Knysna is perfect! (What a relief!)


We wake in Mossel Bay to a perfect day. Cool and crisp, the sun is shining, the sky is blue – and the ocean is blue. And completely empty of whales.

This is getting a bit tough to take. Where are those whales? Folks who live and work around this area are constantly talking about seeing the whales – so the lack of whale is getting me a bit down. But I shall soldier on – the ocean has plenty of fish, and whales. Some are bound to turn up, Right?

We opt for the grocery store breakfast – bread and a bit of coffee. I’m not willing to pay $20 each for a buffet breakfast of more food than I could possibly eat. Makes no sense to me.

After our quick, and not very satisfying breakfast, we head over to the Dias Museum. It’s right next to the hotel – and houses something very special. A touch over 500 years ago, Bartolomeu Dias and 32 crew members sailed a Caravel from Lisbon to Africa on a voyage of discovery. 6 months after leaving Europe, while searching for fresh water, he made land literally 100 feet from where I slept last night. 500 years later, it was decided to build an exact replica of his ship, and sail it with a crew of 17 from Lisbon to Mossel Bay. After the 3 month voyage, the ship was towed by hand power up from the beach and into the museum. Once safely inside, the rear wall of the museum was constructed.

On the outside, the boat is an exact copy, right to the steering mechanism (no wheel – they used a rod tiller). And by today’s standards – it is small. In fact it is so small that it is hard to imagine 17 people working and sleeping and eating on board – let alone the original crew of 33! Inside some modifications had to be made – partly to make her sea-worthy by today’s standards – and partly to make her livable by today’s standards! They added a kitchen, 3 toilets, and bunk bed! The original crew slept on the decks, cooked on the decks, and well – I guess – did you know what on the decks. The cargo hold was filled with ballast to keep the boat steady in the water.

Definitely worth seeing! I was so impressed by the tiny size, and extremely durable construction. Naturally, when they made land, they did it in period clothing – so they have samples of that in the museum as well.

The rest of the Dias Museum complex is kinda silly – a shell museum, the original watering hole, and the Post Tree. Apparently, again 500 years ago, someone hung a message on the tree, and another captain from another boat months later retrieved the message. Hence the name, and the proper post box underneath for visitors to continue the tradition.

Have been there – seen the Museum, we motor on past beaches, houses, townships and informal settlements (their name for clusters of corrugated metal shacks that house folks not really ‘legal’ in South Africa. Our next stop is Knysna (don’t pronounce the K), and we are even going to stay 2 nights.

I’m really looking forward to this – my poor body isn’t built for one night stands – I need to get used to a bed before I can get a good night’s rest.

The drive into Knysna is actually ok – the town had a huge fire in June, so we were a bit worried – but apparently the damage was done to areas around the town, not the actually town. We stop into a hotel to ask directions – and are told that the Conrad Pezula is on the Eastern Headland.

Means nothing to me of course – but I follow the directions and find my self leaving Knysna and heading along the Knysna Lagoon towards the ocean. It turns out that Knysna occupies the far side of a lagoon – part of which is deep enough for proper boats, and the entrance to the lagoon is protected by two Headlands – East and West. These huge out-croppings of rock kept the harbour safe – but they are perilously close to each other. And directly facing South. The British navy named it one of the 3 most dangerous harbours in the world.

And justifiably it turns out. The waves outside the harbour mouth are huge – and if you attempt to enter as the tide is going in – you will be rushed in like no tomorrow. And if you are fool enough to try to bring in a sail boat when the tide is going out. Well – you aren’t going to make it.

In the days before motor – this must have be a entrance to challenge the brave and foolish. Even with the help of a motor – it’s not easy to navigate – you must still time your run in with the tides and waves.

Needless to say – all this nature makes for a spectacular setting for the Conrad Pezula. It’s perched high up on the Head – and the views to both the South and North are stunning. The hotel isn’t slum housing either. We drive up to the huge Portico entrance and are greeted by 3 bellman. One to take the luggage, One to take the car away (the only option is valet parking), and one to escort us in to registration. We are welcomed, offered our choice of refreshments – and assigned our room.

To get to our room, we must ride in a golf cart down and around to our 4-plex – 2 suites up, 2 suites down. Our suite is on the upper right, and features an entrance hall, a bar set-up with coffee machine, tea, etc, and then our room itself with it’s fireplace, sofa, bed and glass window wall open to the stunning view. And then of course there’s the bathroom – walk in glass shower, a toilet room, a double soaking tub, and two sinks. It’s a wow. I’m particularly impressed with the walk in closet (oh, I do like a walk in closet) – all wood, all black, and the doors are barn door style opening. Very very nice.

We love our lunch overlooking the pool, and opt to spend the afternoon relaxing in our room. We have dinner reservations at JJ’s Grill back in Knysna, so eventually we have to climb back up to the main lodge (we could have called for a golf cart – but that seemed overkill – it was only one stair case). Dinner is interesting – with a menu that features things like Ostrich, Kudu, and Crocodile. Victor opts for the Crocodile – looks a bit like chicken – I enjoy a nicely cooked T-Bone steak. The trim is different from what we do in Canada – more fat is left on during the cooking – resulting in a richer mouth feel, if also producing a lot of ‘steak’ you can’t eat.

Back to our palace with a view for bed – but first – can you please lite the fireplace? Of course – we’ll be right there. And they do! It’s lovely going to bed to a roaring fire. We will sleep well.

Signing off for yet another day – The Soup Lady

Day 2 in SA Wine Country – Only 1 Winery – Thank Goodness


We wake to our alarm, and go down stairs for breakfast. While not quite as wonderful as the breakfast at the Cape Heritage, it’s a delightful spread of various cheeses, cereals, fresh fruit (I love fruit), 4 different kinds of breads, and hot items such as scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes. I order a Latte (wonderful), and even score a newspaper to read. Nice start to the day.

We head out to Spier, one of the massively huge wineries in the area. Spier offers family friendly entertainment along with the wine tasting – there is a ‘Bird of Prey’ exhibit, a large area for picnics, and even Segway Tours of the vineyard. But we are here for the tasting. We are seated at a table, and asked which of the options on offer we would prefer – the standard tasting, the chocolate and wine tasting, or the prestige tasting. Victor reminds them that we’d pre-ordered our selections – and this upgrades us to the ‘knows something about wine’ category. A shift in staff happens – and our new ‘server’ is far more knowledgable about what Spier has to offer. It turns out that she started in the Cellars 3 years ago and has been steadily promoted to a role as one of the ‘top’ tasters.

She certainly knows her wines – and gives us an excellent taste tour though what the vineyard has to offer. The challenge comes when we try to buy some of the wines. They can’t figure out how to ship to the US. Seriously? You are one of the largest producers in the area, and you have no US distribution? How odd is that.

Well – never mind – your competitors have it figured out – we’ll buy wine from them.

After the tasting, we head over to the ‘Slow Market’. I’d seen the signs – it’s held at a winery near by on Saturday from 10-3 – and I think it sounds interesting. And I was right. Unlike the market we went to a few nights ago – this market is huge. There are vendors both inside and outside, and they are selling ready to eat food, soaps, African handicrafts, their personal art (paintings mostly, but there are a pair of brothers doing wire bead work that I love), flowers, vegetables, hand painted this and that – basically it’s a giant assortment of vendors, all selling things that they made.

We love it. We wander thru the entire market, checking prices and admiring this, that and the other before we decide on a freshly made waffle for lunch, along with strawberries picked that day by a local farmer. I surrender to the need to buy something by picking out beaded flowers made by the two brothers mentioned above, and Victor buys some wooden bowls to give as gifts.

After lunch, we head back into Stellenbosch to check out an antique store we spotted (it’s closed by the time we get there), and to visit two of the non-wine related highlights of Stellenbosch, the Village Museum and the Botanical Gardens.

At the Village Museum, the movie isn’t working, but the visits to the 4 older homes (one from 1750’s, two dating from around 1812, and the last from 1850. All 4 homes have interpreters dressed appropriately who give you the standard intro when you walk in. If you ask them questions, they actually know quite a bit about the homes, but the onus is on the visitor to be inquisitive.

We are particularly impressed with the knowledge of the gal in the first 1812 house, and actually leave her a bit extra as a tip.

The Botanical Gardens is a relatively compact area in town that has been a public garden for over 200 years. It is tied to the University – and there are students doing homework or just lounging on most of the larger green portions. The gardens has 4 large greenhouses, a giant Fern garden, a rose garden, several pond areas, and lots of paths winding here and there. It’s quite a lovely spot to spend some time. We are particularly intrigued by a large flowering plant that apparently grows in the shade. But of course – we can’t bring anything home with us like that – we must admire but not buy!

Eventually we head back to our hotel, change for dinner and again wander the streets searching for just the right spot to have dinner. We opt for a hotel restaurant that has set up tables on the sidewalk, making for a lovely outdoor eating area. I love my braised pork belly – a nice change from Lamb chops.

After dinner, it’s back to the Oude Werf for bed.

Tomorrow is another day, another winery… Signing off – The Soup Lady

4 Wineries in one day is too much of a good thing..


It’s not that I object to visiting Wineries – I’ve been to dozens. It’s just doing 4 in one day really wipes you out. Even if you only sip small amounts of the wine – and carefully spit as much as possible, the mental effort is telling.

So I was a bit concerned that today we were doing 4 wineries – and that we had to get from the lovely Tuscan Villa Guest House in Fishhoek to the first winery in Stellenbosch by 10:00 AM. But we gave it our best. Things went great at the start – we drove past the beach towns on the Indian Ocean side of False Bay, and up to the major road that cuts Eastward along the water. Everything would have been fine – except that the major highway was closed to Eastward traffic. No worries – we’ll just follow the detour.

Except the detour takes us right though the center of the Khayelitsha Township.

Ok – I’m not worried. We just won’t stop.

Of course that’s easier said then done. Folks treat the road running thru the township as a walking path – so they cross anywhere they like, and cars have to stop or run over them. But because we’re travelling slowly – I get a chance to see what early morning at the edges of the Township look like, and it’s interesting. The dozens and dozens of guys who run the grills are setting up for the day. They drag 1/2 steel drums that sit on wooden legs out to the side of the road and fill them with either charcoal or wood. Then a grate sits on top and they grill their meat – from the looks I got – it’s mostly chicken, with some other cuts. And it honestly smells wonderful. I’m curious as to the prices – or for that matter – why they do this. We decide that it’s hot and stuffy inside the tiny houses – and cooking out on the street makes cooking a social adventure – plus keeps the house cooler. And if you can manage to sell some – even better.

The key point here is that the number of folks doing this is staggering. I spotted probably several hundred in just our short drive on just that one road. And I’m guessing there are hundreds more doing the same on all the other roads thru the township.

I also learned a new term – there are townships – legal areas for folks to live, provided with what we might think of as the minimum infrastructure needed – roads, basic sewer, running water (although it might be a single faucet for several homes to share), and electricity. Again – several homes might be sharing a single electric ‘box’, mainly because one ‘plot’ might be shared by 4 different family homes. But still – infrastructure exists. Then there are the informal homelands. These are not provided with any infrastructure by the government – no water, no sewer, no electricity, no garbage removal. At best, there might be port-a-potties. The problem – they are as ‘permanent’ as the townships. Luckily, we are driving thru a legal township, so there is infrastructure including stop signs and cross walks.

We eventually clear the township without any problems (it huge, remember), other then getting a bit hungry, and continue to head North East. Our goal is the wine making area of Stellenbosch.

There are literally dozens and dozens of wineries in this single area, by one account over 150 of them – and the hill sides are covered with grape vines, both bush type and trellised. Squeezed among the vines are the manor houses and wine making facilities. The ones called Estates use only the grapes grown in their own vineyards to make their wines. The other wineries will buy grapes from smaller producers, refining them on site to make their wine.

The 4 wineries we visit are Beyerskloof, Kanu, Mulderbosch, and Overgaauw. The first was probably the best of the bunch – not only was the wine great, but we could easily get it shipped to our address in the states. Winner! Kanu was utterly forgettable – not great wine, not a wonderful manor house – absolutely nothing to recommend it. We hit Mulderbosch in time for lunch – and ordered a pizza for me and a charcuterie plate for Victor – they served us enough food for 4 people, we couldn’t finish even half of either portion. This has been an ongoing issue here in South Africa – frequently the portions are completely unexpected – and we end up with way too much leftovers. The wine tasting itself was ok – but not great. Last, and probably the nicest in terms of personal service was Overgaauw. The gal that gave us the tasting was the sister of the current owner – who is the fourth generation of his family to run the winery. Her wedding pictures were featured in several places around the tasting room. We absolutely loved both the wines and the history of the winery. And we actually walked out with a bottle of their port. Oh, was it yummy.

Wine tastings done, we drive on to our hotel in Stellenbosch. And what a charming village it is. Part University Town, part tourist Mecca for wine tasting, it’s lively, open, and easy to wander. Our hotel, the Olde Werf (Old farm yard) was a recent complete renovation – the entrance way was an older manor house, but once past that you are in a completely modern facility – including heavy glass panels in the floors allowing light to filter down from the sky lights to all the walk ways. The Glassed in Elevator shaft is also a statement piece, as is the area around the infinity style swimming pool. In our room, the bathroom is part of the bedroom – so much so that one wall of the glassed in shower forms a part of the wall of the bedroom. Not great for privacy while showering, but we’re all friends.

Huge floor to ceiling double sided mirrors formed dividing walls between the sink and the bed area. With a floor to ceiling curtain pulled to one side, but available to close off the bathroom.

If I’ve done a bad job of describing the room – it’s because it’s rather hard to describe – but very ‘designer’. The bad news – the walls are incredibly thin. We can hear the folks on either side of us, not distinctly, but clear enough to be annoying. Hopefully they will quiet down after dinner.

