May 272018
 


As a fair warning, this post is going to be a bit long and rambling. After my plans to visit Zimbabwe for two nights then Botswana for two nights fell through, I was completely up in the air. The first of four nights was going to get eaten up staying in Johannesburg, since it was nearly 6pm when I landed from Namibia.

Nice night of rest, and woke up, and tried to figure out how to sort out my life. Air Zimbabwe was flying in the late afternoon from Johannesburg to Bulawayo, so I could just as easily pick up my trip! Of course, you can’t buy Air Zimbabwe tickets online, so off to OR Tambo I go with my baggage. The very helpful agent “wasn’t sure if it will go today, or if so when – it gets canceled a lot. Maybe by 11pm.” Uhhh, yeah, that’s not a chance I want to take.

Bit more research, I could pick up Air Botswana directly to Francistown and then drive to Gaborone, but it was going to be more than $800 between change fees for my return ticket and the car, so that just wasn’t happening. Rather than waste anymore time, I decided to chalk it up to “this time, the travel gods were not with me” and head back to my hotel.

Fortunately, I was able to book another night on cash+points, so spent the evening relaxing, scheming, and decided that I was going to make the most of it. Despite dozens of trips to Joburg, I decided I was going to try and dig a little bit deeper. My trip out to Maboneng had been super cool a week back, so I’d use the next two full days to explore until I had to get back to work.

Walking to Starbucks the next morning, fate intervened and I saw the sales centre for the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus. Quick look confirmed it stopped at a lot of places I hadn’t been, so I bought the two day pass. Why not…I think I’ve only done one of these touristy busses once, and they really can be a good way to see a city in a short time. Plus, it was an absolutely gorgeous 22 degree day, and the next day was forecast to be more of the same.

Pickup/start point was right by my hotel, and off we go. I even got a seat on the upper deck…kinda like a 747…same same but different…

I decided to get off first at Constitution Hill and see the Number Four prison and constitutional court. Unfortunately, lots of the site was closed today due to private group tours, but you could still do a self-guided tour of the Number Four Prison. Entrance had one of my favourite Mandela quotes:

Number Four was built in the 1890s under Paul Kruger and Ghandi spent time in Number Four in 1906.

Shot of the prison yard as it stands today. For some reason, the Orange is the New Black theme started going in my head, and I caught myself humming it. Probably not terribly appropriate…

Pictures of Ghandi and Mandela at various points in their lives…

Solitary confinement cells. Stepping inside and to the back of one sent shivers down my spine.

Hillbrow Tower as seen from Constitution Hill. On my first trip to South Africa in 1997, Hillbrow was always regaled to us as that super terrifying lawless place that you didn’t dare set foot anywhere near.

Waiting for our bus to leave Constitution Hill for the next stop.

Since I’d gotten a late start, I figured I’d ride past all the next stops and stop at the SAB World of Beer which was the last stop. That would allow me to see which of the stops looked interesting for the next day, and would conveniently put me at World of Beer at roughly happy hour time.

The tour was over an hour long, and absolutely…terrible. I’ve been on a few brewery tours , and this was probably one of the worst. It was basically a “history of beer” and honestly….was just bad. Our guide was fantastic, but it was basically 90 minutes of prelude before they let you do the good stuff: the beer tasting.

The tasting was kinda fun, five or six (I forget now) different beers from the SAB lineup, poured one at a time from bottles for the whole group. Apparently if the colour/taste of the beer is just ordinary, the tasting term for that is “unremarkable.” Unremarkable was what I’d call this whole experience, but the tour ended on the rooftop beergarden with two tickets and the VIEW was remarkable!

Next day, I got a slightly earlier start. Back onto the bus, and noted this very hoity-toity private school we drove past:

Then the bus would right through downtown Johannesburg. While undergoing some gentrification and revitalization, there are still plenty of signs that the area has a very, very long way to go. For example, this highrise with a history of fires and busted out windows just sitting empty…though likely home to squatters.

Another building which has clearly seen better days, but has apparently found a buyer:

Springbox jumping over a fountain in front of a casino at one of the stops. This seemed to be the most popular of all stops, and I was tempted to get out for an hour, but how exciting can a casino be?

Winding over a bridge into the central business district, an ad for Amarula – made from Africa!

I got off at the stop for Braamfontein, which along with Maboneng is known to be a “hip, young, and edgy” area of the downtown. Madiba on the side of a building:

Turn of the century building, now a bar:

Found some seats at the patio bar across the street, and ordered a cider while I people watched.

Shortly after ordering a second cider, a 6’5+ drag queen came over and sat next to me…and ordered a cheeseburger. Apparently, her name was Miss Winnie Gets-In-Your-Pants (a nod to Winnie Mandela I assume?) and she’d come from the bar/club across the street. Like was common in the US in the 80s/90s, gay bars were found in the edgy parts of town and this area was very popular with alternative crowds – gays, goths, and just general people who lived outside the “mainstream.” Great lively street scene, and fantastic people watching. I think I spent almost two hours just sitting there and watching the city go by.

Back to the hotel, caught an Uber out to Randburg to check out Craft Beer Library which I’d been told has the best beer list in Johannesburg. The setting was cozy, but lots of fun, complete with shoeless hipster singing…

Definitely a cozy little place, but great beer list and super friendly staff. Definitely on my list of places to return to in JoBurg…maybe as soon as a few days from now ūüėČ

…and with that teaser, couple of days of work stood ahead before the trek home and final part of this trip report.

Nov 042014
 

Hotel van dropped me at the airport where there was a very short line for check-in. The Port Moresby airport felt a bit like a tin shed, with nothing in the way of amenities, but it was purely functional. Nothing in the way of air conditioning, but fortunately it was still rather early in the morning so it didn’t yet have that tin can sweatbox feeling to it…yet.

Completed check-in less than 90 minutes before flight time, but…customs still wasn’t open. So it was time to sweat it out. It was rather warm, but not completely intolerable…and at exactly 60 minutes before the flight one immigration officer showed up to let us out of the country. Not a single question why I’d only been there 24 hours, and stamp stamp, I was out of Papua New Guinea.

The terminal was under a bit of construction, and apparently here’s where the door is going to be:

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One common area for all international departures, which was rather empty this morning:

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Boarded 15 minutes before flight time, and we were quickly packed away and ready to go. Rather empty flight this morning, so I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me again.

 Qantas flight 192 operated by QantasLink
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (POM) to Cairns, Australia (CNS)
Depart 8:45, Arrive 10:35, Flight Time 1:50
DeHavilland Dash-8 Q400, Registration VH-LQK, Manufactured 2012, Seat 18D

Take off over Port Moresby:

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Feb 022014
 

As I mentioned before, after a short taxi ride we arrived at our hotel, the Miramar by Pestana. ¬†I hadn’t paid a lot of attention, and didn’t realize there were two Pestana properties on the island, only about a 10 minute walk apart. ¬†I’d booked a junior suite since it was only 15 euros more than a standard room. ¬†We checked in, went to our individual rooms, and then drama started.

My room didn’t have wifi. ¬†The hall did, but it didn’t reach my room. ¬†Down to the front desk “oh so sorry, that is the only junior suite we have. ¬†Would you like a standard room for the reduced price?” ¬†Sure. ¬†So, off the standard room I go…but…the air conditioning was broken. ¬†Thankfully, this time I hadn’t unpacked my bag. ¬†Off to try a third room….nope, internet doesn’t reach this one either.

The front desk guy was extremely patient and helpful, and after trying five rooms, we determined there were no rooms available with internet AND air conditioning.  Seems Jordan had gotten lucky with his, the first or second room in the hall.  I retired to the empty hotel bar to have a beer to ponder my options.

They called the manager (since there wasn’t one on site) who agreed I could move to the other Miramar property, the Pestana Sao Tome if I wanted….but would have to pay the extra 15 euros over the price. ¬†Sigh, fine.

They had a rattly old hotel van, which would drive me there. ¬†Got there, and asked before I committed to anything to see both a junior suite and a regular room. ¬†The regular room was more than fine, except…the air conditioning didn’t work. ¬†LOL. ¬†Second regular room was just fine, and after almost two hours of hotel hopping I finally had a room. ¬†Whew.

Finally in a room, I headed down to the poolside bar/restaurant to get something to eat before bed. ¬†The drink of the month was the caipirinha, so I couldn’t pass it up. ¬†Along with some peanuts and a decent sandwich, I was happy and finally off to bed!

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Woke up the next morning, and checked out the breakfast. ¬†Quite a good spread with made-to-order eggs, waffles, etc, tons of fruits and pastries, and really tasty local coffee. ¬†Overall, the breakfast was pretty good, and given what I’d expected in Sao Tome I thought it was excellent. ¬†The view from my room wasn’t bad either. ¬†Right onto the pool and the Atlantic, looking due west:

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Dec 292013
 

After arriving and checking into my hotel, I headed out to dinner.  The choice was Lorenzo and Kakalamba, which got great reviews on TripAdvisor and sounded fun on top of it.

I’ll admit, when I walked in and saw this in the entryway I was a little scared:

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…and when I sat down and got the menu, I was even MORE scared:

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Jun 122013
 

I had one final day to explore the city before getting back to work, so decided to use it to see Tashkent. I’d read that there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but I picked some of the higher rated attractions on TripAdvisor, made a loose plan, and set out on foot to explore. I decided to use the Metro to get around, since my hotel seemed to be halfway between two stations, approximately a 10 minute walk from each.

First, the view of the telecom tower outside my hotel window. This was actually highly rated as something to see, but I ran out of time.

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Walking to the metro, I passed a bit of Gagnam…I mean Optical Style. ¬†Even in Uzbekistan…

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First stop was Amir Timur square. ¬†Remember him from yesterday? ¬†I saw his mausoleum in Samarkand. ¬†He’s kinda a big deal in Uzbekistan. ¬†On the square sits the fabulously Soviet Hotel Uzbekistan, a monument to “bigger and plainer is better.”

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Right next door was the Congress:

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Continuing around the square, the next two sites were the old clock tower and the new clock tower. ¬†Very similar, I honestly don’t remember which one this is. ¬†I remember one had really poor lighting and I couldn’t get a good pic. ¬†Not that this one was a whole lot better, but…

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Jan 192013
 

Woke up the next morning, feeling like I’d been hit by a small truck. Full-on nasty cold…great…just what I need in the middle of a round the world trip. Guide insisted I needed to be at the airport three hours before my flight, but finally agreed with me that two hours would be sufficient but “I’m taking a risk.” The hotel was once again super helpful – when I told them I needed to get going early, they had the whole breakfast buffet out at 630am for me. Fantastic!

Guide showed up to say goodbye, and sent me on my way to the airport with the driver. Supposedly the driver was supposed to get me checked in for the flight because it’s “very complicated” but there was nowhere to park so I was on my own…and it was a total nonevent. Took all of two minutes to check-in, but boarding passes were handwritten and changing seats? Forget it. “No, that’s your seat!” Uhhhh, ok then!

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Through security which was a bit on the confusing side, through immigration where I got no questions at all, and into the common waiting hall. ¬†There was a lounge, but apparently it was the wrong lounge for TunisAir. ¬†For that, I had to take the lift up to the next floor – ok, that works. ¬†The lounge was pretty big, and had maybe a dozen people total in it and a decent selection of food and drink…nonalcoholic of course. ¬†A few diet cokes helped with the cold, and the WiFi was pretty fast so overall a decent place to wait and there was a really good view of the planes coming and going.

Each gate had its own holding area, and I got down maybe 10 minutes before boarding…just enough time to hang around. ¬†The most interesting first observation was the number of women wearing headcoverings of various sorts on the flight. ¬†I saw hardly any women covered in Libya, but it appeared that in Tunisia that was more or less the norm.

TunisAir Flight 512
Tripoli, Libya (TIP) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 10:15, Arrive 11:30, Flight Time 1:15
Airbus A320, Registration TS-IME, Manufactured 1990, Seat 5A

Seat 2D, which I’d been informed was where I was sitting was an aisle, but 2F was occupied (the plane was in the european config where business was the same as economy, with the middle seats blocked) and rows 5 and 6 were completely empty so after asking the flight attendant if I could move I went back to 5A to get a window and a whole row. ¬†The crew was a bit odd, in that when addressed in French (not just by me, but others as well) they responded in English. ¬†Arabic, no problem, they spoke Arabic back…but they seemed to not want to speak French. ¬†However, after continuing in French long enough they’d eventually switch. ¬†It was strange. ¬†Took me about 3-4 interactions before they’d speak French…odd.

Anyways, shortly after takeoff, the crew came around with table coverings…high class for those of us used to flying in the US. ¬†They were paper, but still…it was Espace Privl√®ge!

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…but PLIEZ, fold the airsickness bag when you’re done, LOL!

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Apr 282012
 

So, here’s where I admit I lied a bit. ¬†What to do on a rainy Sunday in DC? ¬†Honestly….we didn’t do a great job of this! ¬†Once we saw it was raining, getting out of bed before we had to was difficult, and we just barely made it into DC in time for the planned 11:30 brunch with a friend. ¬†Did I mention it was pouring? ¬†The oddest part of the whole thing, was the encounter with a local DC crazy that went like this:

Crazy: ¬†“Hello, you speak Russian? ¬†I Russian?”

Me: ¬†“Yes, actually I do”

Crazy: ¬†(switching to Russian) ¬†“Good! ¬†I have DVDs to sell! ¬†Pretty naked ladies! ¬†Copies but very good. ¬†You want to buy?”

Me: ¬†“Um, no, thanks” ¬†(walks away, leaves metro station)

Crazy: ¬†(follows us to bus stop) ¬†“You no like hot naked ladies? ¬†I need to buy train ticket to Baltimore. ¬†Sell DVDs. ¬†No want to buy?”

Now, at this point we probably should have just kissed and convinced him that no, we really weren’t looking for hot naked ladies, but the amusement was just too much! ¬†Got on the bus, made it to brunch…which was awesome. ¬†Commissary is one of my favourite brunch places in DC. ¬†The huevos rancheros are awesome, and don’t get me started on the blueberry pancakes. ¬†The only downside is that from around 11:00 to 1:30 on weekends the wait is usually 30 minutes minimum, often longer. ¬†It’s definitely worth it though.

After a very very long lunch, we headed back to the Library of Congress in an attempt to visit the reading room and check out a book and see the mural on the rotunda. ¬†No luck – closed Sundays! ¬†Wet and frustrated, we got back on the metro, and headed to the Smithsonian to check out the American History Museum. ¬†It was pretty fun – although quite a disorganized mess. ¬†We did see all the First Ladies’ dresses – including Michelle’s, along with some other interesting exhibits about the Civil War, Thomas Jefferson’s slave baby mamas, etc. ¬†It was a good way to spend a few rainy hours while trying to stay a bit dry. ¬†Below from an exhibit on US money, which will only be funny to Canadians:

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Apr 272012
 

We tried to get an earlier start to the second day of touring the city, but it just didn’t happen. ¬†Met some friends for coffee and a light brunch at Northside Social in Arlington. ¬†This place is pretty well known now by those in the Ballston to Clarendon corridor, but it’s a great local coffeeshop and place for light meals. ¬†Plus, in the evening, it’s a fun wine bar with great outside seating during the summer. ¬†I was worried when it opened it would be a bit too hipster, but it strikes a great balance, and is really lots of fun: ¬†great food and drinks, fun atmosphere, and great location.

After that, it was off to DC for our first pre-booked tour. ¬†We were off to the Library of Congress for their tour. ¬†Offered every hour on the half hour, I didn’t expect this to be nearly as cool as it was. ¬†However, I think it was one of our highlights of the entire weekend. ¬†Our guide (Clark) was excellent, the building is probably the coolest sight I’ve ever seen in DC, and it was an overall fantastic experience. ¬†We took the 11:30 tour on a Saturday, and showed up at 11:28 with no problems at all. ¬†No booking in advance, and it was a great tour. ¬†I’ll post a few pics here:

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