In the last five or so months I’ve ventured no further than the top of the Road to Nowhere. That was two weekends ago when we braved the cold and took a drive to see winter’s last farewell (we hope).
Having spent a large proportion of my working life on aeroplanes and living out of suitcases, travelling doesn’t have the allure it used to. I always said that I loved the work but I hated the travel. It is such a schlepp.
Travel to work
Granted, the majority of my travel has been in and around South Africa. When I began doing that, more years ago than I can remember, it was easy. When I lived in the Eastern Cape, I worked with a team that would regularly meet in Johannesburg. It meant a pre-dawn departure and a 200km trip, driving into the blinding sunrise, to get on a plane. On one occasion, I remember driving into the East London airport only to hear –
Will passenger Cameron delaying flight XYZ to Johannesburg….
I kid you not. I parked under the nearest high mast light, leapt out of the car, grabbed my bag and hared throught departures-cum-arrivals hall, and on to the plane. In those days there was virtually no security; it was all of 500m from the parking lot to the plane.
Oh my word! #$#$%&*
Or words to that effect: I could not for the life of me, remember whether I’d locked the car…well, there wasn’t much I could do, mid-air and without a
parachute mobile phone – they didn’t exist, in South Africa in 1993. Let’s just say, all’s well that ended well.
Business has also meant that I have been privileged to do a little international travel – in Africa and beyond. My first international business trip was to Japan. The company in which I had invested (another story) was on the South African Pavillion for Foodex, an annual international trade show in the Convention Centre in Chiba – about an hour’s bus ride from Narita Airport and south east of Tokyo. It was memorable for a whole lot of reasons, some of which, like most business trips, stay on the trip…
There were two particularly fabulous things about being part of the South African pavillion. The first was wine: who can afford wine on the Yen? Then. Let alone now? Every day, the guys and gals touting
the world’s best South Africa’s wine, not only allowed us to taste, but gave us samples… Secondly, we were hosted by the local embassy, so we met some really amazing Japanese people. One young man on the team lived in Chiba, and not far from the convention centre. There is nothing better than recommendations from a real local.
There are three meals of which I have very distinct memories: the first was on arrival at the hotel after having travelled for
a million hours two days. My brain had stayed in Cape Town. The hotel restaurant reluctantly admitted my colleague and I – it was 10pm local time. We looked at the menu, chose what we could understand – a hamburger – and ordered a glass of wine each. Burger it might have been, but it was cooked-to-death rubber and tasted nothing like beef; in my memory, I can still taste it. So bad it was, that I now always think twice before having a burger. The wafer thin, solitary patty was accompanied by a very sad, equally solitary slice of icy cold tomato. That. Is. All.
The bill for the two of us came to ZAR 750 – and that was in 2001.
The second was at a place, some walk away from our hotel. On the way, because I was
not watching where I was walking and talking too much, I rolled my ankle and fell in the gutter. Ahem… That’s not the point though: my colleague, when we returned to the hotel, realised she’d left her handbag behind. Contents included her passport, air ticket and sundry other really important things. So, about turn, on twisted ankle, we hot-fotted it back to the restaurant….this time, without falling in the gutter or enjoying another really good meal. The Husband (who wasn’t even a fiancé at the time) received a very tearful, sore phone call from Chiba some hours later….
The third meal was our last evening in Japan, and we prevailed on said young man. He had done an internship at Costco somewhere in the US, and went out of his way to accommodate a bunch of brash South Africans. His recommendation was akin to “the local” and at the train station. He was brave, hosting a bunch of rowdy (and subsequently very inebriated) South Africans. Or perhaps not: his bravery was considerably bolstered by prodigious quantities of Saki – in which we all indulged.
Traditionally, Saki is served in overflowing glasses that swim in red, lacquer boxes. No saki goes to waste: the box is specifically designed to allow the patron to pour the spillage into the glass and drink it. We sat at the bar, watched the chefs prepare our meals and took menu advice from our host. I had always enjoyed Japanese food. That sushi was unforgettable. The other details of the evening are deliberately sketchy…
A bridge and an invitation
I would love to go back to Japan. Not just to Tokyo which was fascinating – I remember sitting on a bus, in awe, in peak hour traffic on Tokyo bridge, perched high above the water. We were heading to the official reception at the Ambassador Plenipotentiary’s residence. Then, because there was no bus access, we had to walk along the narrow, windy streets to his residence. I was fascinated.
As I was with our flying visit to the Ginza, on the red line from Chiba, via Tokyo station.
Then our chief liaison at the embassy – Yamamoto San – extended an invitation to his family Shinto Temple on our next visit. I was honoured.
It was a fleeting, busy trip, but enough to leave indelible memories and a yen to return. To explore more than just Tokyo and Mount Fuji which I could spy, on a clear day, from the sky high window of my tiny hotel room.
For a number of years I was the in-country representative for the Education Faculty of an Australian university. My colleauges and I travelled all over South Africa and to Lesotho and Botswana. Because it was a collegial relationship and my role included consulting on matters South African, I had the privilege of co-writing and presenting a paper at a conference in the Big Apple. It was post 9-11 so travelling had become considerably more
painful laborious. That pain was signifcantly relieved by a couple of things: the conference was in one of the landmark hotels on Manhattan Island, the Rooseveld, on Maddison Avenue. It’s a stone’s throw from Grand Central, Central Park and Grand Central Station. Because it was late January and still freezing cold, the latter became a regular coffee-cum-escape from the hotel.
Famous school pal
Oh, and while I think about it, NYC is home to a now famous South African and “girl” a couple of years ahead of me at school: Amra-Faye Wright who has played Velma Kelly, on Broadway (and in Japan and South Africa) more years that anyone.
It was quite something seeing pictures of Amra and her long, lithe legs on buses, in the conourse of Grand Central Station, on the side of buildings and virtually everywhere I went in New York.
The Rooseveld is beautiful and harks back to a bygone and gracious age. I do mean gracious – including the staff. One morning, I’d arranged with a colleague to skip the first session and visit the Empire State Building. In our defence, the plenary speaker was a South African whom we knew, and who approved of our plan:
You’ve heard it all before….
That morning, I came down in the elevator, and into the lobby (you see, I can speak American, too…in South Africa, that would be the lift and the foyer). I’d been awake for hours (again, my brain was still in South Africa), watching TV and hearing how a vehicle transporting broiler chickens had jacknifed on an overpass, wreaking havoc on the traffic. I was fascinated by the politics: it was in the run up to Obama’s nomination as presidential candidate. The lobby was desserted. No sign of D. Ahem… best I check the time.
Ma’am, it’s 6.30 am…
All my photos of that New York trip went the way of a computer crash. I lament them all: of the Statue of Liberty; Ground Zero which made an enormous impression on me; the Water Taxi on the Hudson – all four of us bundled up against the cold and wet. Especially the ones I took from the top of the Empire State Building: I
was am terrified of heights. I was determined to have a bird’s eye view: I stuck my arm and camera through the mesh. Pointed and clicked looking the other way, praying that the camera and I survived to tell the tale.
A memorable meal? There were a few – in the hotel for the conference – every meal seemed to be some sort of chicken and asparagus. The asparagus, so crisp that one was in danger of causing serious bodily harm to fellow diners as it speared its way off one’s plate, across the table. I didn’t eat chicken for at least a month after getting home.
On our last evening, D’s husband had arrive to join her. He insisted on hosting us at, what were were told, was a fancy, famous NYC steak house; I know I had steak. I know it was excellent, but more than that, well, let’s just say, it was a long time ago. Also on that trip, I ate burritos for the first time – a little Mexican eatery geared for blue collar workers – near the Statten Island Ferry. Later that same day we ate another meal, just off Times Square, forever immortalised in this post.
To the Med
My first international trip was as a solo traveller. to Spain and, specifically to Mallorca. It cemented my forever love of things Mediterranean, and is also memorable because it was at a time in my life when things were changing. In more ways than I’d ever have imagined. Funny how many of the photos were of pathways and passages.
Continuing the memorable meal theme, I did eat paella: I wanted to buy some traditional ceramics and took a bus to Fellanitx. Not being a morning person, I arrived around 1pm: siesta. The plaza was desserted, but there were a few open doors. Inside, there were a few smoking men, gathered around a counter, inhospitably (to me) chewing the fat. I randomly chose a table under a tree, and when someone evenutally emerged, I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu: vegetable paella, with cafe con leche e aqa. That lunch set the bar by which I have measured paella ever since – whether or not it is seafood.
South Africa and Africa are beautiful. I’ve been fortunate to visit Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho. I’d love to visit all three again. One of the many countries I’d most like to visit is Zimbabwe – the land of which The Husband speaks so fondly, and where he grew up and spent much of his young adult life. Then there’s Zanzibar, of which my parents spoke with yearning but never visited – even though they met, married and lived in Kampala; they both said that East Africa was exquisite. So, along with these, I’d give my eye teeth to go to Ethiopia. And Sudan. That part of the world holds an indescribable fascination: probably because, of the mix of cultures, religions, fascinating cuisine and long, deep history – into prehistory…
In our backyard
Even closer to home – and more realistically, we have a couple of favourite spots. In our province, a road trip up the West Coast to see the spring flowers would be in order. The Husband took me on such a trip – for tea and scones – not long after we met: I was in a bad space. My mother had not long died and my father was dying. It was a special and happy day, even though we saw no flowers because the weather was foul. The tea room had disappeared, much to The Husband’s chagrin. On he drove, exploring, and we ended up in Paternoster where we had a meal neither of us shall ever forget, and at a spot we still frequent. Our last trip was a flying visit.
Our honeymoon spot
We love the Garden Route and spent our honeymoon in Sedgefield – nineteen years ago this month. It’s been a while since we headed out that way. We’d go tomorrow…
Too places, too many reasons
As usual, I’m hard pressed to draw a line in the sand (ha!). I’ve already mentioned some trips I’d love to take. There are more: I’d love to go whence my forbears come, and to where there are people I’d love to see (again) and/or meet. I’d love to visit the city of my birth: Oxford. It’s also my mother’s home town. Of course, I’d love to go to Glasgow where my father and The Husband were both born. Then there’s the Chelsea Flower Show at Kew Gardens in London, where my father trained. Then there’s Liverpool where the son-from-another-mother’s mother lives. Oh, and, well, there’s always more, isn’t there? India, Bali, Australia…Mexico…
My passion for food, flavours and cooking are no secret. Nor is my enjoyment of Mediterranean cuisine. The Husband will tell you I’ve equally made no secret of my long-held dream of a circumnavigation of the Mediterranean: from Gibralter to Gibralter. In each country, I’d love to explore the cuisine – what makes each country’s food separate and unique and then, what connects it – other than a large body of water. Perhaps one day…
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that inspiration has come partly from Covid cabin fever, and partly from the Top 3 team’s topic for September.
In choosing three destinations, I am guided by Q’s qualification: favourite.
Using that as a guide, and considering the restrictions, if I were to trip out, today, my favourite local destinations would be Sedgefield and Paternoster, followed by Cape Town.
My dream of the Med remains, and added to that now, the hope of international travel.
If When crypto – specifically Hive – moons, I dream, one day, of breaking bread more than just virtually, with my very international circle of blogpals.
You have all helped, in so many ways, to brighten my days during this very dark time for the world.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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