It was suggested by the gal at Overgaauw that for dinner we try the ‘Wine House’ – which turns out to be spelled Wijnhaus. It offers wines by the sample size (for about 50 cents a glass), by the glass (for maybe $5), and by the bottle (for around $20). Wine here in SA is inexpensive, readily available, and delicious. It is also abundant. Folks start drinking wine at noon – and we are not sure when (or if) they ever stop. For dinner we order what we think are reasonable options, but both main courses turn out to be huge. Victor’s Chicken Schnitzel consists of two huge pieces – and my 4 Lamp chops are ample for me – Victor is on his own to finish – and he can’t. But it was delicious.

We meander down the busy street – filled with cafes bustling with students enjoying the warm evening, and head back to our hotel. Once there, we say hi to the doorman, parking valet, and security guard – all standing at the front door. We also greet the two night clerks at the front desk before climbing the stairs to our room. I also spot at least one other employee at the bar serving late night drinks and coffee. Staff levels in SA are very high by North American Standards – which is a good thing I guess – given the level of unemployment.

The best news – our neighbours are also exhausted – so all is quiet.

Signing off in hopes of a good nights rest – The Soup Lady

Exploring Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey


We have long been supporters of Centaur Theatre in Montreal, and in fact this trip is based on an ‘Auction’ item that was part of their 2016 fund raising campaign. Completely independent of that – my husband has long maintained a casual friendship based on the occasional donation with Maurice Podbrey – the founder and original Artistic Director of Centaur Theatre.

So – it seemed natural to let him know that we were coming to his hometown of Cape Town – and I guess it seemed natural to him to give us a tour of his ‘city’.

Today and tomorrow are planned to be spent with Maurice – but before we can meet up with him, we must change hotels.

I was unimpressed from the start with the Southern Sun – and after taking advantage of the two nights that were part of our Auction package, I suggested that we change locations. Our new ‘home’ is the Cape Heritage Hotel. And a lovely place it is! Where the Southern Sun Cullinan was cold, expensive, and decidedly too large for my taste, the Cape Heritage is warm and friendly – and breakfast is included. It’s a bit further from the Water Front – but in a much nicer area of town. There are shops around – which means there are people around – and it feels a lot more cozy.

The Hotel itself is small – but glorious. Hard wood floors, high high ceilings, African inspired art and furniture, lovely rooms for relaxing that are not so massive as to make one feel lost. Our room is lovely. A huge king sized bed, a full sized desk, a small fridge (I’m beginning to see a pattern – we’ve had a fridge in every room so far), and the bathroom is huge. At least as large as the one we had in Pretoria at the Opikopi – but without that insanely large walk-in closet. The decor in the bedroom is African Oriental – so red and black colours, wall hanging that vaguely imply ‘Orient’, and occasional touches that scream orient like boxes of soap crystals and a painting of a modern geisha. On the main floor of the hotel are a collection of common rooms and open spaces – two ‘lounges’, plus an enclosed courtyard with a coffee shop and bar. Called ‘The Vine’, it celebrates a grape vine planted here in 1771 – and still producing wine grapes every year. Since it is early spring here – the vine is just beginning to put out leaves – but it is massive.

On to our tour. Maurice picks us up in his ‘little buggy’, an older car that while small – completely works in this very crowded city. Our destination is ‘Fish on the Rocks’ – a Fish and Chips establishment in Hout Bay. To get there we climb out of Cape Town, over the saddle between Table Mountain and Signal Mountain, and on thru a decidedly touristy beach area towards Hout Bay. The ‘Fish on the Rocks’ lives up to its reputation – the fish and chips are lovely. Two portions is more than enough for the three of us – and there are even left overs. The highlight of my visit here is not the food – it’s the seals that are swimming and playing in the Kelp forest right below the shack that houses the restaurant. They are having such a wonderful time – floating on their backs, sunning themselves, and occasionally ducking down into the water to munch a fish (or two).

After lunch – we head on towards Noordheok thru Chapman’s Pass. This is a scenic and rather dramatic road carved into the mountains that form the backbone of this part of South Africa towards the Cape of Good Hope. I’m very glad that Maurice is driving to be honest – and rather happy that for this part of the trip we are on the inner lane! The road drops off precipitously into the rocks and water below, with little in the way of guard rails or American security features. Don’t lose control – it would not be a happy ending.

But the views are stunning – a huge and very empty beach stretches for at least several kilometres after the crest of the pass, and there are frequent pull-offs where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, or just admire the view. At one there are folks whale spotting – and we can just see the fins of at least 2 whales fishing casually in the waters far below us.

Maurice explains that this is the ‘cold’ water side of the point. On the Indian Ocean side, the water is warmer. So the fish life is different. We’re heading towards the ‘warm’ side later in this trip to see the whales. And I think the Penguins also live on the warmer side. On the ‘cold’ side is Cape Town – and trust me – it’s cold. Colder than I expected in any case. I feel a bit like my dad did on a trip to Montreal – I’m wearing everything I own – all at the same time!

Anyway – our destination is a coffee shop. Maurice loves his coffee – and this is one of his favourites. So we stop in Noordhoek, get our coffee – and head back to Cape Town.

Maurice invites us to his home in Cape Town after the ‘long’ drive – and we accept. He lives in a 2 bedroom apartment that he rents from an older gentleman in England. Since Maurice is 83, and the gentleman in question is in his 90’s – one must wonder how long this arrangement can continue – but never mind – we are invited in and it’s quite fun.

Maurice is working on a new project – a one hour version of his life story. And since Maurice has been famous forever, at least in Montreal terms, getting his life story down to an hour isn’t going to be easy. He is or was friends with Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Peter Sellers among others. As Artistic Director of Centaur he ‘discovered’ and remains friends with David Fennario, Vittorio Rossi, and Rich Salutin. He regales us with short tales from his life – stories his father told him, stories he has told others, and summarizes a bit of his life. His wife is still living and working in Montreal – so they get together as chance and travel permits. His kids and grand-kids call him on the phone frequently – and this is probably one his greatest thrills. He quips that he must be lonely – he hasn’t stopped talking since we arrived! I disagree – he is simply a marvellous story teller – and we are an appreciative audience.

He demonstrates with a pencil how life evolves. He starts by balancing the pencil on his finger, this is middle age. 1/2 your life behind you, 1/2 ahead – balanced between the past and the future. As you age further, the pencil slips downward – more past, less future. But then you have grand-kids – and the pencil flips. Now the future extends ahead of you forever.

Beautiful.

We chat, eat a bit of fruit, and eventually decide to do a Greek dinner. Some wine – not so much song, and then Maurice takes us back to our lodging.

Tomorrow he has promised to take us to his newest love – a sports club he supports in one of the Black townships that surround Cape Town. He has described Cape Town to us as the most segregated city in South Africa, perhaps in the world. The whites live in very specific sections, often with a view of the water, and incredibly high real estate values, the ‘colored’ folks live in bands of housing that surround the white enclaves, and the ‘Black’s’ live in bands that surround the ‘colored’ bands. The bands are kept intact by several forces – the price of real estate, the value of being ‘in’ your community, and the discomfort of being ‘out’ of your community. I suspect that unspoken forces also have an impact – I’m thinking of condo and community associations that must approve new owners (and thus can control who buys in). Clybourne Park, recently performed at Centaur Theatre, referenced this issue. It’s not a new problem – but here in Cape Town, I’m guessing that this kind of pressure is real.

So – tomorrow should be an interesting day – Today was definitely a winner.

Signing off in anticipation of more to come – The Soup Lady

Cape Town – The Waterfront, District 6 Museum – and a horrid hotel


So – we arrived by rail into Cape Town – and like the luxury excursion it was meant to be – the trip ends just as well as it began – porters take our luggage from the cabin to the debarkation point where all the shuttles are gathered to take guests here, there and everywhere. Rohan Vos, our host and the owner of Rovos Rail is in Cape Town to bid us farewell – and makes an effort to shake everyone’s hand. His personal commitment to this grand adventure is intense. Yes – for him this is personal.

As pre-organized, we are met by a gentleman from the Southern Sun hotel chain. He helps us into the car – and drives us quickly back to the hotel, announcing that he’s in a rush because he has another appointment.

The Southern Sun – Cullinan and the Southern Sun – Waterfront are actually back-to-back hotels on one large piece of land – not quite at the Waterfront – although the name does imply a rather different location. To get to the waterfront is probably a 10 minute walk – max, but we are told that this area is not safe to walk around – even during the day. A scam currently in vogue is to approach tourists and inform them that there is a fee for walking on the sidewalk. Nice welcome, eh?

Sufficiently cowed, we foolishly opt to eat dinner at the restaurant in the hotel. Be forewarned – it’s a buffet – and the food is mediocre at best. There is plenty of it, and a nice selection of cheeses, but after the careful plating and elaborate fare on Rovos Rail – this is a let-down. It’s a bit like going from one of the nicest boats on a fancy cruise line to one of the cheapest. They got the memo, and think they can ‘do’ the same – but they miss the point.

Our room is fine – a smallish bathroom where they have crammed in a bathtub and a shower – with notes everywhere telling of the water crisis in Cape Town. So please – keep showers short, don’t run the sink, and for goodness sake, don’t take a bath.

Oh well – we weren’t planning on it.

After our oh-so-forgettable dinner, we are off to bed. Tomorrow we will try to explore Cape Town.

Breakfast is another buffet offering – but this time I ask if there is any other option. Given that you can’t ‘walk’ the streets – the pleasant gal suggests that we try the cafe, located a floor below the restaurant. They are happy to serve us just a latte and a cup of coffee – and two poached eggs and toast. Total cost – $10. Not a cheap breakfast, but better than the sky high prices of the Buffet.

To get to the waterfront, where our cruise to Robben Island starts, we must take the hotel shuttle – and that leaves every hour at 5 minutes past the hour. Ok – we will wait. Eventually the shuttle leaves, and because we don’t explain that our purpose is to take the trip to Robben Island, he takes us to the far end of the Water front. We hustle as fast as we can towards the meeting point – but arrive 10 minutes too late. We understand from the information gal that it will be ok for us to wait till the 12:30 trip, advice that turns out to be totally wrong. We have missed our trip, that money is spent – and the next opening for ticket sales is on Friday – by which date we will be long gone from Cape Town. I’ll admit now that I’m not happy about missing the tour, I’d organized it months ago, it was one of my ‘must do’ adventures. But I can’t really blame anyone. We could have moved a bit faster in the morning and caught the earlier shuttle – we could have asked to be let off nearer the meeting point – could-da, should-da. But these didn’t happen.

Oh well – such is travel – if nothing goes wrong, it’s not much of an adventure.

Faced with lots of time on the water front, our next choice is the new Modern Art Museum. But today entrance is free in celebration of Heritage Day and the grand opening of the museum. The line up stretches around a city block. This kind of thing is not appealing, I’m sorry.

So our third choice is the Chavonnes Battery Museum – which turns out to be a good option. The museum is very small – and devoted to the history of this tiny section of Cape Town, but on the main floor there is an exhibit of Prize Winning underwater Photographs. And they are stunningly beautiful. Really the highlight of the museum space.

After the museum, we go looking for fish and chips – but our first choice is sold out. Heritage Day has proved unusually popular! Our second choice is near where we will catch a taxi to the District 6 museum, an exhibit that I’m quite keen to see. So we eat there (it’s ok – not outstanding), and we grab a taxi. Hint on taxi’s in Cape Town – insist that they use the meter. They are very keen to quote you a price – much higher than the meter would be – but so reasonable by our standards that it’s hard to resist. We are quoted 90 Rand by one guy – and the actual metered cost was under 60 Rand. Lesson learned. Meters on please.

The District 6 Museum is a one room affair with lots of reading material. The point of the museum is to celebrate and explain the happenings in 1970-1976 when this part of Cape Town, a thriving if poor ‘multi-racial, multi-cultural’ area was deemed by the then government to be ‘white’. All the current inhabitants were told to move – and ‘relocated’ to appropriate settlements much much further from the center of the city – and their jobs! And the relocation locations were different depending on your status – so folks of Chinese background where forced to locate to one place, blacks to a different area, Indian’s (from India) to yet another. This despite having been long term neighbours and despite having owned their homes for up to 100 years!

It is very hard to defend a seemingly arbitrary decision like this – particularly since most of District 6 is still undeveloped land today. As folks were ‘moved’ out, their homes were bulldozed to prevent other folks from moving in, and while a large portion of the newly ‘flattened’ space was used to build the (at that time) white only Technikon College, the rest was left uninhabited. There is an on-going attempt to make restitution – but to prove that your family actually owned land in District 6 requires photographic evidence. And folks are not able, or in fact willing to move back. They have new homes, new communities, and District 6 is barren.

After our tour, we decide to try for the Castle of New Hope – a fort located close by the museum. But it is closed at 4:00 PM – so we decide to walk back to our hotel. Mistake. Should have taken the taxi. Our walk is short – maybe 15 minutes, but we are approached by young men several times, and while I don’t know what they wanted – we weren’t willing to slow down and find out – the result is a very uncomfortable feeling.

Back at the hotel, Victor decides to go back to our room and work on his computer – I’m itching to go back to the water front – and so I catch a taxi in that direction. He doesn’t even have a meter – so I overpay a bit – but I’m glad not to be walking alone. Once on the water front, I check out the line for the new museum – and it’s gone! Perfect – just what I wanted to do.

So I explore the brand new Zeite MOCAA museum. This is a modern art museum that has been open for just 3 days – and has been built in restored grain silos. It is a stunner. The architecture alone is worth the visit. The museum occupies 6 floors – with an additional 6 floors of what I believe to be condos soaring above. They have skillfully opened spaces in the silos, sometimes keeping the distinctive silo appearance, other times losing it completely to the space for art. It is glorious. And mobbed. I run into two young SA ladies in one of the rooms – filled with bricks hanging from the ceiling, forming a barrier to progress but providing multiple photo ops – and they ask me to take their pictures. We chat a bit – one is a model/Actress (her words), and is quite stunningly beautiful. Her friend is no slouch in the looks department either.

We wiz thru the exhibits – it’s very close to closing time – and end up missing the last 2 floors – simply no time left. But as is normal with Modern art museums – some things you get, some you wonder why they are considered art. One section of rooms were cow skins that had been formed into bodies of women in a variety of poses. The skins aren’t complete – so you must imagine the parts of the women you don’t see – but the effect is quite brilliant. I also loved a series of black on black photographs of young black women. Not so obvious to me were an area of candles – some lit, other not, and a series of hair styles on oval picture frames. But modern art is always a bit challenging.

After the museum, I wandered a bit of the water front – it’s busy and bustling, there are friendly faces everywhere – and it’s the first time in our trip that I have been able to walk and feel comfortable. I go into the Victoria and Alfred (Not Albert – this is about her son, not her husband) Mall – and am immediately impressed. It’s huge, filled with nooks and crannies that provide an interesting walking experience – and the stores are incredible. There are the traditional over-the-top international shops – Gucci, Hugo Boss, and the like, there are multiple Diamond merchants, and there are some not so familiar names – like Woolworth, There are a total of 450 different outlets scattered over 300 acres. There is a food court, multiple restaurants – including Willoughby & Co where I had a lovely sushi dinner, and a variety of ‘African’ art shops – from the insanely expensive to the relatively bargain variety. I had a lovely time wandering the space – enjoying the freedom of being able to just walk!

The Water Front area is a working marina and port – albeit for small boats – the larger boats go elsewhere. And this of course adds to the ‘reality’ of the place. Bridges open and close as boats go in and out, and there is a section where the Hairy Seals that love these cold waters hang out to sun bathe.

Bottom line – I loved it!

Eventually, I head back to where the shuttle will pick me up to go back the oh so short distance to the Southern Sun Cullinan, and head home.

This day has ended much better than it began – I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Rovos Rail – Part Two – Da Aar to Cape Town


I’m in the afternoon of day two on this luxury train trip from Pretoria to Cape Town. The comfort and extra touches on offer are simply stunning, and are worth a quick description.

In our large private stateroom with it’s Queen Bed, Desk, two arm chairs, and full bathroom are complete amenity kits, including a free laundry service – and a free pressing service. I make use of both – the pressing service to ready my gowns for the formal dinners on Friday and Saturday night, and the laundry service because it’s been a few days, and laundry does mount up! On the desk is a gift box of various cookies to enjoy in case you run out of food – and a full bar menu. Just let your personal suite server know your needs – and she will stock the handy fridge to your requirements. No charge of course. Like a great wedding – it’s as much wine and alcohol (and food) as you want.

When we return from dinner on the first night, our bed has been made up, including warm cozy duvets (it gets really cold at night in the African plains), toffees to enjoy, and a note telling us about tomorrows weather – which is more of the same – warm and sunny.

When we return from dinner the 2nd night – we are stunned by how they have made the bed! We had told the booking agent that it is our 47th Wedding Anniversary (children please note – 3 years to 50… have you started planning?). And they have surprised us with a bottle of bubbly, two champagne glasses, a gift box of a honey/salt Carmel spread (sweet on sweet – so popular here), and a personalized note congratulating us. But it’s the heart of rose petals that is truly over the top.

Well – we shall just have to celebrate I guess!

The sky visible from our bed is filled with lovely stars – and we fall asleep watching the African flat lands and the glorious sky drift by.

This morning, our 3rd day on the train, the weather has decidedly changed. It’s cold. Really, really cold. I’m regretting my packing choices, would it have been so hard to pack at least one pair of warmer socks?

Having not figured out how to turn our AC from cool to heat, we bundle up and go into the lounge, where it is decidedly warmer. I’m offered a cup of hot water, and a latte with breakfast, both of which are very welcome.

Enjoying South Africa, at least from the train, is a question of where you look. From where I sit in the oh-so-comfy lounge car there is a view to the right and the left.

If I look left, I see young men sitting looking forlorn on the train tracks, and behind them a line of what can best be described as ‘better’ government housing. As we arrived in the station of Matjiesfontein, we passed groups of tiny corrugated shacks, then things improved to the left – going from corrugated metal to cement homes. Clearly not middle class – although given the reality of South Africa – these could easily be middle class for black Africans. Certainly there is smattering of Satelite dishes, and even the occasional car.

If I look to the right, there are three musicians serenading anyone who walks by, mostly Beatle songs – and then the most adorable Victorian village you’ve ever seen. It is quite lovely – and in stark contrast to the relatively depressing view to the left. How unNorth American. According to the guide book – the village is the work of just one man – Jimmy Logan. He and his wife arrived here in 1890 with little more than a vision, and from that built almost everything we see to the right.

In conversation with other guests on our train, we learn that one of the major issues in South Africa is the stark lack of social programs. There is no unemployment insurance, no social welfare, few government sponsored options for helping the poor out of their predicament. And this is clear to even the most casual tourist. If you are born on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks – your parents are likely lacking in education, your grand-parents likely had no better choices, and you have few if any options. And life is boring. We’ve seen flocks of kids who gather whenever the train slows down to come and check us out – we are easily the highlight of their day.

But enough of my muttering on these issues. Apparently if you are willing to work very hard – and have just a bit of good luck, you can break at least part of the endless cycle. The staff on the train is an interesting mixture of whites and black – although the blacks tend to be wait staff and housekeeping, the white members of the staff are the sommelier, train manager and his assistant and the gals running the sales shop and offering customer service. My husband observes that perhaps they don’t see the clear division of tasks that we do – and perhaps he’s right. On the other hand – the driver of our train was a very very nice Black woman. So some things must be looking up.

On the nature side – I spent a great part of yesterday on the Observation Deck, keeping my eyes peeled for animal sightings. I was rewarded with glimpses of an Ostrich, lots of Springbok and the like, plus two red deer that were as surprised as I was when the train roared past. I also spotted huge solar farms, and a series of massive wind generators on the ridge line of the hills. Better homes, when we pass them, often sport Solar Hot Water systems – which makes a great deal of sense in this environment.

Only one scary moment – we were stopped in De Aar, waiting for folks to check the train I would guess when a young man attempted to claim onto the Observation Deck. He had been asking my husband for food – and apparently took his attention to mean he had permission to climb aboard. The train security folks responded quickly – and he ran back into the housing near the train yard – but afterwards we were reminded that as hard as it seems, generosity here isn’t as clear cut as back home. You are better to support the NGO systems that work to keep the poor fed and housed, then to reward begging. Tough on our North American sensitivities.

We have met some very nice folks from Holland – and share lunch and travel adventures with them. They have been to more places then we have – which is saying a lot, although their visits were often shorter. That’s the advantage of travelling for pleasure rather than business – you can choose how long to stay! And then this afternoon we spent time again on the Observation Deck. Company was rather lively, with one younger retiree from South Africa holding court with his varied experiences around Africa. He did point out the differences between ‘townships’, which are places where Blacks choose to live and have government services – like electricity and running water, and squatter camps – where Blacks live without any government services – no toilets, no electricity, no garbage removal. Once identified the differences are actually quite visible, although we’re not talking small places in either case. I’m guessing at least a thousand homes, in each of the few squatter camps we passed. Curiously, the townships were walled in, the squatter camps had no walls, and could expand in all directions as needed. From both types of ‘homesteads’, dozens and dozens kids gaily waved as we rode past.

Our train has finally cleared the mountain tunnels and dropped at least 1000 vertical meters towards Cape Town, and the surroundings have gone from the African plain to the food basket. Green fields, vineyards, green houses, a private zoo, townships, squatter camps, and more upscale housing and factories provide visual distraction as we make our way towards Table Mountain and Cape Town.

Our plan for the next few days is to visit Cape Town and then continue our tour along South Africa’s Garden Route. Penguins, Whales and Wine Tasting – here we come!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Rovos Rail – Cruising Across South Africa


I’m on the Pride of Africa – an over the top luxury 20 car train that is currently snaking itself from Pretoria to Cape Town.

And it is truly a cruise on land. All the things that annoy me about cruises – too much food, and not enough exercise – but oh so relaxing. My fellow travellers are an eclectic mix of South African, Dutch, Canadian, Australian, and American. English is the language de jour, although one occasionally hears Chinese (from Vancouver), Africaans, and Dutch. It’s all together kinda neat – in an decidedly too elaborate way for my simple mind.

And alarmingly – no Wifi. Nada. For a full 3 days and 2 nights. Which means I’ve been out of contact for all that time. I just spent a few minutes chatting with the train manager – and he assures me that in a year or so, they will have solved that problem. Bit late for my purposes of course.

There are almost as many wait staff as there are guests – I suppose that is not surprising given the cruise motif. But there aren’t any shows, other than the food of course, and there is no pool or exercise facility. Instead, we have an Observation Car, a Lounge Car, a Smoking Car (glass walled to keep them in – and us out), two dinning rooms, a car devoted to a huge kitchen, and the rest of the train are the cabins.

The private cabins are huge. Our cabin is a mid-sized version and features two comfy arm chairs, a bathroom with a full sized walk-in glass shower, and a Queen sized bed. I think most cabins are the same size, although one group I was chatting up complained that their cabin didn’t have the two chairs. And I did peak into a cabin that had a bit more space between the chairs and the bed. Apparently it also had a bathtub, but that’s just a rumour. But never mind – everything is leather, or wood, or glass, heavy brocade materials, old fashioned lamps, and lots and lots of AC units.

Wouldn’t want someone to get either too hot or too cold!

And the views out the absolutely clean windows are of Africa. We started our journey in Pretoria (just a few kilometres from Jo-burg), and for the first two hours or so we go past station after station with primarily black customers patiently waiting for their commuter trains. Young folks and old, in traditional dress and today’s standard jeans and a T-shirt – they were, as we’d been warned, primarily blacks. Apparently the white population of South Africa has abandoned their rail system to rely on cars. This is a terrible mistake, but given that the trains we saw (other than ours) had no AC – and it’s over 90 degrees – I suppose I’d be hesitating to use the public rail as well.

A more disturbing view is that of the corrugated metal tiny shacks that serve as home for countless folks. We rode past whole towns of these shacks, some with fenced in yards – some with nothing but dirt in front and in back, and others with carefully planted gardens. The sheer numbers is astounding. But even more disturbing is the casual attitdude towards garbage. There is literally tons of garbage in just the section between the rail lines and the homes – it’s very clear where ‘no-man’s’ land begins – and that’s where the garbage is left. I asked about social services to clean up this mess – and was told that it is done often, but the lack of places for these folks to put garbage properly makes dealing with the problem an endless task. Maybe so – I must admit a lot of it looked to be ‘fresh’. And sometimes it was just a question of where you looked. On the right side of the train – clean as a whistle. On the left – coloured garbage bags lie everywhere, and those light weight plastic bags are as common as Christmas Ornaments on the bushes.

Back to Rovos Rail. This is a private rail service that offers luxury travel on several ‘Journey Itineraries’ thru Africa. We are taking the journey to Cape Town, but they also go to Victoria Falls, Durban, and Namibia. The train is glorious – it’s hard to find issue with the abundance of silverware at dinner, the constant inquiry as to your happiness and needs, and the over abundance of delicious alcohol on offer. Naturally, the Pride of Africa’s wine cellar specializes exclusively in the high end South African options – including a Port and a Brandy that blew my socks off.

Breakfast offerings include lattes of course, Lunch offered as much as you can drink white wine and port, and we’ve been promised a 5 course tasting menu for dinner tonight – paired with 5 other South African wines.

My issues are pretty much as predicted – the scenery, while lovely, is huge and perhaps a bit boring. I mean we saw a massive flock of Pink Flamingo’s – from a distance, and a herd of Springbok fled when we quietly came past, but generally it’s hours and hours of flat dry lands – going from the more bushy grasslands near Jo-Burg to the Karoo Plains. Eventually we will enter the mountain passes and tunnels that herald our arrival into Cape Town – but right now – after almost 2 full days – I can’t say the scenery has been stunning by Canadian Standards.

And sleeping last night, despite the amount of alcohol and the soft as down duvets, was problematic. The train did stop for 5 hours – but I actually find it easier to sleep when the train is moving – for some reason I kept waiting for it to start moving, even though our all so competent hosts had made it clear that we were deliberately stopping so that folks could get a good night’s rest.

Just like a good cruise, there are excursions. Today’s ‘off the train’ trip was a 2 hour tour of the Diamond Museum in Kimberley. I was thrilled by the prospect, but disappointed in the reality. Our guide was very careful to explain that they no longer use the methods on show – but there was no description of how they are currently mining diamonds. Even more disappointing – our ‘mine’ tour was a fake. Concrete, wood, and flashing lights to convince us that we were underground. Having actually taken a real mine tour – where we actually descended in a still working miner’s lift – and walked thru actual stone tunnels – this was quite disappointing. I did enjoy the movie, and there’s a fair museum to visit – but despite renovations in 2009 – it’s at best a ‘less than Disney’ experience. There are much better museums in the UK – I suggest you read up on some of my other blogs.

Another source of disappointment – we are just two. So if conversation lags, we must chat up strangers. Not a problem – but lots of our fellow travellers came in groups – so the pickings have been slim. And since I’m not travelling with The Intrepid Traveller, I can’t rely on her ability to instantly appeal to strangers.

On the other hand – food has been excellent (I always wondered what Ostrich would taste like – and it’s like lean beef, not ‘chicken’ at all). The service can not be faulted. The wine selections have been superb – and we still have a day to go.

Signing off with hopes that things will improve in the next 24 hours – The Soup Lady

Day 2 in Lake District – Beatrix Potter and some details about those Cows…


We wake to birds singing outside of our windows – and hustle downstairs for a lovely British Breakfast. Surprisingly – there’s no toast cooler. I do fondly remember those from my previous (50 years ago) trip to the UK – and had thought for sure they would be using one.

These are metal holding racks for toast, carefully designed to make sure that the toast gets cold. But Rose and Andy are ok with hot toast, and honor us by offering, in addition to margarine, some of Rose’s home made Orange Marmelade. It’s yummy.

Breakfast isn’t fancy – but it is ample – lots of different cereals and what I’m being to see is a Rose Signature Item – a fruit plate! I adore fresh fruit, and she’s being incredibly generous with what I know is expensive fruit. We do try to leave some for them – really we do.

After breakfast, they announce that they have packed a picnic lunch, and we’re heading off in the car to the Lake District. Andy has mapped out a route he wants us to follow, winding thru tiny villages, and including a ride on the Bowness Ferry across the only ‘real’ lake in the Lake District – Lake Windermere.

But the plans of the best oft go astray – and so it is with Andy’s plan. Turns out there’s a marathon being run around the Lake District today – and roads are blocked here and there and everywhere. Interesting thing about UK detours – they rarely tell you where the detours are going – nor when they will end – at least for marathon runs! So we wind our way up to Gummer’s How (How is Hill apparently) and admire the view over the rolling countryside. Some absolutely tip-top shape bikers stop to admire the view with us – and quick enough we’re sharing laughs over the challenges involved in detouring around the marathon. Opinions shared, we are all off – us to the ferry – they are headed to parts unknown.

The ferry is on a pair of tow lines – so no steering is needed. Just turn on the engine and pick East or West. The challenge is paying the fare. They have installed a brand new ticketing machine – and no one is sure how to use it! It is made more challenging because the screen is angled into the sun – and virtually unreadable. But Andy works thru it – and when the ferry arrives – we’re ready to board. A short time later – we’re off the ferry on the other side of the lake and heading up winding narrow laneways towards Hill Top – the home of Beatrix Potter.

This charming cottage was the inspiration for most of her books after the success of Peter Rabbit provided the money to finance it. In every room are copies of illustrations she drew that clearly reflect the furniture and window views around her. Since she died without heirs, she left all her land and her cottage to the National Trust – and they were charged with always keeping the fire in the parlor going, and leaving the house as it was when she died. And so they do, and so it is. A cottage frozen in time – filled with the knick-knacks she collected over a long and interesting life.

Well worth the visit.

But its getting on to lunch – and our next stop will be for our picnic. Naturally the rain, which had been holding off admirably, decided at this time to play games – and we decide to enjoy our lunch in the car park at Hawkshead. Hot tea, Ham and Cheese sandwiches, and snack bags of chips or crackers satisfies the inner need.

One curious incident – a black Jackdaw lands near us and begs for crumbs. Rose throws a few his way which he gobbles up – and then suddenly flings himself into the air and over the car to grab a mouse! We watch in horror as the Jackdaw enjoys a much better lunch then our paltry crumbs. Biology lesson over – we pack away the picnic things and stroll around the extremely touristy but very cute town of Hawkshead.

Our route now took us thru Ambleside – a name that in Galic means Amble’s Pasture, past the stragglers in the Marathon (one of whom was being helped by an Ambulance crew), past 3 lovely smaller lakes – Rydal Water, Grasmere and Thirlmere.

We then leave the Lake District to head to Penrith. Jill’s family claims a great-great-great aunt who was a lady in waiting to a Queen and lived near Penrith. We check out the Penrith castle for clues – but after Richard III (who lived here prior to becoming King), there’s no evidence of an Queen in this area. We check out the church yard as well – but aside from the Giant’s Grave – there’s not much to see.

Our stroll thru Penrith is unexciting too – the shops are all closed and the church locked tight. Good thing too – I saw lots of stores that I would have visited – so having them closed definitely saved us some money. It’s a 128 mile round trip – long by UK standards, a normal days commute in North America.

Back in Morecambe, dinner is at The Lodge – Rose and Andy’s Local. It’s a long thin restaurant/pub with an interesting menu of many traditional British items – including Steak and Ale Pie, Fried Pork Belly (yummy!), and Fish and Chips. The Intrepid Traveler and I opt to share a traditional British appetizer platter which has 2 slices of thick cut ham, two delicious pieces of country bread, two hunks of local Lancaster cheese, a wonderful home-made relish, some pickles, a small meat pie and my favorite – pickled onions. That plus the fried Pork Belly is more than enough for us. I’m too full even for dessert – which is saying something because they have a bread pudding that sounds yummy.

Andy asks if we’d care of a bit of walk since even though it’s past 8:00 PM – it’s still light out. The Intrepid Traveler and I agree – and Andy takes us to Barrows Heights. This is exactly like the place where Harry Potter and the Weasleys find the Port Key – except instead of a Port Key – we find cows. And this is THEIR pasture – not ours. We hike up to the top of the heights, where the cows have gathered to catch the last rays of sun, and it’s only when we’ve pretty much arrived that I realize that the cows are free to roam as they will. Seconds after that – the cows decide to come over and see if we’re family. I’m hiding behind the Intrepid Traveler – who bravely stares down the lead cow. Andy simply solves the problem by going – ‘Shoo’. Works with cows apparently. They Shoo.

So do I. Enough of going nose to nose with an animal – no matter how friendly – who weighs several tons. They would squish me if they just sat on me. We hip hop back down, avoiding the remains of cow pies, cross the still – and head home.

Whew – TV and Bed have never looked so good.

Tomorrow we head out to York by train via Manchester. Should be an interesting day.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady.

Lancaster Castle is Cool – Or thoughts on Getting eyeball to eyeball with a Cow


Cows look a lot larger when you are standing in their field – and they are inches away. Good thing I had the Intrepid Traveler along – she’s just tall enough to hide behind! But I’m getting way way ahead of myself – so lets backtrack a bit!

We left Birmingham by train – which meant a trip to their absolutely outstanding new train station. It looks a lot like a giant foil covered Jelly Bean – with wavey bits, and entrances on the underside. But inside, it just looks like a train station – and from that perspective, it’s a bit disappointing. I mean it’s modern and everything – just not up to the foil covered jelly bean look in terms of fancy. Signs everywhere explain that the building has won awards for being eco-friendly – and apparently somewhere there is a green space that is reducing the carbon foot print. But mostly – it looks large and foil covered – and maybe a bit out of place.

But it works great. We take a lift down to the tracks – and board our train for Lancaster. Despite the modern trappings – they still haven’t figured out how to label doors by seat number – so once inside we have to struggle the length of the carridge to get to our reserved seats – which are facing the wrong way. I know I reserved seats in the direction of travel, but apparently the trains flip around so much that it’s impossible to be sure which way the train will be heading when you eventually get on board. Oh well – at least the ride is so smooth that the reverse orientation doesn’t really bother me.

The countryside between Birmingham and Lancaster is lovely – green fields with dry stone fences carving up spaces. Like the earlier ride to Birmingham from Oxford – the sheep dotting the slopes resemble musical notes an a giant scale. Up close they look a bit shaggy – but from a distance – with their black faces and white coats they look like a child’s version of sheep. They look like every stuffed animal you’ve ever seen – warm and fuzzy and soft.

The trip goes by fairly painlessly. We are seated across from an older woman who is headed up north to see the puffins. She’s a serious bird watcher (her description), and this is her last chance to see the birds with some very famous birder. We wish her luck, and go back to reading our books – or in my case – staring at the passing scenery.

Getting off the train in Lancaster turns out to be a treat. Not only are Rose and Andy (Jill’s son-in-law’s parents) there to greet us with hugs and kisses – but there’s a group of men walking down the platform in front of us wearing suit jackets, short shorts and red high heels. I’m impressed. I can’t walk in those things – and these guys are doing great! And they have great looking legs.

Turns out it’s Lancaster’s Gay Pride Parade today – but Rose and Andy are worried that the traffic will be tied in huge knots – so they insist on going the back ways to their house. No Gay Pride Parade for us. We rest up, and when they deem it safe, we take a car tour of the seaside of Morecambe (beautiful), and then end up at the Castle of Lancaster.What a treat that is! We opt for the optional tour – based on the guality of the guide we run into – and it’s a brilliant decision. He gives us a ‘family’ rate – and takes us into the inner workings of the Castle. He’s a wonderful story teller – and there are lots of stories to tell.

We walk into one section and the alarm is ringing. I say “What’s that noise?” He says “The Castle is backing up”.

We tour the Royal courts (used only for Civil cases – and not much for those these days), and the Criminal Court – which is still very much in use. I peek into the ‘dock’ – reached by the accused from underground in a holding cell – and seriously scary – and admire the elaborate Gothic Design. The Civil Court was designed 2 years before the Houses of Parliment – by the same architect. I think he was practicing.

We visit the ‘hangman’s’ cell – conveniently weather protected, so all the hangman had to do was push the accused out of a window – wait an hour while he/she slowly died, then haul them back in. No getting wet in the horrid weather on this side of England. And plenty of time for a good lunch since hangings were always at noon.

Our guide tells us that a ‘slow drop’ death is long and drawn out because your neck doesn’t break – so sometimes friends of the accused would try to help him out by grabbing his legs. Hence the term ‘Hanger’s On’.

Told you – wonderful story teller.

We end our tour in the ‘modern’ prision which dates back 200 years, and was last used in the 70’s. Rose and Andy remember being unable to tour this part of the castle because it was still a prision.

I am reminded, not for the first time, that this is a seriously old country with a history that overwhelms our poor excuse for a history in North America. Written records date back to the Romans for goodness sake! So a castle that dates from Norman times (1066 onward) is considered young indeed.

Home we go – to a very traditional British Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner. Rose pulls out all the stops – and makes carrots, broccoli, and sugar snap peas for veggies. For dessert – it’s rubarb fresh from her garden in a sponge cake crust. Bed time for us comes soon enough. Tomorrow will be a big big day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Navigating the London Underground


Not simple this – not simple at all. First off – London is a very expensive city. Expensive to live in, expensive to eat in, expensive to travel around in. On the other hand – it does have a wonderful bus/tube system (don’t call it Metro or Subway – folks will look at you bewildered).

You can get anywhere you want by bus or tube – and while it might not be fast – you will get there. On the bus – you can only move as fast as the traffic – which is generally slow walking pace thru most of the inner city. On the tube, you move much faster – but there are frequent stops. From our lodging to downtown is over 20 stops – and we’re only in Zone 3. And there are no ‘express’ trains on the Tube lines. So it’s stop and go, stop and go, repeat and repeat.

On the other hand – the trains run smoothly. Very few of those jerks and bounces that are so hard on aging knees.

And it is clean – amazingly clean. In over 10 days of riding the bus/tube – I’ve seen someone eating on the tube just once. People are generally very polite, even during rush hour when the trains can feel more like sardine cans than transport. And there are trash bins – mostly 1/2 empty – everywhere. I’ve seen folks sweeping and picking up trash constantly. And the elevators never smell bad.

They even have toilets. And Lifts. Not in all stations – but often enough to realize it’s a reasonable thing to expect to find.

One thing about the lifts – the stations that have lifts have clear labels (the international wheelchair sign) to let you know. What they don’t tell you is if there will be escalators or just stairs at the other stations. That’s a huge difference – I do wish I knew which stations had only stairs – vs those that offer at least an escalator to get you up or down to street level.

But this blog is about the fares, not the lifts. And the fares are seriously confusing.

All over the metro there are signs advertising the ‘new’ capping system. The idea is that if you use the tube and the cost totals over 7.7 GPB on one day, the rest of that 24 hours is free. It’s a great idea.

Doesn’t work as far as we could tell unfortunately. We were averaging aound 10 GPB a day of money coming out of our ‘top-up to pay’ cards – I never spotted the cap being applied. Very frustrating.

They also have a 7 day travel card – and there’s a cap on the amount spent for 7 days. So one would assume that the cap and the card were the same. Not so. The card is a MUCH better deal if you are going to be staying outside of the Central area of London and will be using the tube/buses at least twice a day, occassionally during ‘rush’ hour. And of course you will be using the thing during rush hour. It takes a pretty amazing tourist to avoid doing that – at least in the afternoon!

Another reason the 7 day card is the better deal – it starts on the day you first use it. That means you can get 7 days from Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday – you get the idea. On the other hand, the cap only works from Sunday to Sunday. So unless you arrive on Sunday morning – it will never work out.

And here’s the most annoying thing about the CAP. Even if you qualify for a refund – you’ve spent more than 38.50 GPB in travelling around Zones 1-3, the refund only appears on Thursday of that week. So for a tourist – it’s a complete waste. You spend the money to front load the card, and by the time you get the refund- you are ready to leave.

If you even get the refund. We haven’t seen it yet. I don’t think it’s going to happen. And we spent over 90 GPB in one week before we smartened up and bought the 7 day card.

And it wasn’t for lack of asking! We must have chatted up 6 different agents on the tube line – each time getting a slightly different story. Only twice did we get the right advice. The gal at the Underground Information Booth at Victoria Station knew the ins and outs of the program, and she promptly told us – if you are here for 5 days or more – the 7 day pass pays! The gal at the airport information booth suggested it at first, but never clearly explained why spending 38.5 GPB up front was the smart idea.

Anyway – that 90 GPB is spent, and now we have the 7 day card – and life is much easier.

Signing off to go ride the Tube…
The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller