TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA
Pictures from this trip can be found at
In March 2007 we returned to South Africa for our nephew Frank Noble's wedding. The wedding was to take place in Johannesburg on March 21. I was only able to take 2 1/2 weeks off from work, but Sandy spent an extra week visiting with her sister Marsha and brother-in-law Peter.
On Thursday, March 1 I took Sandy to San Francisco Airport for her long flight to George, South Africa. She flew on Virgin Atlantic (http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/) to London and on to Johannesburg, arriving on Saturday, March 3, where she was met at the airport by our niece Wendy and her husband Tino, with their eight-month-old baby Hannah Noble Gomes. She made the connection to George (http://www.gardenroute.co.za/george/index.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George%2C_south_africa, http://www.george.org.za/) on South African Express (http://www.saexpress.co.za/) and was met at the airport by Marsha and Peter. She phoned to let me know she had arrived safely (and how cute Hannah is), and to ask me to bring some items she had forgotten or just found that she needed.
On Friday, March 9, I went to San Francisco Airport by shuttle to catch the same flights to London and Johannesburg that Sandy had taken eight days earlier. On the way to London I watched "Flags of our Fathers." Virgin Atlantic operates out of Terminal 3 at Heathrow (http://www.heathrowairport.com/); I waited the seven hours between flights in the transit lounge. Departure was in the evening of Saturday, March 10, London time. On the Johannesburg flight I watched "Borat," which was not as good as "Flags of our Fathers," and got a little sleep. I landed at Johannesburg early in the morning of Sunday, March 11, Johannesburg time, and was also greeted by Wendy, Tino, and Hannah. South African Express runs different schedules on different days of the week; in order to allow sufficient time for possible late arrival from London and to get between terminals in Johannesburg, my flight to George was several hours later in the day than Sandy's. I did arrive on time and got to the domestic terminal in time to take an earlier flight, but the flight was full so I waited for my originally scheduled flight. The incoming flight was late so the departing flight was about an hour late and I arrived in George in the late afternoon. The weather between Johannesburg and George was cloudy so I could not see much from my window seat.
Monday, March 12; cloudy and drizzly. I had recovered from the flights and went with the Nobles and Sandy to the new Garden Route Mall (http://www.gardenroutemall.co.za/) in George. It had been under construction during our previous visit. Peter had been having some problems with his computer, which we thought might be due to a virus, so we stopped at the computer shop in the mall to see about an antivirus program, but they did not have anything for Windows 98. (Eventually we were able to diagnose most of the problems: an incorrect resolution setting for images, an incorrect Default Template in Microsoft Word that was a real pain to fix, and most likely a run-down battery for the computer clock.) We had lunch at the Spur restaurant at the mall—Spur steak houses (http://www.spur.co.za/) are all over South Africa and are quite good and very reasonably priced. We had dinner at the Elamasa Greek restaurant in downtown George.
Tuesday, March 13: clear. We drove to the Indian Ocean coast near Herolds Bay (http://www.gardenroute.co.za/hbay/index.htm). We had driven to the bay during our previous visit; this time we saw it from the highlands on the west side. Ernie Els's (http://www.ernieels.co.za/) house stood out as one of the larger buildings on the bay. We had lunch at "Upstairs at Harry's" in downtown George; the restaurant is named after Harry Mann, one of the early pioneers of George and the father of the Nobles' friend Erica Cohen. After lunch we went to the municipal museum in Geroge (http://www.tourismgeorge.co.za/za/guide/45de,en,SCH1/objectId,SIG15507za,curr,ZAR,parentId,RGN132za,season,at2,selectedEntry,sights/intern.html). That afternoon, Graham and Edna Peck, old friends, came to visit. They have three sons including some very prominent veterinarians. In the evening, since the weather was clear, I took binoculars and went into the Nobles' yard to look at the stars in the Southern Hemisphere. Starting from Orion I found Sirius, Canopus, the Large Magellanic Cloud (I think; it was very faint due to background street lighting, and I couldn't find the Small Magellanic Cloud at all), the Southern Cross, Alpha Centauri, and Agena.
Wednesday, March 14: clear. Peter and I went into town to get haircuts from Peter's barber, Chris, an Afrikaner who is in his choir. We also stopped at an optical shop where they fixed my reading glasses and at a shoe shop where Peter got some sandals for R50 ($7). Sandy went with Marsha and had her nails done. Also on this day, preliminary matches for the Cricket World Cup (http://cricketworldcup.indya.com/), being held in the West Indies, began. This was of great interest because the South African team is ranked #2 in the world. The team's residence during Cup play and the location of many of their matches was St. Kitts, where Stephanie went to vet school. (Eventually, South Africa only finished fourth in the tournament with a 4-3 record, while #1 ranked Australia was undefeated.)
Thursday, March 15: clear. We visited Peter’s friend Armando Torolaba at “Carpe Diem” (http://www.capegateway.gov.za/eng/directories/facilities/15912/21165), a very large regional school for the handicapped located in George. I had done some shopping on the Web for Armando, trying to find a good price on a wheelchair cushion. (Prices for imported items in South Africa are very high.) Then we went to the George Library, and then to visit Trevor Holwill, whom Peter and Marsha got to know when Marsha was in the hospital with respiratory problems. Peter and I had lunch at the Golden Harvest Taiwanese restaurant in George—a very unusual restaurant in that it has a swimming pool!
Friday, March 16: clear. Peter and I left early in the morning for Johannesburg. We drove north from George across the Outeniqua Mountains and picked up the N12 route before getting to Oudtshoorn. We drove through an area called the Karoo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karoo) to Meiringspoort (http://www.patourism.co.za/meiringspoort.htm), a beautiful canyon with spectacular rock formations on both sides. In the canyon and further north we saw a number of monkeys and baboons.
The N12 joins the N1, the main Cape Town to Johannesburg road, at West Beaufort West (http://www.beaufortwest.com/), where we stopped for a Scottish breakfast. North of Beaufort West we turned onto N12 again on the scenic route, towards Kimberley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberley,_South_Africa), rather than staying on N1 towards Bloemfontein. The Karoo is very desolate and there was not a lot of traffic on N12, so I took over the driving so Peter could rest a little. (South Africans drive on the left; this was my first experience driving on the left since rural England in 1977. I had managed to avoid driving during previous trips to New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.) Since there were no turns, traffic circles, etc., my driving was of acceptable quality. However when we got to the town of Britstown (http://www.heritage.org.za/karoo/brits.htm), in attempting to park, I put the car up on the curb and punched a big hole in the left front tire. With some assistance from a local service station, we put on the spare (which is slightly smaller than a regular tire), and looked for a new tire in the towns along N12. We could not find one of the proper size until we got to Kimberley, luckily shortly before 5 PM, because it is unlikely we could have gotten the tire replaced until Monday otherwise.
After getting the tire replaced, we drove to the Big Hole (the site of one of the world’s greatest diamond mines) and its museum (http://www.thebighole.co.za/), but it was about to close for the day. We planned to return at opening time the next morning and then we checked into a small motel in Kimberley (http://www.a1tourism.com/south-africa/kimberley-horseshoe-motel.html). It had definitely seen better days, but the price was right ($40 for both of us including breakfast), and we were tired enough that sleeping would not be a problem. We had dinner at the Spur in Kimberley.
Saturday, March 17. St. Patrick’s day is hardly noticed in South Africa.
We were at the Big Hole early the next morning and looked at the pit and then toured the museum, including an explanation of the geology of diamonds and an exhibit of diamonds of various sizes and colors, including the original find that led to the Diamond Rush of 1871.
We then drove on towards Johannesburg, through Potchefstroom (http://www.tourismnorthwest.co.za/southern/potchefstroom.html), where Wendy had gone to school for one year. Arriving in Johannesburg shortly after Noon, we drove to Frank’s new house, in the Lonehill district, where he, Wendy, Tino, Hannah, and Sandy and Marsha (who had flown from George that morning) were waiting for us. After chatting for a while, we went with our luggage to our B&B, the Lourie Lodge (http://www.lourielodge.co.za/), very close to Frank’s. We had reserved the suite so that people would have a place to congregate during the week of the wedding, but Frank’s place was large and convenient enough that this was not necessary.
The B&B was very beautiful and elegant, but the first day we were there, the water was out in the entire district, which made for some inconvenience. I suppose it was pure coincidence that this was the beginning of National Water Week (http://www.dwaf.gov.za/Events/WaterWeek/2007/default.asp), which highlights that the South African constitution guarantees clean, healthy water to all residents.
We returned to Frank’s for a dinner of take-out pizza with the aforementioned family plus Lara.
Sunday, March 18. We had a lovely breakfast at the B&B, with self-serve cereals, muffins, juices, etc., and cooked-to-order hot dishes. Frank took us (including his parents) to the Rand Airport in Johannesburg (http://www.randairport.co.za/), which is where he had taken flying lessons. His longtime friend and best-man-to-be, Mike, was flying a Czech-made light airplane and showed us around the field, including some old South African Airways planes such as a DC-3, DC-4, and DC-6. A PBY Catalina was being restored, and a British Sea Fury was in a hangar. Afterwards we went to visit Wendy, Tino, and Hannah at their townhouse apartment in nearby Benoni (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benoni%2C_Gauteng). We had dinner with Peter, Marsha, and Frank at the Cape Town Fish Market restaurant (http://www.ctfm.co.za/location/index1.php?province=53, http://www.dining-out.co.za/member_details-MemberID-2710.html) near Frank’s home.
Monday, March 19. With water service restored, we were able to do some laundry at Frank’s. Peter and Marsha took us to “Montecasino” (http://montecasino.tsogosun.co.za/live/index.php), also near Frank’s. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant in the casino complex. We did some shopping and made use of the casino facilities—Sandy did quite well (in Rand, not quite so impressive in dollars) and I finished slightly ahead. We returned to Montecasino that evening for dinner at the Cobblestone Pub.
Sandy had developed a mouth infection and we had endeavored to get some antibiotics on Sunday in Benoni. This turned out to be difficult to do without visiting a doctor to get a prescription. We made a Monday appointment at a clinic near the B&B and were prepared to take a taxi there and back (and to a drug store nearby), but Peter followed up on an understanding that the antibiotic was one that would be taken by somebody who was traveling to malarial regions and was able to get the pills on that basis.
Tuesday, March 20. Peter drove us to the Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg (http://www.themallofrosebank.co.za/, http://www.thezoneatrosebank.co.za/, http://www.rosebank.co.za/images/walkingmap.pdf), where on our last visit Sandy had made some purchases at an African craft fair. Driving in Johannesburg is quite an adventure, and traffic can be very bad. Sandy and Marsha did some shopping at other shops in the mall, and we had lunch at the same Ocean Basket seafood restaurant (http://www.oceanbasket.co.za/default.asp, http://www.dining-out.co.za/member_details-MemberID-2115.html), where we had eaten on our 2005 visit. Dinner was a barbeque at Frank’s. He has an elaborate satellite dish TV service and we were able to watch not only the cricket tournament but many British and American programs as well.
Wednesday, March 21. Peter and Marsha joined us for a lovely breakfast on the patio at the B&B. They also made lunch for us so we would not have to ask the Nobles to drive us to a restaurant, since they were very busy with final wedding preparations. The wedding was in the late afternoon at the Holy Trinity Church on the campus of Witwatersrand University (http://web.wits.ac.za/), in the Braamfontein district (http://www.braamfontein.org.za/), so once again Peter had to brave the Johannesburg traffic (in both directions). The ceremony was beautiful as was the bride. The reception was back out of town not far from Frank’s and the B&B at Buitengeluk (http://www.buitengelukvenue.co.za/) in the Fourways district. It was a wonderful event, hosted by Lara’s parents, Paul and Heather Vallet. We sat at a table with Lara’s aunt and uncle and Peter’s cousin Clive and his wife Colleen. We were pleased to meet so many nice people, such as Frank’s co-workers at Teljoy (www.teljoy.co.za) including the CEO, Theo Rothstein.
Thursday, March 22. In the morning we packed and checked out of the B&B, leaving our luggage with the owner, Karen Carr. Then Peter again drove into the horrible traffic to take the four of us to lunch with Clive and Colleen, and their daughters Jenny and Lynn, back in Rosebank at Sophia’s Mediterranean restaurant (http://www.dining-out.co.za/member_details-MemberID-1986.html, http://www.themallofrosebank.co.za/shop.htm?shopMGID=4983). (Clive and family used to live in this area and are good friends with the owner.) Clive and I had had some interesting discussions about geology and cosmology at the reception, so I left him some reading material I had brought with me. After retrieving our luggage we went to Wendy’s for a final visit, but Hannah was not her usual cheerful self—she seemed to have some kind of an intestinal virus. After dinner we went to the airport for our 9:30 PM flight to London.
Friday, March 23: cloudy, some drizzle. We landed at Heathrow early in the morning. The plane parked away from the terminal and we had to take buses to retrieve our luggage and go through customs. There was a long wait for the buses as they were servicing other airplanes, so we were at the end of very long lines for immigration. We took a cab to our hotel (the Sheraton Heathrow, http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/heathrow) and, since by then it was mid-morning, were able to check in. We had actually gotten some sleep on the overnight flight and needed only a little rest before making tour arrangements. We purchased tickets for an all-day tour of London on Saturday or Sunday and got information on how to get to Windsor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windsor%2C_Berkshire) by bus. We left for Windsor about Noon and looked around the very charming town for a while before having lunch at a restaurant on the main street. Then we took the tour of the castle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windsor_Castle). (The Royal Standard was flying over the castle, indicating that the Queen was in residence.) While the amount of walking required (on sloping ground, and up and down stairs) was difficult for Sandy, we both really enjoyed the tour of the grounds, the royal apartments, and St. George’s Chapel. We went to the bus stop to catch the bus back to the hotel but it did not show up. Rather than wait a half hour for the next bus, in cold windy weather, we took a taxi back to the hotel. We had dinner in the hotel dining room—very expensive (as is everything in London) but good.
Saturday, March 24: still cloudy and drizzly. I woke up feeling pretty lousy. I did not have a fever at that time but my stomach was doing somersaults. Trying to do an all-day tour of London, especially in bad weather, did not seem to be a good idea. I called Jenni Prior, whom we had planned to meet that evening, and said that we would try for Sunday. By afternoon I had a fever and took some antibiotics that Sandy had brought along. For the rest of the day I got as much rest as possible and hoped for the best the next day.
Sunday, March 25: same weather. I felt a bit better but Sandy was not feeling all that well, and we decided to sit out that day as well. I was able to return our London tour ticket so we were not out that money. We called Jenni Prior and arranged for her and her boy friend Oliver to come to our hotel for dinner. By evening we were well enough to have dinner with them. We enjoyed seeing Jenni again and meeting Oliver.
Monday, March 26: clear and sunny, just in time for us to leave. We checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to Heathrow to catch our flight. We were not feeling 100% but were well enough to take the long (almost 13 hour) flight to San Francisco. After a long shuttle ride we were home again. Although jet lagged and still a bit ill, I was back at work the next morning, beginning my semi-retirement and three-day work week.