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

‘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 )

‘London calling’

‘London calling to the faraway towns

Now war is declared and battle come down…’.

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.

Marmite
Even in the Oxford Street Christmas lighting the legacy of marmite is alive

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.

Twickenham2

I suppose the mere fact that the Bokke ended their end of year tour unbeaten makes it aTwickenham 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.

Taussauds
I am sure I can see the worry in Madiba’s eyes at what will go down in Mangaung in two weeks’ time, and wishing he was 30 years younger to get them back on the right track

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!

Kersmark
Not all are equally interested in the Christmas markets, especially if Tom Clancy has your attention

Viva la vida, and then dance me to the end ….

‘Viva la vida’

 First we ruled the world, we lived life. We were probably the oldest people there, but it was good, it was fast and rocking at the speed of sound, the clocks stood still for a while and Chris and the boys gave as life in technicolor for one evening; it was paradise.

It was a long and warm September evening, the venue was Rhein Energy stadium in Köln and it was full, so full. From the stands we were watching and they, the band, did not freeze. They rocked. They jumped and danced. They sang.

Each and every person in the stadium had an armband like this which was controlled by radio frequency and integrated with the digital choreography; stunning effect

The stadium was full of energy and the technicolor armbands handed out at the entrance were all responding in syncronisation on the radio frequency orders transmitted to them by the show engineers. Flashing, multicolored armbands strapped to each person’s wrist became part of the choreography and was responsible for a spectacle of note.

The previous rock show of this magnitude I saw was U2’s 360° tour in Soccer City, South Africa and its understandable that the likes of these giants such as Coldplay and U2 can put together spectacular productions which include the full Monty of digital effects and no limits on volume control. We were on the stand a full soccer pitch away from the main action, and still the youngsters in front of us attended a rock show with earplugs deeply squeezed into there ears. Sissies!

As can be expected from German organisers, I was mightily impressed by logistical ease of getting to and from the stadium, with plenty of extra trams scheduled, the easy entrance into the stadium and the many food- and drink stalls serving the thirsty rockers. However, what I cannot understand living in the so-called first world is how far behind they are to South Africa on a health and consideration-for-other-people issue such as no-smoking rules in public areas and in presence of children. This is one really important area of community enhancement where most of Europe are still years behind South Africa.

‘The maestro says its Mozart, but it sounds like bubblegum ….’

And then, two days later, we were probably the youngest groupies at Hockeypark, Mönchengladbach for another brilliant show, but this time at completely different pace, to nostalgically get carried away by that master Leonard Cohen. Leonard was born 78 years ago in 1934 but he still gives a performance (including a singing voice of unmatched caliber), which is remarkable, and adding the timelessness of his music, it made for a perfect nostalgic outing for Heleen and me.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Leonard and believe that the poetry in his lyrics is already worth raving about, and then he adds his voice. This was proved to be correct at this show too. Many of the people around us were not English speakers at all, but from the singing and pure joy it was evident that they all new every word of every song Leonard performed. I was taken back to Heleen and my visit to Budapest way back in 1994. We stayed in the real local suburbs after we brokered an accommodation deal with Kati at the Budapest train station after arriving early morning from Vienna. The added advantage of this accommodation was that it meant we could go to the suburbia local restaurants, far away from the known tourist areas. That night in that restaurant it was not Leonard Cohen, but Chris Rea’s ‘The road to Hell’ playing over and over again, with the waiters singing along in perfect English. However, when we ordered, it was clear that they did not understand one word of English; not even ‘one’ and ‘yes’ was understood. The result of the evening was a stunning outing with good music and excess excellent food. I ordered a whisky, Heleen and Lizette ordered wine, I ordered goulash soup and Heleen ordered salad for starters, we received three of each! After our amused giggles the waiter and us learned and we all ordered the same main dish, schnitzel, and we only received three dishes for three people. They were humungous, but delicious. Talking about that night, I wonder what eventually happened to our R10 note, which we donated to their collection of international currency behind the bar, counter.

‘I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,

walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme

you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,

……………

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’

But this time it was Leonard and the Germans and Dutch singing happily along in very good English, especially when ‘we take Berlin’.

Leonard, you’re a legend!

‘I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this

The fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah’