;

And once we’ve accomplished that satisfactory happiness, slowly and hesitantly we turned our back on the beautiful ‘five towns’ (Cinque Terra) and the natural beauty linking them and headed for the famous leaning tower, the captivating Florence and the awe inspiring, history rich and fine cuisine of Tuscany and Amalfi.

The leaning Tower of Pisa
The leaning Tower of Pisa

 

One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination. – Debra Lavinson

 

To have the privilege to sleep in a country guest house, rather than in a hotel room, (or two-man tent for that matter), to eat and be pampered through a five course dinner specially prepared for your little group, and all this in the stunning, idyllic, sought after, much talked about, written about, and filmed about Tuscan countryside, remains in my mind one of the highlights of my now already three year long European sojourn.

And this pampering I furthermore had the privilege to share with my family on my son’s 16th birthday and very very good friends from South Africa. That was good.

Andrea, the owner and restaurateur par excellance of Tenuta Il Verone near Florence, Tuscany with the competent help of Nilce, his Argentinian girl friend is busy establishing a commendable guest house 30 kilometers outside of Florence with a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. They do, however specifically excel when they cater and serve. Starting with the traditional ‘Prosciutto crudo’ and melon platter, I soon realized I must keep my glass full of chianti’s finest red, go slow on each course of the meal as to enable myself to really get the best of the best of what this evening is promising to become. Not just the quantity promised to intimidate us, but the quality, the tastes, flavours and textures too was going to educate us tonight; ‘keep calm De Wet and go slow!’

After the platter of exquisite prosciutto we were presented with Andrea’s striking…… PENNE pasta dish followed by a exquisite chicken and vegetable dish. The wine was good and flowing, the food excellent and in abundance and I was getting really relaxed when Andrea entered with the most intimidating T-bone steak I have seen for quite a while. Note that I am South African; we are not easily intimidated by good steak, and I have had the best of the best Argentina and Uruguay could offer in terms of their famous ‘bifo de chouriso’, but this one was right up there with those world renowned ones. By the time that plate of steak was empty, I can vaguely recall that there was dessert and good Italian strong small coffee, but I could not remember the detail as the meat, yes the meat! Dimmed all further taste-bud senses. I do however remember that we still had the most interesting and friendly after dinner chat with Andre and Nilce. Thanx again you two, the stay at Tenuta Il Verone was one of the highlights. But, as is often the case with traveling, the real highlight is that we made some great new friends, in the heart of Tuscany, even through we communicate in a haphazard way, mostly through my daughter’s Spanish to Andrea’s Italian and Nilce’s Portuguese. That is one of the things that make traveling so fantastic!

Tenuta Il Verone is a gem in the Tuscan countryside worth discovering. Book dinner!
Tenuta Il Verone is a gem in the Tuscan countryside worth discovering. Book dinner!
Classic Tuscany
Classic Tuscany
Deep thinkers
Deep thinkers

And then came Praiano, in the heart of the Amalfi coast.

A week of bliss, scenic splendor and relaxation heaven, complete with dinners on cliff edges, swimming of the side of boats in the Mediterranean, canoeing into caves and early morning coffee and stuff with good conversation spanning from Koos du Plessis through to ‘what’s for dinner tonight!’

The Amalfi coast truly is one of the ‘must some day visit’ destinations of the world. The more famous Positano lies 18km further up the road from Praiano and yes, obviously we did visit Positano, walked the little streets and enjoyed the beach and sun. I will never ever say you can skip Positano, as it’s a must see in the same vane as is the Eiffel Tower, the leaning Tower of Pisa or even the Spanish Steps. But I do love finding the lesser-traveled roads and that slightly off the beaten track destinations which is not the mainstream, obvious tourist traps where you hear more English than Italian, for example. And though Praiano is still a very touristy and busy little town (just try to find casual parking!), it is slightly less crowded and more authentic than Positano. Think Fouriesburg over Clarence, think Bacharach over Rudesheim and think Hautvillers over Epernay and you’ll get my drift. That is exactly what Heleen found when she found and booked our stunning accommodation in Praiano, complete with ‘stoep’ (veranda) high on the mountain cliffs with its magnificent view over the Mediterranean, morning, noon and night, nogal! I mean, its here, in Praiano where I visited my first real Italian barber, complete with cutthroat old-fashioned razor and shaving cream (watch my short video). I can admit now that I was probably carefully scared, since I have seen many movies where these visits to the cutthroat barber turn out bloody, but I was okay, maybe because in the small-talk kick-off it came out that I was South African, and Senor Tomasso was a huge Gerrie ‘seer handjies’ Coetzee fan. Gerrie Coetzee was a successful South African heavy weight boxer in the early eighties.

The most beautiful Italian drive
The most beautiful Italian drive

One the must do’s on the Amalfi coast is to rent a boat for a day and visit the Isle of Capri! Yes, the island of the infamous student song ‘it was the Isle of Capri where I met here, ….’ and the non-repeatable rest. What this day on the boat offers is just simply a blissful and relaxing day in the sun, with friendly chatter, every now and then a dive and swim in the blue blue water and a visit to the Grotta Azzura or Blue Caves. A casual lunch in Marina Grande and then more casual sailing back with stops and swimming to wake up your appetite for the evening’s social ‘kuiers’ around the dinner table. I think these type of relaxing holidays are made better by the company you have and mine was just perfect.

Scenic splendour
Scenic splendour

And then there’s the drive! I can proudly say that I have driven the Amalfi coast in high season’.

National Geographic’s travel site introduces this drive as ‘The Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is widely considered Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline, a landscape of towering bluffs, pastel-hued villages terraced into hillsides, precipitous corniche roads, luxuriant gardens, and expansive vistas over turquoise waters and green-swathed mountains. Deemed by UNESCO “an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values,” the coast was awarded a coveted spot on the World Heritage list in 1997.’ They then go further to summarise with the description ‘The roads along the Amalfi Coast are famously winding, narrow, and challenging to drive. Add in drop-dead views and daring Italian drivers, known for their behind-the-wheel bravado, and this road trip offers one of the more exciting driving experiences in Europe.’ I think ‘daring’ is a soft word for the Italian drivers, especially the ones on their world-renowned scooters. Suicidal is probably a more accurate word, but it does add to the sheer enjoyment of driving while trying to catch a glimpse of the glorious scenery and in the same time keeping an eye out for the scooters and large busses that will simply push you off the road. On busy weekend days, they actually have road assistants who will try to guide the traffic (though the adherence of the motorists are very very low) and even help to adjust your vehicle’s side mirrors so that the vehicles can pass each other.

I say again, I have driven the Amalfi coast, in high season!

As wonderful as was the superb Cinque Terra, Tuscany and Amalfi, so disappointing was Rome. Make no mistake, Rome is a wonderful city, with so many awe inspiring historical sites and stories to get lost into. But it still was extremely disappointing to be exploited by the hospitality industry where its deemed standard practice to charge a 17% service fee, or when you order a beer and just want a beer, you are presented with a liter of beer at 18 € each. At 17% service fee, you pay more for that than what the average person’s meal and drink costs. And this service fee is not even the tip to the waiter, which creates that little ethical dilemma of true service versus fixed restaurant added cost before paying the service fee. They are very friendly in luring you into their osterias but once you’ve had your meal, you’re in for the surprise. The service fee is a fixed percentage added to the bill and which is payable to the restaurant (not the waiter), because you ate there. We had good waiters every time, and who added to the whole dinner or lunch experience with their jokes, mockeries and good service and who deserved their tip, which just means that dining out end on an exorbitantly expensive sour note every time. Watch out in Rome, someone who looks friendly, will eventually stab you in the back!

But for the rest of Italy, it is ‘magnifico, superbo, maestoso e grandioso!’ Go and travel the coasts and Tuscan rural areas at leisure and stop often, to grab a macchiato!

Stop often, find a spot with a view, sit down and chat and think
Stop often, find a spot with a view, sit down and chat and think

Costa Brava, taking the plunge ….

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,

The day before yesterday the Catalan people formed a human line 400km long, from the Pyrenees to Valencia to support their quest for independence
The day before yesterday the Catalan people formed a human line 400km long, from the Pyrenees to Valencia to support their quest for independence

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.

The 'hunting lodge' of Francois I, Chateau de Chambord
The ‘hunting lodge’ of Francois I, Chateau de Chambord

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.

Lloret de Mar beach
Lloret de Mar beach

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

RV Campsite
RV Campsite
  1. park your vehicle,
  2. turn the fridge from 12V to 220V,
  3. stack out your chairs and table
  4. 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.

The walled old town of Tossa de Mar
The walled old town of Tossa de Mar

IMG_2917We 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!

Incidentally, while we were in Lloret, a Facebook friend felt similar sentiments
‘Pappas ook nie’ Incidentally, while we were in Lloret, a Facebook friend felt similar sentiments

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’.

So, you go girl, take that plunge …..

It’s Provence, not blerrie Prôôôvince ….

… 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. IMG_1712

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.

Arles rooftops from the top of the amphitheater
Arles rooftops from the top of the amphitheater

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’.

The Palais des Papes, where 7 French born Popes lived in the 1300's
The Palais des Papes, where 7 French born Popes lived in the 1300’s

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.

The Roman gate still beautifully preserved outside Saint Remy de Provence
The Roman gate still beautifully preserved outside Saint Remy de Provence

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.

Provence scenery
Provence scenery

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’.

Gordes, a town on a hill
Gordes, a town on a hill

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).

Abbey de Senanque
Abbey de Senanque

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.Portfolio

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.IMG_1793

It was only the western part of Provence and a week was not enough.

We’ll be back.

The Provence route we did
The Provence route we did

He’s great, he’s feared ….

… and yes, he’s got a cool beard, Hashim Amlaaaaa.

He's great He's feared He's got a cool beard Hashim Amlaaaaaaa
He’s great
He’s feared
He’s got a cool beard
Hashim Amlaaaaaaa

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.

VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen
VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen

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. IMG_0288However, 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, IMG_0290some-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.

The waving flags
The waving flags
and missing a few things from home
and missing a few things from home
Ek en Vlag
Foto courtesy of Amanda Weideman

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.

Hup Hup Holland
Hup Hup Holland

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.

JP en route to his 150 not out
JP en route to his 150 not out

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.

Support from far away places
Support from far away places

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.

Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up
Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up

I mean, after all, …. ‘he’s got a cool beard’, you boys are feared.

Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl
Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman
http://www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl

‘But I am a South African …’

The stunning Nguni cattle from Kwa-Zulu Natal
The stunning Nguni cattle from Kwa-Zulu Natal

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

German roots in Kwa-Zulu Natal
German roots in Kwa-Zulu Natal
The Rätschitz Mission near Wasbank, Northern Natal
The Ratschitz Mission near Wasbank, Northern Natal

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.

Johan Carel Wilhelm Hörschelmann's name in the Cape archives
Johan Carel Wilhelm Hörschelmann’s name in the Cape archives

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.

Photo credit: Pieter Louw
Grave at the Farm Misgunt, Walletjies area in the Langkloof where the Herselmans still own the property. Photo credit: Pieter Louw

 

More graves at Misgunt and again photo credit to Pieter Louw
More graves at Misgunt and again photo credit to Pieter Louw

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.

Germany
Germany

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.

Me in the outskirts of Eisenach
Me in the outskirts of Eisenach

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’.

SJ (Johan) Herselman, my Dad, at Misgunt with my Mom. Photo credit: Pieter Louw
SJ (Johan) Herselman, my Dad, at Misgunt with my Mom. Photo credit: Pieter Louw

(Credit for a lot of the research of this article must go to FA Herselman of Garsfontein and the guys at http://www.geni.com/people/Johan-Carel-Wilhelm-Herselman/6000000006413100434 )

‘And I think to myself ….’

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.

Here lived Benedikt and Lina Juhl
Here lived Benedikt and Lina Juhl

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.

 

Waka Waka …….It’s time for Africa

‘London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, …. and Balule’

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’

Southern White-faced Scops Owl
Southern White-faced Scops Owl

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.

We saw this leopard about 3 km from the Timbavati picnic site
We saw this leopard about 3 km from the Timbavati picnic site

 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.Leopard

Struggling to chew those sinewy bits
Struggling to chew those sinewy bits

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.

Facing the true brutality of survival is a humbling experience
Facing the true brutality of survival is a humbling experience

 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!

'Dik gevreet'  That drowsiness after a big Sunday lunch
‘Dik gevreet’
That drowsiness after a big Sunday lunch

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’.

Photographers
Photographers

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!

European Roller enjoying his last few days of African sunshine before heading of to Eurasia
European Roller enjoying his last few days of African sunshine before heading of to Eurasia

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.

Black backed jackal
Black backed jackal

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.

White Rhino Disaster in progress with increasing poaching
White Rhino
Disaster in progress with increasing poaching with 27 Rhino killed in the Kruger in the last 10 days!

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.

Eastern Free State beauty
Eastern Free State beauty

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.OosVrystaat1

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.OosVrystaat3

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’
  • Do bird watching
  • Take photos
  • Take good wine
  • Take it slow
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously