Exploring the Khayelitsha Township near Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey (Part II)


For the past 8 years or so, Maurice Podbrey has made it his mission to help a Youth Football Club in the Khayelitsha Township flourish – and an uphill battle it has been. But to attempt to explain what he’s been doing – and why it is so interesting, I think I have to start with a quick description of South Africa today, at least as far as I could see.

Officially – Apartheid ended 22 years ago – but undoing it has been much harder than I think most of us in North American can begin to appreciate.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderfully well written article on Apartheid (written in 2014). I highly recommend you read it – but I will summarize it below.

If you’d like to see the original piece – here’s the Link. Please read it – it’s quite interesting.

Here is my quick summary – The author makes several important points – He starts with a quote from Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Edgar says: “The social engineering of apartheid came down to a very successful model of spatial engineering,” The author continues: “Tracing his fingers over a map of the city in his office, he explains how both natural landscape features and manmade infrastructure were employed as physical barriers to keep the different racial communities as isolated as possible.”

“Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces to the east, each hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent white suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland,”

Driving around Cape Town today – in fact driving anywhere in the area – one can see exactly what Edgar is talking about. It’s easy to spot the shanty towns (no electricity) and the black townships (bit nicer but still shanty houses – have electricity). And if one looks carefully – one sees how the highways, huge zones of scrubland, and other natural features hem in these areas. Folks who live in these areas have a very strong sense of community – but they can’t easily move away. It’s a giant move, or stay put. That’s the only choice.

And it’s a hard one even for us to make in Canada – if you chat up new grand-parents – they are torn between living their lives where they are, or moving closer to the grand kids. Hard choice. Now make that choice harder by not having enough money for a car – and putting the pieces of your life an hour away by bus (if the bus comes), or 2 hours away by foot. Keeping your family close, if unemployed is somehow more appealing.

In any case – life in the townships is tough. There are few jobs – well, I’m being generous – there are no jobs for young adults. No A&Ws, no Dad’s factory, no where to work. If you want to earn some money, you can try to start your own ‘business’ – selling stuff you pickup to passing cars, gathering wood from the near by scrubland, maybe helping people park their cars, but the pickings are slim. And you are miles and miles away from the places where any kind of normal job could be found. To visit the township where Maurice’s football club is located was a 45 minute drive from Cape Town. And there are 1.5 million people living in just that one ‘Township’ If even just 10% are young men from 16-22, that’s 150,000 of them. The numbers are simply staggering.

Back to Maurice. His football club isn’t trying to address all the problems – but it does specifically target some issues in one tiny area of the ‘Khayelitsha Township’. Kids who belong to the Pauline Podbrey Club get a hot meal after school – and are encouraged to do their homework either before or after practice. The teams (and there are at least 8 – organized by type of game, girls or boys, and age) have team colours and team outfits – paid for by Maurice’s fundraising. In fact Maurice’s fund raising has basically paid for everything – from the white board to the plastic chairs, to the kitchen set-up used to cook the hot meals.

When we went to visit – we were introduced to several of the ladies who work in the Club – the bookkeeper, a lady who works with handicapped kids of all ages, and one of the team managers. Some of the kids also came to talk to us – they told us about their ambitions – one wants to play professional soccer, or if he can’t do that – something with Math. The other young man isn’t on any team – he’s new to this township, having just moved here from the Eastern Cape, but he’s good friends with kids in the club, and is thinking about joining. Two young ladies, about 10 years old, were also there. They play Net Ball – a version of Basket Ball that is popular here. They demonstrated their techniques, as well as told us a bit about their lives. If you’d like to make a donation – and trust me – even a dollar would be well spent there – click here for the link to the Pauline Podbrey Foundation.

After we said goodbye to the Club space, we visited the new park that has been built near by the Club. It is a year old, and a lovely space indeed. There is a garden area with plants and flowers (the only growing things besides kids we’ve seen here in the Township), a playground, a soccer pitch, and a net ball court. Quite a remarkable difference from the rest of the township. We also drive by the shopping area – you can buy almost anything you’d want there – although it’s likely to be displayed on the ground, or hanging from the fence that surrounds the space. There are traditional looking, albeit poorly stocked, shops, but most of the shopping is done from individual sellers who spread their wears on the ground around the shopping space.

South Africa is a glorious country – magnificent beaches, towering mountains, wide open spaces. Surely there is enough room and enough resources to go around. There must be a solution – although it is of course not one a casual visitor can easily imagine.

I did dream up one idea – although I am willing to describe it, I can’t see how it could happen. There is a lot of undeveloped land in the District 6 area, hard by several of Cape Town’s now integrated Universities and Colleges. My idea is to build dormitories and Apartment houses on this land. The dormitories would be occupied by students – roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 coloured. The idea being that living together would help them understand their similarities. Then here’s the interesting part. The Apartments would be rented only to graduating students who had lived in the dormitories – roughly on the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 basis. And the rent received from the students would be kept on account for them. After 5 years – they would have to leave the Apartments to leave room for new students, but they would get back the rent they had paid in, perhaps matched by the government. This would give them seed money to get better jobs, a better home, to start a business.

Anyway – on to our travels.

After leaving the Township, we head back along the water to catch a lovely light lunch at one of the small towns on the beach. After lunch, Maurice drives us up to the base of the cable car that goes up Table Mountain. We’d hope to catch the thing – but it wasn’t running – too much wind. But never mind, even from the base the view is amazing.

Tonight Victor and I have decided to do something really really different – we’re going to a show at Gate 69.

The Cape Heritage Hotel where we are now staying is in a busy bustling part of Cape Town – very different from the deserted landscape just past the Water Front. And right across the street is the Gate 69 Club. I saw a brochure for the place – and it is obviously a Drag Queen Supper Club. And I figure – why not?

Getting reservations is actually part of the fun. They are officially sold out for tonight, but I decide to visit the box office for myself. I run into all three of the owners – all busy getting ready for the night – but very willing to find a space to squeeze in two guests from Canada. ‘Cathy’, the main hostess runs out quickly – only partly dressed – to welcome me – and tells me that she’s (he’s) only been here in Cape Town for 2 years – but loves every minute. I’m guessing that foreign visitors haven’t quite figured out how much fun this kind of thing can be – and we are being treated as honoured guests!

There is only room for about 80 guests – all seated at tables in front of a stage. The theatre space is all red velvet and gold curtains, the welcoming bar area is done in purple plush – and they have camped it to the max! Cathy Pacific – our 6’4″ hostess for the evening is decked out on the red carpet – greeting guests as they arrive with big hugs and a smile. She’s lovely – if a bit muscular for my taste! We are escorted in to the bar area, and share a glass of wine before climbing the stairs to the theatre proper.

Dinner is a complete surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting – but not a fabulous multi-tiered platter – somewhat reminiscent of a British High Tea service. There are two kinds of olives, several different types of toasted breads, a liver spread, a hummus spread, two different kinds of ‘sandwiches’, chicken Satay, a tiny plate of cold vegetables, fresh bread served while we eat – and a wonderful hot soup with decidedly unique citrus notes. It’s yummy – and more than we can eat! We save the cheese plate and the fresh strawberries for later – and admire our ‘waitress’. Like Cathy – she’s enormous – and dressed to fly in a tight fitting airline hostess outfit. These ‘girls’ would never make it onto a plane – with their headdresses we’re talking over 7 feet – easy.

The show starts with the three owners welcoming us to their ‘place’. I had met ‘Cathy’ earlier in the day – and she has consistently refered to my husband and I as our ‘Canadian’ guests – too funny that. And then the show is on the road.

The premise is that the three airline hostesses have recently been demoted – something about using the toggle to eject the door and inflate the slide so they could make it on time to a performance in Cape Town. So they are doomed to ‘domestic’ and begin by mourning their loss of ‘duty-free’ benefits. The show is a brilliant combination of patter – and songs often set to recognizable tunes with words re-written to suit the venue. My three top favourites were a send off of ‘Be Our Guest’ that included the line – we’re not French you know.., a version of Rolling Down the River (Proud Mary) that laid them in the aisles – and of course the absolutely perfect ending song – Mein Herr. Yes – done sitting (sometimes) in chairs.

We laughed, we groaned, and we admired! After the show they served Tequila ice cream as a good-bye treat, and while other’s stayed to continue to soak up the bar, we headed across the street and to bed. Tomorrow will be a Big, Big, Day!

Signing off to get her beauty 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

Opikopi in Pretoria – Such a delightful surprise


We leave London on British Airways – an 8 hour but thankfully boring flight to South Africa.

The plane is one of those double decker numbers – with a great deal more seats in First Class and Business Class than are found in lowly Economy. Clearly BA has decided that catering to the wealthier makes sense, because I counted just 140 seats in Economy – with an additional 32 seats in ‘Premium Economy’. The rest of the giant plane was filled with those oh so comfy flat bed seats with your private walls.

In walking past the better folk to our seats in ‘Premium Economy’, I even noticed that there were double flat bed seats for two in the center of the ‘business’ class section. Well, if only I’d know that was on offer…

Service in Premium Economy was rather nice – real silverware, even if the knife couldn’t cut anything – and plenty of service folks to ask if I needed anything. Food looked good, tasted OK, and at least prevented boredom from setting in too fast. I watched 3 movies – of which Rogue 1 was probably the best. Attempted to sleep (not successfully), and generally whiled away the time.

I did enjoy the new BA short film on safety. It’s done in a tastefully moderately comic style, and featured name (and not so name) actors giving the traditional ‘fasten your seat belt by pulling on the buckle’ announcements. The highlight was when one of them actually pulls the toggle on the life vest. I’ve always wanted to do that.

The flight only seemed endless – eventually we did land in Jo-burg and after an uneventful tour of the customs area, we were greeted by a rather portly, fairly casually dressed gentleman holding a sign with our name on it. Ah – our driver. We were driven to our home for the next 2 days – the Opikopi Guest House in Pretoria. And were immediately impressed.

Our host greeted us with an offer of ice water or coffee (I’ll have a latte thanks) which we enjoyed while the younger man on duty carried our suitcases to our room. Coffee done – we were duly escorted to the ‘President’s’ suite. Given that there are only 17 rooms on the property – and that apparently they are all fairly to extremely fancy – don’t be too impressed. Although I’ll admit – I was! Our room was actually 3 rooms. An entrance room with two twin beds, a microwave and a small fridge, leading directly to a Mahoney floored ‘Master’ bedroom with a king sized bed – and the largest bathroom and closet I’ve ever walked into. Huge. The bathroom featured a giant free standing whirlpool tub, a two headed shower the size of a standard bathtub, a sink, a separate room for the toilet, and the aforementioned closet.

And what a closet it was. I mean – you need two safes don’t you? One tall and thin for those critical tall and thin objects (swords? Canes with gold heads? Reams of paper files? What would you put in such a thing), and one a bit larger than standard for purses, money belts, gold bullion… There were drawers and drawers and drawers – the ceiling had to be about 18′ from the floor – and the drawers went floor to ceiling. I’m not sure how you’d even reach the upper ones. And there was hanging space galore, but none for dresses. All were sized at 1/2 size for suits and jackets and pants. The effect was marred a bit by the actually useful stuff – an iron and ironing board, and about 10 hangers. I can’t imagine what this space could have been before it was the ‘President’s Suite’. I’m guessing that the twin beds in the entrance room are a recent addition. Perhaps that was the sitting/dining area for a one bedroom apartment. Well – we’re comfy – and that’s what counts.

Being the exploring type – I checked out several of the other rooms at this ‘Guest House’. Most of the rooms seemed to be normal sized, albeit with high high ceilings and generally huge bathrooms. Single showers though – not our double sized monster. But there was one room that I admit did make my heart strings flutter. It’s a multi-bedroom home – with a private pool, several dining areas, a full kitchen – and at least one bedroom on the main floor and two on the upper floors. Lots of space for a one night visit to Pretoria.

The center part of the Guest House – the public areas so to speak – are open to the air dining tables surrounding the small but at least there swimming pool. There are French Doors that open into the main parts of the public space – more dinning areas, and a very full breakfast bar. An Expresso machine tucked into a corner answers the question – where did that Latte come from. And there must be a rather full kitchen hidden in the back because the rather extensive menu would require it.

It’s a perfect place to sit in the sun or the shade and relax, read, or in my case – Blog!

There is also an on-site ‘wellness spa’ – one room devoted to massage tables and a machine for removing tattoos. I was told that this is a big business these days among resort guests. Who knew?

There is a tiny conference area – in use while we ere on site, and lots of housekeeping types wandering the premises. The owner – a lovely woman in her early 60s came over to greet me personally yesterday, and we chatted a bit about future travels. She’s off on a cruise next month with her brother and sister-in-law. I’m headed for the Garden Route of South Africa.

Like most of Jo-Burg that we’ve seen – security is an issue. If not a stated issue, it’s an understated current. For example, To get to the Opikopi, we drove thru a gate into a ‘guarded’ community – and then thru another automated gate to arrive on property. The Opikopi property is surrounded by high cement walls, topped with live electrical fencing. And all the rooms at the ground floor level have wrought iron grates as well as classic wooden doors. There is staff 24/7 – and while I didn’t see a ‘security’ guard, it is clear from the layout that you’d have to pass the office area to reach most of the rooms.

We didn’t feel much like leaving our peaceful surroundings with it’s water fountains, mirrored planters, and singing birds, so we didn’t. We spent the day sitting around the pool – generally relaxing after our oh-so-hectic stay in London. By silent mutual consent, we opted to ignore our surroundings, and just enjoy the Guest House.

Speaking of birds – they are up very early here – and very noisy! There is one that sits outside our window going tuc, tuc, tuc endlessly. And the birds are well hidden. While I can hear tons of bird song – I don’t see any of them. But then I’m not a bird watcher – so I suppose my lack of vision isn’t that surprising. But it is lovely to hear them going about their business so happily.

Food at the Guest House is rather interesting, given that both my husband and I are pretty dedicated ‘foodies’. I would generally rate it a 4. They are keen, the offerings are interesting, there is lots of variety – and some nice highs with the occasional oops.

Our first try was a simple Pizza – and it was perfect. Nice size, great tasting cheese, well made – perfect.

Our second meal – dinner – was less successful. I opted to try a new kind of fish (well – new to me anyway) – the King Klip. Being in the experimental mood, I also ordered Pumpkin Fritters with a Carmel sauce. The resulting dish was unappealing. The fritters were sweet, sweet, sweet – and the fish bland. And the ‘stir-fried’ veggies had been cooked that afternoon – and thus were over-cooked by the time they arrived at our table. My husband did a better job of ordering, his stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon was quite delicious. My dessert selection – a Peppermint Tart was extremely rich – way too rich for me to finish. Oh well – there’s tomorrow.

For the next day – I boo-booed again at breakfast. As an included meal – it was extremely complete. The ‘cold’ portion was a buffet with various sweet pastries (I’m getting a theme here – South Africans either love sweets – or think all tourists need more sugar), stewed prunes, apples and apricots (more sugar in the syrup), grated cheddar cheese to put on your toast, several jams and chutney’s (are you surprised that they were sweet too?), and some dry cereals. The ‘Hot’ portion was on order but included. The very kind waitress suggested the Tuna Pancake or the Avo Omlet. I decided to try the pancake – which was actually a crepe stuffed with tuna fish – and topped with goat cheese. Oops, I’m allergic to goat cheese. So I swapped plates with my hubby who described my choice as delicious, and tried his French Toast served with Maple Syrup and Bacon. The Bacon was good, the French Toast forgettable, and the Maple Syrup a fake. But I loved my latte – and my plain toast was perfect.

Lunch was a lot more successful. I choose what was described as a cheese sandwich – and it was amazingly good. Properly grilled, served with a delicious salad with lots of Avocado and Walnuts, and with an order of beautifully made French fries (Chips) on the side.

Ok – I’m getting the drift. Go for simple… Expect sweet!

So for dinner I ordered a ‘Man’ size portion of Mutton Chops. These were absolutely delicious – perfectly cooked, tender and super tasty. And I loved the salad. Unfortunately the stir-fried veggies were yesterday’s veggies – over-cooked and sad. So I just ate around them, loving what was well made – the mutton chops and salad.

