Global career and now global nomad. This blog is my way of recording what I'm seeing, thinking and doing (and probably also eating!). Twitter@susiebabani. Linked-In Power Profile. https://www.linkedin.com/in/susiebabani/
A two hour drive took us to the charming town of Hermanus – especially famous for its whales – and we did see some from the hotel deck. But the real “Wow factor” for me here was the stunning hotel we were in – The Birkenhead House – designed by the same people as the Silo Hotel mentioned in my previous post. This is what I call classy luxuries bliss – and it was complimented by amazing food – all meals included – and while this is not something I would usually do – once you get here you are glad you did as you don’t want to leave the place for even a minute.
Public areas in the Birkenhead Hotel
Contemporary and comfortable design is key at the Birkenhead House
My bedroom and plunge pool at the Birkenhead House
Then after a breakfast that looked like this ……
Luxe brekkie at the Birkenhead House Hotel
it was wonderful to take a 90 minute cliff walk into Hermanus to walk some of it off and enjoy the views along the way……
Cliff walk into Hermanus
Only to return to this ……
Home made scones with a view at the Birkenhead House Hotel
Just as well I only stayed for two nights….
Another two hour drive took us to the town of Swellendam. A very pretty small town and nice to stop at a less touristy place for a night. The scenery en-route was stunning and the local Drodsky Museum was nicely done.
Classic views on the road to Swellendam
Dutch cape houses including our bed and breakfast at Hotel Roosje van der Kopp
Finally, we finished our time in South Africa with a visit to the lovely Franschoek – a much busier place than when Trudy and I last visited decades ago but still absolutely charming.
We loved the Hugenot memorial and museum – really interesting info on how they came to settle in the western Cape and who knew Roger Federer was descended from them and had visited his relatives there?!
The Hugenot Memorial in Franschoek
The Hugenot Museum – with boy in pink hot pants ?!?
As for the food – goodness it was good. The first night we went to Reuben’s which we loved (and the chef is a local) and I enjoyed two kinds of steak tartare.
Eating at Reuben’s
and the the second, to officially recognise Trudy’s birthday year, was the fantastical La Petite Colombe – the pictures are only half as good as the food and the experience. A must visit if you are in the area.
A zen feel to the food at La Petite Colombe
The surprises keep on coming at La Petite Colombe
We also enjoyed our stay at Plumwood Inn – very convenient for the Main Street yet tucked away too.
And of course you can’t visit this area without doing at least one wine tasting day which we enjoyed in Stellenbosch for the whole of our last day – forgetting we had to be up at 5am for our flight to …….?(watch this space)
Scenery around Stellenbosch and the vineyards are looking good
Trudy, Alan and I enjoying a day at some local wineries in Stellenbosch
Have already booked a longer stay in SA for early 2021!
Now it is time to explore Cape Town and the Western cape of South Africa. I already know I will return here for longer so this short visit was a nice taster and reminder of a wonderful city – last time I was here was around 1993 – things have certainly movie on since then.
Our apartment was a five minute walk from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area – this is the place where everything happens in Cape Town so it is great to be close by. By day it is a fun place to visit to eat, shop, listen to live music and generally watch the world go by. By night it is very prettily lit and buzzing – also very safe and well patrolled by security guards.
Day time at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront with Table Mountain in the background
Night lights at the V and A waterfront.
On the next sunny morning we headed off to the impressive Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens – massively large area to wander about and enjoy flora and sculpture – would definitely recommend.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens surrounded by mountains
I wanted to take a look at the Silo Hotel (formerly an actual silo) which many people had recommended to me. I went for lunch and loved the interior design of the place – I didn’t know at the time that I would be staying in another hotel by the same owners when I reached Hermanus – more of that shortly.
On a much more sober note we toured the District 6 area and the township of Langa. It is always difficult to decide whether it is a good idea to be a tourist in these kinds of places – not because they are scary but because you don’t want people to feel they are being stared at. This tour was better because once we reached the township we got off the bus and a local resident took us around and explained how the townships began and how they were slowly (way too slowly) being modernised into more acceptable public housing and less corrugated iron – but they are still overcrowded and the wait for some for the better style of housing has been more than 20 years.
How people are living in the townships near Capetown
The District 6 Museum was well put together explaining the history of the area where people were segregated into different “varieties” of colour – black, Malay, coloured and of course had most of their rights curtailed as a result and they were housed in different areas so many families were pulled apart if they were interracial at that time. The definitions of each group are awful to read as you consider that humans took the time to classify other humans like this. If it was not clear what group you belonged they did a pencil test – this involved putting a pencil in your hair – if it stayed put you were black if it fell out you were coloured. How strange and distressing we humans are at times.
Traditional African recipes embroidered on cloths
District 6 Museum of life in the townships and the resettlement of the coloured people during apartheid
I always love a long (and luxurious of course!) train journey so taking Rovos Rail – first from Victoria Falls to Pretoria and then a day later on to Capetown- is the one to do in Africa for a longer trip.
Rovos Tail was started by a train enthusiast Rohan Vos who originally bought a couple of carriages to beautify and use with his family but now it is available to everyone and includes beds, a bar/lounge an observation car and a dining carriage.
It takes a while to get use to the jerking and brake sounds on a train when you are trying to sleep but the movement seems to do the trick and there’s lots of time for afternoon catch up snoozes. The food – four course dinners but sensibly sized portions – was consistently superb and they offered a great choice of South African wines.
Exterior views of our train with observation car at the back on a brief leg stretching night stop.
Plush interiors and dressing for dinner is required- makes it very orient express like!
Out first stop was the Hwange national park in Zimbabwe when we went out for a 3.5 hour early morning game drive. We were lucky to spot a pair of cheetahs in the distance plus zebra, antelope and a dozy pride of lions who looked liked they had been well fed recently – always good to know when you are a tourist! Certainly seeing the African wildlife again has made me want to do another proper safari when I can.
Zebras, cheetahs and antelope
A lazy pride of lions
After three nights on the train we arrived at Pretoria for an overnight stop at a hotel. This is not the most interesting place on earth but I’m glad I had an afternoon and morning there. On arrival we visited the Union Building where one of the SA parliaments is housed (the other is in Capetown). The building bottom left is an old synagogue now in disuse so no access allowed but it was also used for the infamous treason trials of many political prisoners including Mandela and Sisulu.
Old buildings in and around Church Square in Pretoria
A wonderful sight is the giant sized Mandela sculpture looking over the city. We saw some little 4 year olds come up to see it and they ran up to it shouting “we love you Mandela” completely unprompted – they were genuinely excited. He is so beloved here – and for good reason. We need a few more like him around the world.
The giant Mandela sculpture. I barely reached his calf muscles!
On our second day in Pretoria we headed to the Vortrekker monument high above the city – which is a memorial and museum to the primarily Dutch settlers who trekked to this part of the world and started a new life here. Unfortunately for them, the Zulus and other tribes were already here and wanted to defend their land, so there was a lot of bloodshed on both sides and this is not skimmed over in the museum although it is only really focussed on the Dutch side of the history. I loved the giant stone frieze which was made up of about 50 panels depicting the stories of what happened including the important role the pioneering women played in starting a new life. Well worth a visit.
The exterior and interior of the Vortrekker Monument in Pretoria
Some of the stone reliefs in the museum area below the monument
Back on the train again for a two night journey – first stop was Kimberley – the world famous source of much of the world’s diamonds and where De Beers first started chaired by Cecil Rhodes (who seems to be loved or hated depending on your disposition about imperialist!) who originally made his money in the diamond mines. Some of the mines were still open but the one that we went round is now a museum town replicating the mining heyday and includes the famous Big Hole – it is the largest man made hole in the world. We had a great guide who had worked in the mines and was passionate about diamonds – and after all who can blame him; if they were good enough for Elizabeth Taylor, they are certainly good enough for me!
Kimberley and the BIG HOLE
The final stop on the train was a cute town in the middle of nowhere called Matjesfontein. Originally a “nothing place” the concept of making it a small town where visitors would stop to see how people lived back in the day came from a Scotsman – and he was right – people do come – although it certainly wasn’t crowded at all – other than the 40 or so of us on the train.
Buildings in the town of Matjefontein – and wait, is that Harry Potter serving at the local bank?
An excellent museum (Marie Cawdon Museum) actually on the station platform had all sorts of interesting collectibles from Victorian times – cameras, kitchen equipment and my favourite – the apothecary – it was a huge place (remember we are in the middle of nowhere) – I loved it as much as I loved stretching my legs.
And so our train journey of rattling sleep, fantastic food, varying scenery, windswept observation carriage moments and lots of delays (trains here give British Rail a run for their money) ended in Capetown 6 days after we left Victoria Falls and traversed a large chunk of Zimbabwe and top to bottom of South Africa.
The end of the line…..
And now on to spending time in Capetown and surrounding areas – apparently there is a lot of wine to be tasted around here – as if I didn’t know:)
Joined my friends Trudy and Alan – to celebrate her big birthday year – for a trip around Southern Africa which started in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where we stayed at the splendidly colonial Victoria Falls Hotel.
Exterior views of the Victoria Falls Hotel shared with some local warthogs
Interiors of the Victoria Falls Hotel where they make a darn good gin and tonic.
On day one we walked one kilometre to the entrance of the Falls. Visit at this time of year means the falls are at their lowest levels so some falls are not yet visible but equally it means you can see the falls that are visible without a massive spray getting in the way.
En route from the hotel to the Falls
The wet part of the Falls
The dry part of the Falls – all this will be under heavy water in four or five months
The Vic Falls Park borders onto Zambia and this is where we met a young baboon who clearly wanted to show us all his/her best sides for instagram worthy shots – so here they are before this one becomes famous!
This youngster loved posing for the camera
In the evening we booked a sunset Zambezi river cruise – cocktails and dinner were very enjoyable indeed.
On our second day we had an early start for a day in Chobe National Park in Botswana and after innumerable border patrols were were in another country.
We started with another cruise which at this time of year is a great time to see animals as they are in plentiful supply near the waters before the rains come and they can go further inland for their food.
We saw African buffalo, elephants, hippos, impala and crocs.
African buffalo – not sure who’s watching whom?
African crocs – not too scary compared to those big buggers in Aus
I never appreciated that when hippos are in the water they are generally walking rather than swimming – they are bad swimmers! But they are less log-like when you see them on land – and they like to spend the day on land at this time of year.
And then so many elephants ….
Highlight was stumbling across a group of elephants having a wild mid bath – so lucky to see this
In the afternoon we went off for a game drive – saw lions in the distance but no leopards:(. However lots of impala – so pretty. Sadly we also saw three elephant carcasses – many are dying of starvation due to lack of water which means lack of food.
Impala in the beautiful Savannah’s of Chobe
And finally we endeavoured to enjoy enjoying ourselves in various parts of Zimbabwe!
I’m staying in Canary Wharf on this trip – a place I never liked working in but really have enjoyed living in for the past two months. It is much more lively than it used to be in the evenings and at weekends and has much more of a community feel. Loads of shops, restaurants and great transport into central London. Another attraction for me is the vast number of fabulous sculptures all around – including a Henry Moore that is on loan to Tower Hamlets for a few years. Here are some examples.
Sculptures in Canary Wharf including the reclining lady by Henry Moore and the sitting man who is so life like you want to go and chat with him!
I’ve taken the opportunity on this trip to search out some unusual walks and tours and last week I used walks.org for a pre-opening visit to the Tower of London. This means you get in before opening time, watch the opening key ceremony where the Tower is officially opened (only about 20 of us) and then you are able to get in to see the Crown Jewels before anyone else has got there (sadly no photos) but this is definitely the way to visit the Tower. Our guide was a “Blue Badge” which means she has studied all aspects of London history and she was very knowledgeable as she took us around the interior and exterior parts of this wonderful structure.
Old and new in close proximity – the Tower is slap bang in the middle of the City of London and has many famous modern buildings within sight. Only in London!
Below the beefeater who explained the ceremony plus the Royal Guards and keeper of the keys march to the East gate to open up the Tower. Apparently this ceremony take place because whoever was King at the time I visited the Tower one day and just waltzed in without anyone checking who he was (those were the days) and so he introduced a daily opening and locking of the Tower – it has been done twice every day since the 14th century!
The ceremony of the Keys
I thought the sculptures below were some sort of temporary work by a resident artist for no good reason but actually these sculptures tell a story – from the 1200s the Tower of London used to house a menagerie of exotic animals – most sent as gifts by foreign countries. Sadly most of the animals died quite quickly as they didn’t like the climate and they were cramped. In 1835 150 animals were dispatched to their brand new home – the London Zoo at Regent’s Park. I never knew about that!
Memorial at bottom left is close to the site where royals – including Ann Boleyn and Katherine Howard were beheaded. Apparently Queen Victoria wanted a memorial for Anne Boleyn – no-one quite knows why but some think the stories about her that circulated were a set up and she was not as naughty as she is often made out to be.
At the National Portrait Gallery, a new exhibit called the Pre-Raphaelite sisters opened. In my teens and early 20’s I always enjoyed the image of these ladies – long flowing copper coloured curly hair, languid looks and colourful gowns – effectively these ladies seemed the complete antithesis to me so they always fascinated me.
This exhibit takes an interesting approach as each room is dedicated to one of the ladies in the group and shows artworks of them, tells their personal story and also shows art by many of them – many were talented artists in their own right not just vacuous models but they had less appreciation – as always seems to be the case. They and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood had very close relations – and I mean close (next book I have to find is a history of all the characters – it will be saucy!). Some of these ladies came from high class families and some from working class but they were certainly fairly Bohemian in their style. Loved this exhibit – paintings by Rosetti, Burne-Jones, Millais, William Morris and many others. If you are in London it is a definite – GO!
Check out the hair – so envious!
Allegorical Parintins and drawings – love the swathes of colour
more gorgeous paintings
And of course – Millais’ Ophelia.
Elizabeth Siddal one of the Pre-Raphaelite sisters sat in a bath for this one – for a very long time. The water got very cold and she got very sick. Artists!!
A quick stop to 20th Century Art and I snapped some of my favourite female rock icons – also from my teens and early 20s.
Sade, Kate Bush, Blondie and Annie Lennox – strong female role modes of the 80s
And below a cheese moment – one of my favourite shops is La Fromagerie in Marylebone High Street – now expanded to include a café – also delicious. Well worth going to if cheese is your thing.
Is there a cheese they don’t have?
Yes this is a lunch of cauliflower cheese and burrata. No judgement!
Autumn has arrived and I met my friend Terry for a lovely pub lunch at the Duke of Cumberland in the village of Easebourne -Henley – in West Sussex. I was very impressed with the outdoor smoking area top right – yes that is a fire and plenty of room for smokers to sit and chat. Also interesting that many old telephone boxes in small villages, rather than being pulled down due to lack of use in a digital world, have been repurposed as storage for defibrillators – great idea.
It’s been a busy few days with catch ups with old friends and lots more to see and do in London.
First stop was coffee with Fiona at the wonderful new Brasserie of Light – Selfridges are always reinventing themselves and much of the ground and basement floors have also been re-done – they seem to have no Brexit worries:)
Selfridges and the Brasserie of Light – even the toilets are fab!
Then I met with Sue at the Sky Garden followed by lunch at Searcy’s in the Gherkin. As usual it was rainy but somehow the City of London always looks good in the rain (just as well considering London weather) and I love that the Sky Garden is free and a public space (but you do need to book tickets online in advance).
Sue in the Sky Garden
City of London from on high
After lunch Sue and I headed off to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the Tim Walker exhibit with a stop at the Mary Quant homage.
Quant items of fashion plus having her hair cut by Vidal Sassoon and a couple of PVC raincoats – so trendy
Tim Walker is a unique photographer – especially famous for fashion and celebrity photos and his bright colours. For part of this exhibit he also took inspiration from some pieces in the museum and then did his own thing – the exhibition is called Wonderful Things. Well worth a visit.
Tim Walker likes to colour in his animals and he is very partial to flowers
Tim Walker photographs Grayson Perry and Beth Ditto in his own unique way letting them be equally as unique
Humans and hollyhocks combine seamlessly and Tilda Swindon looks amazing
Some friends of mine – John and Jenny – told me about “Britain’s Sistine Chapel” in Greenwich. I was a bit stunned as I had never heard of the Painted Hall which has recently been restored and reopened. Here is what greets you as you walk in:
This building which is part of the Royal Naval college in Greenwich is awesome and the paintings mostly by John Thornhill are a fascinating display of Britain’s naval strength, the science of the day and the security of the monarchy following the Act of Succession ensuring no more arguments about Catholic or Protestant monarchs! A lot of these buildings within the Royal Naval college buildings were built to house and take care of retired seaman who had served their country in their youth.
External vies of the Naval College buildings at Greenwich – a few are now parts of a classical musical school and you can hear lots of practising going on as you wander about – these are people who know how to play!
Some ceiling scenes including William and Mary and King George 1 plus the British naval might
Finally an excellent three hour walking tour run by Context Travel – an organisation whose tour guides are often art historians and who aim their tours to small groups (we had just four) who want to learn stuff. This is just my kind of thing and as they are in other cities too I am sure I will be using them again. This program was called Crash Course British Museum and gave a really good walk through a themed approach to some of the 8 million artifacts held by the BM!
The grandeur of the British Museum and the infamous Elgin Margins from the Parthenon!
The Old Library and the Grecian style classic statue of a man throwing a discus
And to sign off my favourite quote of the last week from C S Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) and seen at the Tim Walker exhibit
I am still getting out and about while in London and last weekend my friend Lorna organised a weekend in Oxford/Blenheim.
First stop was the Bodleian Library – one of only a handful of libraries that are copyright libraries – meaning that a copy of every book published in the UK MUST be sent there. Given they are now at a 1000 books a week being published here in the UK it is not surprising that they have had to expand their premises to other locations in Oxford but also several miles of underground space in Swindon to store all of these.
Only current Oxford students (and the odd expert who can prove they really need to) can look at the books in this library and no-one can take them out. All a bit elitist if you ask me but of course but Oxford can be like that and at least they are slowly digitising all the old books (this roots of this library started in the 1300s) so that the rest of the world can access them too. No pics allowed inside which was a shame as it is all rather splendid.
Bodleian library and surrounding colleges
The Divinity Room at the Bodleian and the Bridge of Sighs
After lunch we headed over to the Ashmolean Museum for a wonderful exhibit on food and Pompei. Basically because of the carbonisation caused by the volcano they have been able to accurately identify the Roman diet of the time and this exhibit focussed on Stuart, frescos and real examples of what and how they ate. Strangely mesmerising.
Extracts from Pompei. They used to rear door mice in the jar (this mouse is fake) but the jar isn’t.
The resin lady of Oplontis – perfectly preserved at the time of her death and holding both gold bangles but also cheap beads – maybe given to her as a gift by a child and had sentimental value? The mosaic skeleton was to remind the eaters that however much they ate they would all end up looking like this:)
On Sunday morning we stopped by the Oxford Botanical Gardens which were charming and looking lovely even though the main flowering season is long gone.
In the Botanical Garden which are just at the edge of town so very accessible
Sunday afternoon was my first trip to Blenheim Palace – the place Winston Churchill was born – but which he didn’t inherit as he was not in line to do so. This is an impressive “pile” as they say but what made the visit great for me was the addition of a temporary artist in residence – Maurizio Cattelan – who is known for his satirical sculptures including the one of the solid gold toilet which had been installed for use as part of this exhibition but was then stolen three days later. He is irreverent and questioning of the status quo so I admire the people who allowed him to include his work here – it was very cool – but some of the more traditional little old ladies and gentlemen who were visiting were clearly a bit horrified.
Lorna and I both thinking we own Blenheim!
Cattelan works sprinkled amid all the old stuff
The beautiful Consuelo Vanderbilt who was forced to marry into the Churchill family by her mother – and who was welcomed only because she brought in lots of money that could be used for upkeep of Blenheim – does this sound like Downton or what?
More of crazy Cattelan and what remains of the gold toiletO:(
A little boy kneeling from the back? An evil dictator begging for forgiveness on the right?
And on Monday I spent the day in Windsor with a friend from my last cruise Sian. She lives there and kindly agreed to spend the day visiting the castle and having lunch. We had an excellent time and this is another very impressive British castle with amazing artworks inside – but no photos allowed.
External views of Windsor Castle, plus the Queen’s apartments – bottom left and a view over the countryside of Eton College
And one more to finish off with – a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery with Marjory to see the Rembrandt and Light Exhibit. Dulwich is a leafy area of SE London that most people have never heard of. And the gallery in it is equally unknown but it shouldn’t be because it is delightful and a nicely manageable size. This exhibit was lit in conjunction with a well known cinematographer so that the light effects that Rembrandt was so good at – whether external, natural, internal or candlelight can be shown off to best effect. Well worth a visit.