Accidental Working Ladies

Arrival, Birmingham UK 12h30 on Saturday.

After a long flight of 16 hours we arrive in a freezing Birmingham, expecting to be met by a name holding person who would transfer us to our hotel for the next  six days.

We emerge into the arrivals lounge with our luggage, to be met by many name holders, but none with our names on. Confused the little group of ten South Africans on the way to exhibit at the Birmingham Spring Fair stand around surrounded by luggage.

Then the project leader arrives.

She seems to be even more confused than we are. We wait she said.

We wait… and wait… and wait.

She phones … phones again… . and again.

We drink coffee … and more coffee…. and another.

No information, just confusion.

It is the service provider in South Africa’s fault, who didn’t organize the transfer to the hotel properly, we hear .

I hear: ” It is not my responsibility,  I am only the project leader”

Arrival, Ibis Budget Hotel Birmingham city centre: 19h00.

After five and a half  long hours we at last arrive at the hotel which is situated in the centre of the city, 45 minutes by car away from the exhibition hall at the NEC where we still have to set up our exhibition before 22h00 hours tonight.  We are exhausted having left South Africa 24 hours before.

The hotel foyer buzzes with action. Scantily clad young girls lounge around with seemingly no purpose except showing off their bodies. It takes me a little time to realize that we are in the centre of the red light district of Birmingham and these are working ladies on duty on a Saturday night.

But no time for thinking about this, the exhibition has to  be attended to. We receive our room keys. Ignoring the smell in the corridor and the stark hospital like look of the room we quickly change into warmer clothes, grab our bags and go.

Arrival,  lift:20h00

The lift opens to reveal a group of girls with even less clothes on than those in the foyer    I try to hide my shock and not stare at their outrageous outfits. We greet them and get into the lift.

What a sight it must have been,  Two ladies over sixty, bundled into jackets and scarves, grey with fatigue and hunger. No make up left after long hours of travel, hair clinging to scalps due to rain, among young bodies with lots of make up and little clothes.

“Where are you going”,  one of the young ladies ask.

“We are going to work”, we answer.

Shocked silence in the lift, Faces stare at us with knowing expressions.

Oh no.  Realization dawns, they think we are going to work the streets. We have just become  accidental working ladies!

Us? Two conservative Afrikaans ladies over sixty years of age? Working the streets?

We quickly correct them and explain that we are going to the NEC to set up our exhibition stall.

Once out of the lift and out of sight, we burst into laughter.

“Well I say. “Maybe we should take it as a compliment that they think we can still pull off such a feat”

 

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Maybe they thought we looked like this underneath our warm outer clothes ?

 

 

 

 

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But zis is vhat you bought!

Two friends 60 plus travelling on their own through Europe. Strange things are bound to happen.

 

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Early morning on the way to Florence Italy from travel2Beatenberg Switzerland.

We reach the train station in Interlaken with 10 minutes to spare before having to catch a train to Milan. I leave my friend with the bags and run to the ticket office to validate our ticket bought online.

 

The officer at the ticket office looks at the ticket and says in barely understandable english: “You vant to go by ze boat?”

It took me a few moments to process what he was saying before answering : “No the train”

“But zis is vhat you bought zis is for ze boat”,  he says

He shows me the word “shiff” hidden away in one corner of the ticket. My heart sinks and I think fast. Buy another ticket is the only option.

When asking to buy new train tickets he answers: “No is okay,  I vill change it for you but you must not talk ze train is coming”

So, although I have a million questions, I keep quiet.  His computer is agonizingly slow and I hear the train arriving outside.

At last he hands me the tickets with the words: “You must run ze train is leaving” and run I did.

We make it onto the train and sit down feeling relieved .

Then the funny side of the situation hits me as I recall the incredulous look and sound in the officer’s voice and face when I presented him with my online bought tickets. I wonder what my face looked like?

We travel to Milan where we have to change trains to Florence.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A few days later, another train station, this time in Milan. Our travels are coming to an end and we have to go to Lake Como for the last night of our journeIMG_1620y.                                     A simple 30 minute journey by train and we will be there. But it was not to be. On this morning the electronic system showing the platforms and times for departing trains malfunctions. Time goes by and no magic number to indicate the platform from which our train will depart appears on the system.

A metallic voice rattles off instructions in Italian of which we understand nothing. By the time we realize what the problem is, it is 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time of our train. We frantically ask people around us to explain the Italian only to be met by blank stares and shrugs of shoulders.

I set off to  find information at one of the ticket booths, weaving my way through early morning commuters, tourists laden with luggage and backpackers obscuring the view with their huge packs on their backs.

At last I find an official who can speak english, to hear again:” Platform 4 run the train is leaving”.

So  I run again shouting at my friend: ” Run platform 4!”

We run with our wheelie bags and as we run I feel my bag gaining momentum, pulling me along in stead of me pulling it along!

Out of breath we make it onto the train. I flop down completely out of breath and smile inwardly as I think what a sight we must have been,  Two 60 plus ladies both a little overweight, running with their luggage and jumping onto the train.                                        But it was not the end yet. Barely two stations further we are instructed to get off the train and change to another. Completely lost we try to find out which train and which platform would be the right one.

 

The only answer I  get from the officer is : “Non stresso, go Chiasso”

I understood it meant don’t stress but what Chiasso meant I didn’t know. Much later we understood we were meant to take the trainline in the direction of Chiasso.

Eventually we meet a friendly couple from Spain also travelling to Como who direct us to the right train. We reach Lake Como after a 5 hour journey. Here it is pouring with rain.Exhausted and hungry we find the first open cafe and sit down with our luggage still in tow.

When the rain eventually lets up we continue to our hotel where we are rewarded with this wonderful view from the window of our room.

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Will I do it again?

Yes definitely, the joy of discovering new places far outweighs the difficulties encountered along the way.

 

 

 

 

The Early Bird Catches…. Attentione!

About 8 am local time in Venice, Italy
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Early ?

Yes, but we are allready out in the deserted streets or should I call it alleys of Venice. It is only at this time of the day that the everyday life of Venetians can be observed. It is also the time of day when we are most often  greeted from behind  by an irritated “Attentione!”

When we crowd into the small space of a locked door, a young Venetian rushes past pulling a handcart loaded with goods to be delivered or with refuse from the previous day.In this city on the water everything is done either by manual labour or by boat. Venice is a tourist city, but also a city where ordinary people live and work. A place where, police speeds by in a brightly coloured red and yellow boat,where an ambulance races past with sirens and the well known red cross on its side, where a sombre black boat carries a coffin  to a last resting place on the nearby cemetery island.

Tourists are still sleeping but Venetians are going about their lives. As  we make our way to the market we come across them.The elderly pulling shopping carts on the way  to buy produce for the day, people of all ages on  their way to work, young parents with children bundled into  warm clothes waiting for the waterbus to take them to school.

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This is the real Venice. A city where people live, work, get married, have children, study, become sick and die. This is what we wanted to experience and observe.

Therefore we walk.

We follow the twisting and turning alleyways over bridges and around buildings. We  loose our way in the maze of alleys and bridges, coming across the most enchanting little piazzas where citizens of Venice meet for early morning coffee.

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After many inevitable wrong turns we reach the market.

Stall owners are bustling about packing out produce. Early shoppers are inspecting the goods. Behind one of the stalls a seagull wrestles with the discarded intestine of  a fish.The market is a place of culinary delights. It abounds with fresh fish and seafood. Vegetables and fruit and brightly coloured flowers glow in the early morning sunshine.

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Each day of our 6 day visit to Venice brings its own surprises. As we walk, we discover a beautiful green park where families relax in the early spring sunshine.On another day, it is a beautiful promenade along the sea.We loose our way ( again) and find ourselves at the harbour where big commercial boats are moored.

Each night we return to the hotel with aching feet and tired legs but with our minds filled with wonder and joy.

Off course we visit all the required tourist places, but the most enjoyable moments are  those  we experience when just wandering about and experiencing Venice as it goes about daily life.

Attentione!

Do you want to discover the real Venice?

Then walk, walk and walk. You will inevitably get lost, you will become frustrated by the seemingly endless and confusing alleys and bridges, but you will discover the hidden delights of this ancient city.

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Reading a New Page

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” – Saint Augustine

On Saturday we did just that, we travelled in our own country to read a new page in the life of one of our oldest cities.

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The city of Johannesburg is the biggest city in South Africa.  Johannesburg or Jozi as it is affectionately known by its residents is  situated on the highveld with no river or seafront which could assist with its early development. It however does have that magical thing called gold which was the reason for its development.

Gold was discovered here in 1886 by an Australian prospector, which triggered a goldrush, some says is still ongoing untill today.

Johannesburg played a big part in the history of our country and soon became the economical centre of South Africa.

Through the years the CBD has developed, then declined into a state of disrepair and crime, but now it is being uplifted and rebuilt into becoming the fashionable hub of  the city again.

It was into this newly revamped and fashionable area that we ventured to see the rebirth of the city for ourselves.

Our first stop was at the Neighbourhood Goods Market in Braamfontein. The market is held every Saturday in what has once been a parking garage of a big building. As early as 9h30 it was allready buzzing with people lining up at the various stall for  breakfast. Here anything goes, it seemed. From a traditional English breakfast to paella and oysters with champagne were on offer.

After enjoying breakfast we took to the streets and walked among the colourfully restored old buildings enjoying the vibrant and friendly atmosphere. Then we went on to the Maboneng Precinct, another area of downtown Johannesburg which has recently become  a hub for young artists, entrepreneurs and people wanting to live near their work. Here street cafès and small shops are housed in containers or old buildings, creating a cosmopolitan atmosphere for the visitor.

This area is proudly South African as can be seen in this chair ( only one of many ) upholstered with traditional Sheshwe material.

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This visit served to whet my appetite for more exploration in my own country and the next page to read must be the Newtown  area where street and graffiti art can be seen.

 

 

 

The L List: On the Wild Side

No, it is not what you might be thinking!

In March 2013, I made and updated Living List. One of the living things to do on my list was to go on a trip with my only sister with no children or husbands allowed.

Finally more than a year later it happened.

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On an ordinary Monday morning we packed her little car and headed east towards the Tsitsikamma National Park. A journey which should have taken us two hours lasted four! We meandered along slowly, enjoying the sights and beauty of the South African Garden Route.

Neither of us has been this far east on the coast of our beautiful country before and we marveled at the diverse and ever changing landscape as we traveled along.

We reached the Tsitsikamma National Park which forms part of the Garden Route where we were to stay for four days.

The Park stretches along 80 kms of coastline with parts being in the Western Cape and parts in the Eastern Cape.  The name “Tsitsikamma” is derived  from the Khoekhoe language tse-tsesa, meaning “clear”, and gami, meaning “water”, probably referring to the clear water of the Tsitsikamma River.Other meanings are ‘place of much water’ and ‘waters begin’. The Tsitsikamma is a coastal reserve with pristine indigenous forests and a dramatic coastline where the breakers of the atlantic ocean crash relentlessly against the rocks.

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Our cabin was situated on the beach, with the most amazing view of the sea. From the verandah we could watch the sunrise, the waves crashing against the rocks and mists rolling in ominously to remind us of the power of the ocean.

 

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The four days spent here, proved to be a time of rest, a time to strengthen our relationship, to rejuvenate our bodies and souls as we flowed with the rhythm of the sea, sun and the ever changing landscape.

I would love to come back again, but nothing will compare to the awe experienced at the first sight of this magnificent place.

Truly a little on the wild side, but oh so beautiful !

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady Behind the Veil

She plays coyly with the eager visitor, hiding her majesty and beauty behind a cloud cover for most of the day. She rewards only those who are prepared to get out of bed early enough to see her peeking out from her veil of clouds, or if you are lucky, in the late afternoon just before sunset. Her name is Mount Kilimandjaro also known as mountain of caravans,  roof of Africa, white or snow mountain and shining mountain. She lives three degrees south of the equator on the plains of East Africa where she towers like a lone sentinel over the town of Moshi.

Where is she?
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There she is !
IMG_0958 The sight of a single freestanding snow capped mountain was first reported by the missionary John Rebmann in the year 1848. It stands alone in the 756-square-kilometer Kilimanjaro National Park and is the highest mountain in Africa, rising 5,895 m from base to summit. Mount Kilimandjaro is a dormant volcano and forms part of the East African Rift Valley. Kilimandjaro has three distinct volvanic cones of which Kibo is the highest and most wellknown.

There are many legends surrounding this mysterious mountain. It is said  that  Queen Victoria that gave the mountain to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany  as a birthday present, causing  the border between Tanzania and Kenya to be  redrawn to include Kilimandjaro in Tanzanian terrritory. In fact the border was decided upon by negotiations between the two empires resulting in Mombasa being in the British empire and Kilimandjaro in the German.

The chaga people who live in the region saw this glorious mountain to a be the seat of God  and therefore a place not to be approached.They named it the white mountain or shining mountain.The name mountain of caravans is derived from the early Arab traders who use the mountain as a beacon on their travels through the vast interior of the African continent.

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It has been my wish to see Kilimandjaro or Kili as she is affectionately known by Tanzanian residents for as long as I can remember. Childhood memories include my dad telling us about the amazing mountain with its snowcapped peaks standing in the middle of the vast African plains and dreaming about one day seeing her for myself.

She was the reason for our visit to the small town of Moshi which nestles at the foot of Mount Kilimandjaro.Moshi grew out of a military camp established by Germany in 1893. The name Moshi means smoke in Kiswahili, referring to the fact that the town is at the base of a volcano or to the clouds that gather around Kilimandjaro.

We arrived at the Kilimandjaro Lodge situated just outside Moshi on a coffee plantation after a slow roadtrip of nine hours due to the many little villages, other traffic and road works we encountered along the way. The lodge is beautiful and possibly the best spot from which to view the veiled lady if and when she reveals herself.  On arrival she was hiding behind her veil of clouds and I could almost not believe that the majestic mountain is just there.

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However when she did make her appearance in the last light of the setting sun, it was a breathtaking and unforgettable sight.

We had supper outside with  Kili providing the perfect back ground.

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A beautiful sunrise over the surrounding foothills of Kilimandjaro.

We returned to Dar es Salaam refreshed and rested after a weekend spent walking in the beautiful countryside and visiting the nearby town of Arusha.

Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread

Swimming with dolphins in the sea?

Me?

Hmm that is one that I have to think about carefully. Everyone in my family  knows about my longstanding and deep seated fear of small boats or any boat for that matter and the sea.

Now they want me to go swimming in the sea with dolphins?

Eventually, I convinced myself that this is an experience I can not pass only because I am afraid. After all we have to face our fears to  conquer them.

So it came that on the last morning of our stay on Zanzibar, we went swimming with dolphins in Kizimkazi on the southern point of the island. We were told that the dolphins are found in the bay and that it will be the experience of a life time.

And  it was !

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On arrival at the small fishing village, those who were brave or foolish enough to attempt swimming with the dolphins were given a pair of flippers and snorkeling goggles. No instructions on the use nor any questions as to whether we new how to use the equipment, were asked.

We were unceremoniously bundled into a small boat and off we were!

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The sea was fairly rough and the skies overcast. I thought we would find the dolphins near to the coast, not so. About a half an hour away from the coast, surrounded by deep sea and quite high swells, we spotted them.

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“Flippers on! Right side jump!  Look down!” The guide shouted

Totally confused not one of us made it into the water the first time. We saw the dolphins though, swimming and playing in the water right next to he boat.

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Then they were gone and we were off, chasing after the school and found them again. This time it was:

“Flippers on! Left side jump! look down look down!

Some of us made it into he water but I was way too slow. Only on the third attempt did I make it into the water and then I was so scared I couldn’t look down. I was just concentrating on staying alive. The feeling of swimming in the deep sea with the dolphins, although I only saw them from the boat, was at the same time exhilarating and fearsome.

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The dolphins seemed to enjoy the company , they swam and jumped out of the water as if putting on a show for our benefit.   Their size and agility in the water was awesome to observe and the nearness an experience never to be forgotten

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After finding more than one school of dolphins and spending about one and a half hours on the water, we headed back to the shore.

Will I do it again? I doubt it.

After all fools rush in only once don’t they?