And keeping with the simple is best motif – I ordered vanilla ice cream for dessert – and it was exceptional. Rich, creamy, almost the texture of the best made soft ice-creams but clearly with a very high butter fat content. Huge portion too.

Today’s breakfast was again a hit – a simple perfectly cooked poached egg on a lovely piece of brown toast. Give me that with a Latte – I’m happy.

Unfortunately, I looked up South African Cuisine AFTER dinner last night to realize that I’d miss ordering two very traditional dishes – Bobotie and Hoenderpastei. The latter is Chicken Pie, and the former is described as a meatloaf with raisins and a baked egg on top, often served with bananas. Oh well – I shall keep my eyes open for other opportunities to be a bit more experimental.

Our plan for today is pretty much the same as yesterday – relax, listen to the birds, do the email thing – and eventually wind up at the Rovos Rail Station for the next part of our trip – a 2 night, 3 day adventure on the most elegant train on earth, “The Pride of Africa”.

I’m excited…

Signing off to pack. The Soup Lady

Nine Important things to remember about Aging


#9 Death is the number 1 killer in the world.

#8 Life is sexually transmitted.

#7 Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

#6 Men have 2 motivations: hunger and hanky panky, and they can’t tell them apart. If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.

#5 Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.

#4 Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

#3 All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

#2 In the 60’s, people took LSD to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.

#1 Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today may be a burning issue tomorrow.

Sorry – couldn’t resist sharing!

Signing off to go consider how I want to age… And ignoring all criticism as I do so…

The Soup Lady

Manchester Bombing at Ariana Grande Concert hits achingly close to home


Andy Warhol might have thought that everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, but for most of us – life is better lived outside of the limelight. So finding ourselves even remotely close to what may well be a history changing event like the Terrorist Bombing at the Ariana Grande Concert on May 22, 2017 is gut wrenching. It’s not our style. But it happened.

We had boarded the train in Lancaster and were headed towards Manchester-Picadilly where we are to change trains for York.

Again with the poor labeling – and despite our best efforts, we find ourselves dragging our luggage down the entire length of the coach to find our assigned seats.

Across from us sit a very quiet, very cute mother and daughter. We’re hard to ignore, so eventually they start to chat with us. The daughter has just turned 14 and as a birthday present – she and her mother are heading to Manchaster to go to a concert. They are going to be seeing and hearing Ariana Grande. Some brief chit-chat about how exciting this is – and how we should listen to her music when it turns out we have no idea who Ariana Grande is – and the train pulls into the station in Manchester.

Typically quick goodbye – hope concert is swell – and they head off toward the exit while we figure out where to catch the train to York.

Fast forward 20 hours – I’m lying in bed in our BnB in York when the phone rings – it’s my daughter Adrienne checking up on us. Where are we, and are we OK?

It’s the first we’ve heard about the bombing in Manchester-Picadilly – not a mile from where we’d been standing not 20 hours before. The Intepid Traveler and I let friends and family know we are ok – and not near Manchester – but it makes one wonder – were the daughter and Mom we met impacted – We are going to guess yes, because even if you were not hurt – you were still there and still scared.

Their pictures are not on the news, thank goodness – But worse news is still to come. We now know that in addition to the children killed or wounded, there were parents killed, two of them from York. And Sam, the son of our hostess, knows the York family well and is very upset and demanding retribution. It’s not an easy situation. The grocery store where the mother worked is collecting money to help the two young girls who are suddenly orphans – thru absolutely no fault of their own. We are sure this is 15 minutes of fame they could have lived without.

The British news is filled with reports on what happened, on the US leaks of information, on the British reaction, and all the museums we visit are implementing a tighter bag check policy. But this is not what bugs us.

We can not help but think that anyone, on either side, who thinks this kind of behavor will be rewarded by G-d is going to discover how very wrong they are. And until the entire world understands that ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everyone blind, we fear that the world is moving not towards enlightenment, but into the Dark Ages.

I walked past a young lady today here in York who was wearing a face covering. Only her eyes were exposed, and for some reason I do not understand she threw me a very angry look. I wondered if she was angry at me, angry at life, tired of being judged by the actions of others, or if perhaps I’d mis-interperted her glance as angry when all it was was curious.

I hope we will never know.

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

Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady