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Travelogue Dusseldorf: Colchester

COLCHESTER

2 – 5 June 2022

Christian had been invited to meetings with clients in London after the Dusseldorf Trade Fair. The dates happened to coincide with Queen’s Jubilee long weekend (2 bank holidays in the UK) and we were able to take that Thursday and Friday as leave between the work commitments in order to maximise the time with our friends in Colchester before having to go to London to resume the work agenda.

Barely an hour’s hop from Dusseldorf to London, there wasn’t much time to do anything besides find space for the in-flight hospitality, which (hardly surprisingly for a morning flight departing from Germany) was a platter of cold meats, cheese, butter and bread.

We had booked a car to take us from Heathrow to the train station and Alex had booked us train tickets online in advance, all to streamline the planes, trains and automobiles required to traverse London – with our 4-seasons-sized luggage – to get to our friends.

For once, everything went more than according to plan and we found ourselves at the train station with an hour to spare, which was a nice change to the usual breakneck high-pressure bolting we’ve been known to do to both catch and miss trains in the past.

The train was very civilised; not too busy, clean and new, with free wifi, so it was a comfortable commute out of the throng of London and evaluating what we could see of the towns at each stop along the journey.

Alex was waiting for us on the platform when we arrived in Colchester Town; fortunately, with a car that could accommodate our massive suitcases.

We were greeted with much excitement, a run down of the plans that had been pencilled for us and a check-in on whether there were any special requests from our side on activities for the coming couple of days.

Our hosts had done a fabulous job of creating shared contribution to our entertainment plan. While we would be staying at Robbie’s house, Alex and Luke were responsible for picking us up and feeding us Thursday’s dinner, Johnnie and Lisa would be hosting Friday’s feast and everyone would join us at Robbie’s for a feeding on Saturday afternoon.

We were taken to drop off our bags at Robbie’s before driving round to Alex’s new place. Just around the corner from the place she’d lived at on our last visit, the new spot was in Lieutenant House, the extensively refurbished officers’ mess of the old Edwardian army barracks. Best of both worlds with new and modern interior juxtaposing the historical building and surrounds.

Although there is much evidence of being a military town in more recent history, Colchester was first an ancient Iron Age settlement, once ruled by Cuneobelin ‘King of the Britons’. Following the Roman Invasion in AD43, a city was established on the site of Camulodunum and designated the Roman capital of Britannia by Emperor Claudius. Its destruction at the hands of Boudicca is well-documented, but the Roman settlement rose up again and the remains of several buildings from this period can still be seen on a trip to the town.

Roman Colchester probably had a population of 10-12,000. That seems small in today’s world but in those days England had a tiny population so, by Roman standards, Colchester was a large and important town, particularly because of its position near the sea.

As far as we know Colchester’s status as a Colonia, awarded by the Emperor Claudius, has never been revoked, however Colchester has been long classified as a town… until 2022 when it was awarded official city status as part of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

It was a lovely sunny day so we were able to lounge on the terrace – with Gary, Alex’s long-legged hounddog, naturally taking the best seat in the house and us arranging ourselves around him ? – catching up and catching rays before a leisurely lasagne early supper.

There were several festivities planned in town for Jubilee Weekend, so we decided to make the most of the pleasant evening and take a wander down to our first excursion; to the Arts Centre to attend the 35th Annual Ale and Cider Festival. The location was a converted church and we were briefed upfront that the standard practice is for guests to utilise the church’s graveyard as one would normally relax in a back garden, using the larger tombs as tables and benches.

With over 160 ales, ciders, Belgian beers, English wines, soft drinks and snacks on offer, and open from 12 noon to 11pm each day, we could have been there all weekend!

The countless kegs were arranged along the back and side walls with several servers talking the festival-goers through the options outlined in the printed menus. We had bought punchcards at the entrance, so it was quick and easy to order and start ticking off the options that intrigued us.

More in it for the novelty than the flavours, we tested some real very crafty craft beers that we would normally only order over our proverbial dead bodies… but since we were socialising in a literal graveyard, it seemed as close to those circumstances as we were going to get. It was a lively old time, sharing a laugh and comparing notes on beer samples with some of Alex and Luke’s friends.

Once we’d finished our punchcards, we took a walk into Colchester town to a pub called 3 Wise Monkeys, where we were able to get more conventional options.

Shortly, Robbie joined us. He’d been in Glasgow overnight watching a football match and had just arrived back on the train. And as if that reunion wasn’t joyous enough, soon thereafter Johnnie arrived!

It was quite novel to finish up at the pub and be able to walk home, stretching some of the tastings out in the fresh night air. Everything in Colchester seems such a manageable distance apart too.

FRIDAY

Alex had pre-booked us into a 9am Bootcamp class with her. Chris and I weren’t quite sure what to expect – and he feared the worst, thinking it would be quite prancy and aerobic. Nothing of the sort, we were split into teams of 3 and rotated running across the field carrying a sandbag, hoisting weights, lifting and dropping medicine balls… all while the teammate tasked with setting the timing for each activity had to do endless ‘burpies’ (drop to the floor, do a push-up, jump up again sort of thing). It was hard work! But fun.

Alex then dropped us back at Robbie’s house so we could change, grab a bacon sarmie and head back out again for another outdoorsy activity; walking down the river to a little neighbouring village called Wivenhoe. The inspiration was to give Gary a walk, the motivation was the beautiful blue sky and sunny weather, which was a blessing for these parts that couldn’t be squandered.

We set off as a merry group, chatting as we walked and admired the scenery. And telling Gary quite often what a Good Boy He Was.

The walk to Wivenhoe earned us a pint in the lovely Rose & Crown on the riverfront. It was too hot to sit with Gary at the exposed tables in the front, so we found ourselves a shady spot in the secret beergarden at the back.

With an impending feast at Johnnie’s in just a couple of hours, we resisted eating at the pub even though there was the most heavenly aroma of fish and chips lingering on the air.

Good thing too because it real wasn’t long before we’d caught the train back and walked over to Johnnie’s house, which was literally around the block.

Ever the decadent host, Johnnie had decided on a multi-course carnivorous adventure explaining to his wife, Lisa (who had yet to meet us) “Souf Effricans love their meat”.

Ensconced outside the shed in the back of their wonderfully full and green garden, Johnnie lit a Weber to smoke a massive tomahawk steak which was cut into thick and juicy strips for starter samples.

Johnnie had built a DIY pizza oven over lockdown, in which a wood fire was kindled to start off the Korean ribs. They were finished off in the oven – alongside a rather large leg of lamb – and the pizza oven then used to painstakingly manage baking several flatbreads, which Alex had made from scratch at home and carefully wrapped in brown paper to prevent them sticking together.

The food, the weather and the company made for a truly memorable afternoon (even with the bottle of Killeputsch Jagermeister-lookalike we’d brought from Dusseldorf).

SATURDAY

The Queen’s Jubilee weekend having given us the 2 bonus public holidays meant that by the time Saturday rolled around, we felt like we’d already had a full weekend. What a treat!

We had committed to do a Parkrun on Saturday morning to sweat out a bit of the indulgent Friday feasting. Showing mercy, Alex and Luke drove us through to Mersea Island which was a flatter course along the water’s edge which should make the 5km track a little easier to manage under the circumstances (a brutal combination of the Bootcamp stiffness and the party effects).

Helped a lot by the weather no doubt (grey and overcast, but clear, and cooler than the previous days) we all ran really well, most setting Personal Best times, which was quite an achievement! … That earned us a Full English breakfast at a local restaurant.

Driven back to Robbie’s, we had time to shower, relax and watch a bit of telly (lots of coverage of the Jubilee festivities in London) before heading out to get last minute supplies for our reciprocal hosting duties later that afternoon, where Robbie had promised everyone roast chicken and chips.

We took the scenic route to the shops, ending off in Castle Park with its Roman ruins and War memorial statues. SO much history in this town-recently-turned-city!

By now the sun had come out and it was another beautiful day, which could not be wasted on chores alone, so we grabbed a cheeky pint at The Castle pub for time to absorb our surroundings. This included spotting that they did a Sunday Roast and, always being a meal ahead in the planning stakes, we immediately mentally committed to return the next day for our final meal before needing to leave for London.

Robbie’s house had a courtyard garden, which we took advantage of on our return home, setting up at the table outside so we could easily man the kitchen as well as bask in outdoortime opportunity.

The remainder of the group trickled in, and, being such engaged eaters, each stopped to peek at the stove, stir a thing, sample, add a something, offer some sage advice, sample again. It was wonderful and the kitchen smelt like heaven.

Robbie had recently bought an airfryer, so even I was able to contribute, offering to man the chips and showcase the wonderment of this modern domestic miracle machine. I cheated a bit, splitting the bag of oven chips into batches, pre-cooking and seasoning each batch and then throwing them all in together as the more sophisticated bits of the meal were nearing readiness.

Robbie had outdone himself! Prosciutto and green asparagus starters, followed by the golden roasted quarter chicken legs with bright green steamed broccoli stems and TWO sauces; a traditional bread sauce (which was a childhood favourite of his that none of us knew about) and a heavenly white wine and mushroom sauce.

We ate, we laughed, we shared stories, we debated the playlist, we drank, we laughed, we ate some more. What a brilliant day!

Once the others had all left, Chris, Robbie and I turned on the telly to watch the Jubilee Concert being held outside Buckingham Palace. We had tuned in quite well into the show and were greeted with Rod Stewart belting out “Sweet Caroline”. Not his song. How odd.

That was not the last surprise in the eclectic collection of performers, young and old, classic and contemporary, British and international. No clear golden thread of who or how these artists had found themselves on this line-up, interspersed with speeches by Prince Charles, Prince William, an Attenborough and the likes.

The lights show, projected onto and above the Palace, was truly spectacular in quality and pure magnitude and we wondered how they could have practiced it without giving the game away.

It was soon lights out for us; having had a very long and very full weekend.

SUNDAY

Sadly, Sunday was our time to leave Colchester. We held true on our last hurrah being the Roast at The Castle and were seated at a big table at the window (the weather had turned and it was most certainly indoor conditions) by 11h30, ready and raring to go.

We had the most delicious plate of roast lamb and ALL the trimmings; Yorkshire puddings, 3 veg, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing…  and 2 large gravy boats provided without even having to ask. If we lived in Colchester, this is where you would find us every Sunday for sure.

Alex and Luke drove us down to the train station for our 1pm train that would see us in London within an hour.

With a train strike on the go and heavy luggage in tow, we didn’t hesitate to grab a cab to get us to our hotel, the Dorsett in Shepherd’s Bush.

We had made arrangements to go and visit friends of ours from South Africa for Sunday sundowners at a Jubilee street party in their road in Hampton Hill. Although only a few miles away, it was still a good half hour in an Uber so we headed straight out so we’d be able to make the most of our time.

They were delighted to see us! We spent a couple of quality hours at their kitchen table, catching up on the 5 or so years it had been since we saw them last (when we’d done a flyby visit past their old house in Twickenham on our way out of the previous UK flit), before testing out their street party.

Good on the UK government; they had encouraged citizens to celebrate Jubilee in style by not only closing off portions of the roads that applied, but also providing an allowance to be spent on party requirements like food, marquees, equipment etc! It was such a great opportunity for neighbours to get to know each other, and very patriotic with Union Jack bunting and party favours.

Such a pity it was a Sunday and this was a work trip, because we had to be sensible and return back to our hotel at a reasonable time in order to accommodate the Monday workday – a particularly early start since the UK was an hour behind South African time, so we’d be logging on at 7am to keep in sync.

MONDAY

Largely uneventful as a working day, I had logged in and been glued to my laptop all day while Christ went off in a taxi (thanks to the train strike) to his work appointments. He did have a very successful day and returned with gushing stories about the sites he’d seen and how many innovation ideas he would be able to return home.

We were supposed to have met Faye for an after-work drink and a catch-up, but with us in West London and her in East London and a train strike to contend with, the logistics would be so cumbersome to get from A to B that we might as well not have been in the same city at all.

With no commitments, we decided to rather take a walk around our neighbourhood and find a curry house to enjoy the last meal of our trip. We lucked upon the Rajput and had a(nother) very large meal with a BYO bottle of red from the convenience store next door.

Again, we revelled in the opportunity to walk off our meal on the way back to the hotel. So much so that we bypassed our door to do a lap around the Shepherd’s Bush Green across the road.

Travelogue Dusselfdorf: Dusseldorf

DUSSELDORF

28 May – 2 June 2022

And just like that we were off into the world again!

After a very dry couple of years on the world travel front – thanks to the global pandemic – we had a windfall when Chris got invited to an international trade fair by one of his key suppliers. And the event happened to be in Dusseldorf!

What’s more, there were to be follow-up meetings in London afterwards. Not only could we tag on a visit to our Colchester contingent, but dumb luck had us there over the Queen’s Jubilee weekend with 2 bank holidays on our side.

With only a couple of weeks’ notice, there was just enough time to revive our planning savvy and start counting down the sleeps.

After some debate, we reverted to trusty old favourite, Emirates, to transport us into the world. With miles to burn (gathering dust over the Lockdown and about to expire) we got free upgrades to Business Class quick-smart, which would help get the weary bones reaccustomed to the hard life on the road (or in the sky, as it were).

Soon enough we were landing in Dusseldorf and grabbing a taxi to our hotel, Das Carls, which was perfectly located on the Carls Platz, between the lively Old Town and the very lovely modern downtown.

Mid-afternoon by the time we arrived, we wasted no time dropping our bags, discarding our masks (not a thing in Germany, apparently) and heading out to adventure.

Being a Saturday in a notoriously festive neighbourhood, the Altstadt (Old Town) was teeming with people eating, drinking and making merry. Famed for being the longest bar in the world, it was hardly-surprisingly a popular Stag Do location. However, there were patrons of all lifestages harmoniously enjoying themselves.

We started with a choice that might be unconventional for visitors to the notoriously beer-mad Germany, but that was a classic for us. Seeing an Irish pub, we simply had to go in and get a pint of Guinness to mark on our Index, which had been dormant for way too long! At 6 Euros (R104) a pint, we noted the new #19 position-holder and moved on to more traditional sightseeing.

… which might be a strong word for what was essentially going to be a multi-day pubcrawl with a lovely view.

But first we needed what every modern trip absolutely needs. A local sim card so we could see where we were going and know what we had seen.

The (Irish) barman at the Irish bar directed us to the nearest Vodaphone store he knew, which required us to walk through the Old Town and into the swanky shopping district. Quite in contrast to our charming cobbled first impression, the new part of town was shiny and glamourous – and not at all what we wanted for our first day.

We used the new sim card (which had been 15 Euros for 5GB of data) to guide us to what the internet considered to be the best brewery in town.

The Altstadt local brew is called Altbier, which we stopped to sample at one of the town’s oldest breweries, Uerige. Part-museum and entirely functional bar and restaurant, Uerige can serve hundreds of patrons; the brewery housing several public rooms (where you can book a table), cosy alcoves and private function rooms of various shapes and sizes as well as the considerable collection of patrons on the sidewalk outside and opposite the brewery.

Uerige claims the secret of its success to be its strict adherence to Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law dating from 1516, which is still adhered to because its results are good and lasting, relying, as it does, on nature to create and maintain the flavour of the beer. Each ‘yummy droplet’ as they refer to it in their brewery is made of nothing but water, barley, wheat malt, and their Uerige yeast.

And the people lap it up, 200ml at a time, in great volumes.

We were lucky to grab a ‘table’ right outside one of serving doors. No more than a metal basket on legs, the row of these tables along the pavement on either side of the street allowed natural congregation and an easy drop-off for empty glasses. A constant stream of waiters exited the brewery with large trays carried high above the shoulder, filled with small glasses of Altbier.

One beer, one flavour, one size. Your only choice was how many and how often. The waiter fulfilled your order and marked the number of beers on your beermat, which you could settle with him when you were ready to leave. It’s a real honour system and we had to put in quite some effort to find our waiter to pay our tab when the time came.

Satisfied that we’d ticked a big box, we proceeded to the promenade at the end of the road we’d been able to see from our vantage point at the brewery.

Built on the Rhine embankment, the promenade stretches almost 2km along the river. Only built in 1990, it features contemporary requirements that allow enjoyment of the sunsets and river breezes in a row of bars and restaurants along (and on!) the water’s edge, with wide tracks for exclusive bicycle and pedestrian use respectively. Several stretches have grassy banks, where stretchers and deck chairs are brought out in good weather.

In the background, the historical square and the museums provide an equally pretty backdrop and great photo opps in all directions.

We walked up and down to get a lay of the land and marked off things we’d like to do and see over the next few days. With an unusually long stay (for us, 5 nights) and having booked a walking tour for Sunday, there was no rush to preview so we decide that it was time to sample the local fare instead.

With pork and potatoes being the order of the day (everywhere!) we were spoilt for choice. We defaulted to a place called Ham Ham because it was the first to catch our eye (next door to the Irish restaurant), had a rotisserie in the window with several rows of sizzling pork roasts of all varieties and because one of our favourite restaurants in Spain was Jamon Jamon, so it felt like a homage to that.

With a pint of Warsteiner to wash down our meal, we were soon tucking into roast pork and schnitzel with yummy bratkartoffeln (roasted potato slices). What a delight!

Even though it was well into the night by this point, the sun was still high in the sky. Bushed from our travels and satisfied with our first outing, we called it a day and returned, through the Old Town, to our hotel.

SUNDAY

Our hotel restaurant only served breakfast… but did a good job of it. Open from 7-11am, there was no rush to get up or to get down to the restaurant, so we took advantage of the clear and crisp morning to take a run to stretch the long haul of the previous days out of our legs.

Since we were in Dusseldorf for Christian’s Trade Fair, we used our on-foot opportunity to find the exhibition grounds. We found it; almost 5km straight down the river, with promenade all the way, it couldn’t have been easier to get to. And also was confirmed as far enough to warrant a taxi rather than attempting to walk it in work gear and get all sweat!

Having worked up an appetite, we were very ready for Das Carl’s spread. Expecting a lacklustre continental breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised by the wide selection of meats, cheese, breads, eggs and a small hot selection of bacon, sausages and meatballs. To my great joy there was also a sweet section and I fell in love with the melt-in-your-mouth fresh ring doughnuts stuffed with custard.

By the time we were showered and dressed, it was time to get to our 12h30 walking tour. We met our tourguide, a Welshman named Michael, at Heinrich Heine Platz.

We were a bit early thanks to skilfully navigating our way there from our experience of the reccie the previous day, so we took a walk up and down glitzy Konigsallee, a grand boulevard with all the biggest names in fashion that you can think of. None of the shop windows had prices on any of the items, so you just know they must cost a fortune!

Michael welcomed our mixed bag group of travellers from Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Greece and us. He’d been living in Dusseldorf for 16 years, was a professional museum and had been running a fairly successful music school which had been wiped out by the pandemic. He warned us that he was relatively new to guiding and begged our forgiveness of his known weakness for dates (and his hangover from too much altbier the night before).

He walked us through the Old Town, recounting interesting stories and fumbling through dates (that didn’t really matter) so that by the end it felt like we had a reasonable idea of what was what.

It was hard to believe that Düsseldorf was so heavily bombed during WWII. Most of the city was destroyed and more than a third of the population killed by the weeks of incessant air raids. The Old Town has been beautifully restored though and of course, the newer part of the city established in grand style.

Michael also clarified Dusselfdorf’s claim as the world’s longest bar. Allegedly in olden times, drinking in the streets was frowned upon so the long row of side-by-side pubs had a bar counter that stretched between establishments and allowed customers to move between each bar using doors within the pub. Whether the tale is fact or fiction is irrelevant, with around 300 pubs and clubs within the half a square kilometre radius, it’s easy enough to allow the title even with a lot of poetic licence.

As is typical, it had been drizzling on and off throughout the tour but, credit to his performance (and our travel brollies), it didn’t dampen the experience at all.

Needing to whet our whistle after the long tour, we tried one of the other classic public houses, the Haubrauerei Zum Schlussel. Again, with the standing patrons on the pavement outside, but this time with a high cocktail table.

Wanting to get the authentic longest bar experience, we bounced from pub to pub, resting longer at some that appealed more than others, most notably a rock bar called Auberge that was playing an excellent playlist befitting a Sunday afternoon.

Cautious with a workday the next day and getting too much of a good thing too soon, we soaked up the beer with a hearty early supper at Schweine Jane’s, which Michael had recommended as best known for its pork buns. Ratified by the pork rotisserie in its window, we tucked into a massive fresh chewy bun, stuffed with slabs of juicy roast pork and creamy mayo. Not a veggie in sight.

MONDAY

Having a lot of Sunday to work off before being entitled to another hotel breakfast feast, we ran through the Old Town and then onto the beautiful Konigsallee. Almost devoid of people, the glass windows of the label-brand shops that lined the street seemed even bigger and shinier and the window-shopping at pace made both experiences more enjoyable.

Both of us were working an as-usual Monday so our run and breakfast needed to be done by 08h30 so that we could kick off our “Work From Anywhere” workday as if we were at our desk at home or hotdesk at the office. Fortunately, the hotel internet was solid and stable and we had both the benefit of a desk in our suite as well as almost exclusive free reign of the hotel since the other guests were presumably all out and about, enjoying their holiday or fulfilling their work commitments.

It was a treat to sit in the empty dining room that had bay windows along 2 sides, and people-watch the activities in the Carls Platz open-air market across the road while listening in to squads debating what to do about challenges they were facing with this, that and the other.

Taking no advantage, we put in a full day and it was almost 6pm by the time we were finished what we needed to do for the day.

The sun was still high in the sky though, so we still had a good few hours to use for our own adventuring.

With a curiously high Japanese population in Dusseldorf (almost 10% of the population), the Japanese Quarter has become very popular with locals and tourists alike, offering all sorts of Far Eastern cuisine.

Barely a kilometre or so from our hotel, we enjoyed the walk to exorcise the workday and – believe it or not – try and work up an appetite since our breakfast feast was still going the distance!

Having been to Japan twice, we were well versed in the various types of dishes and look for our favourite by far, tonkatsu! A perfect compromise with our commitment to an authentic German experience, tonkatsu is a breaded pork steak served with all the traditionally Japanese trimmings. This restaurant also had served it with a bowl of sesame seeds with mortar and pestle to grind out the flavours, mix with tonkatsu sauce and use it to dunk the already delicious pork cutlets into even more deliciousness. Again, not a veggie in sight.

It was a simple pleasure to be able to walk home after our meal. And quite difficult to resist stopping off en route since it was still light and bright. But with the Trade Fair the next day, we needed to get a good night’s sleep to make the most of the primary reason for the trip.

TUESDAY

Now in the habit of a morning trot before breakfast, we ran through the Old Town and along the promenade. Taking the bridge to the West, we crossed over to Oberkasse, a well-to-do suburb on the other side of the Rhine. We ran along the far riverbank and then crossed back to our side using the East bridge. A wonderful crisp easy-pace run that gave us the 5km and 30 mins we needed to dive into the buffet guilt-free.

We were ready well in time to grab an Uber to the Trade Fair for opening.

Christian had made several appointments in advance while I was going to have a gander at some of the stands that were relevant to my industry to see if there were any nuggets that I could take home to change our world.

The show was in the Messe complex, well-established in the world of exhibitions. There were hundreds of exhibitors spread across 2 giant halls. Everything to do with retail, both brick-and-mortar and online. Security, point of sale solutions, safes, software, analytics… you name it, there was someone that did it and wanted to tell you all about it.

I left Christian to his business and did a wander round, asking questions and gathering business cards where I felt there might be a connection to my world of work. A lot of the stands had quite impressive swag to draw the best leads, but it wasn’t worth having to endure superfluous banter so I came away with a mere 2 pens and a cup of ice-cream for my troubles.

A couple of hours was all I needed so when I’d seen all I wanted to see, I walked back to the hotel. It was a beautiful day and a treat to be out in the sunshine and fresh air in the middle of the day, let alone walking along the Rhine!

Back at my desk to resume my usual schedule, the afternoon flew by and soon Christian was knocking at the door back from his full day at the Fair. He was pleased with what he’d accomplished and eager to send the topline feedback home to the team that had deployed him on this mission.

By the time he was done it was past 7pm, although you wouldn’t tell it by the light of day. And, not in the slightest bit hungry yet, I was starting to think that my appetite was aligning to my Circadian rhythms because my belly clearly didn’t know when dinnertime was anymore!

We decided to walk along the promenade to have a sundowner at the Dusseldorf Tower, from where you could apparently get a panoramic view that stretched as far as neighbouring city, Cologne, on a clear day. And today was a clear day.

Ambling along the wide walkway, we soaked in the sunshine and atmosphere on our trundle to the Tower.

On arrival, we were disappointed to find that it was closed for a private party. Bummer. No mind, we still had another evening to have another go at it.

Tired from a long day and with another ahead of us, we opted for a cheap and cheerful dinner rather than a lengthy sit-down. We’d noticed a few chippies that were very popular and gave the Wurtsmeister a go. With a footlong hotdog, a tub of currywurst and chips (drenched in mayo) to share, we were eating in minutes, soaking up the atmosphere of the Old Town at our standing table outside.

Weird as it was to go home in the daylight – and to attempt sleep as it was only just getting dark, the day caught up with us and we were soon recharging our body batteries in preparation for our last day in Dusseldorf.

WEDNESDAY

Old hat at our Dusseldorf routine by now, we sped through our run, buffet and preparation routine and were ready well in time to start our work commitments for the day.

Christian had an even more jam-packed schedule for his second day at the Trade Fair, so packed himself off into an Uber to get cracking. I popped a Do Not Disturb sign on our door and settled in for my morning meetings.

Having taken leave for the Thursday and Friday, it was a busy day handling the usual routine as well as preparing for the time off and monthly reporting due early the next week.

The day went by in a flash and soon Chris was knocking on the door, very pleased with another productive day of meetings, both planned and opportune.

It had been drizzling on and off all afternoon but had turned into a lovely evening. We headed out of Das Carls Hotel for our last outing in Dusseldorf, opting to start with a last-blast pint of pils at Auberge before having dinner at another of Michael’s recommendations, known for their schnitzels.

With the sun still up and the sky clear and blue, there were still loads of people on the promenade when we’d finished dinner so, paradoxically compared to the running order at home, we decided to go for a sundowner. We had yet to tick the Dusseldorf Tower off our list and welcomed the walk along the river to settle our dinner and enjoy the moderate weather.

To our dismay, we were turned away from the Tower for not having masks with us! Having taken days to undo the habit that had been entrenched with our mandatory mask-wearing laws at home, it was bitterly ironic that when we finally shook the habit, we were called on it! Clearly it was not meant to be.

We settled instead for a pint of Warsteiner at the café at the base of the Tower and did very little but watch the sunbathers, the men throwing frisbees back and forth, the dog-walkers, the wedding party taking their photos, the cyclists whizzing past, the joggers puffing and panting and all the other shapes and sizes that were making the most of another lovely day in Dusseldorf.

Travelogue Namibia 5: Etosha

ETOSHA
30 September – 2 October 2021

Nearing the end of our grand roadtrip, the drive from Palmwag to Etosha mapped at 322km. We had done enough driving in Namibia to know that the mileage meant nothing; the terrain would dictate the travel time.

Spotting 5 giraffe almost immediately upon exiting the gate at Palmwag Lodge was a clue that we were in the bush and should expect slow going.

What we did not expect was the 10km of the Grootberg Pass, with its white-knuckle narrow roads, and the car occasionally slipping and sliding on the loose gravel, nudging toward the low pile of rocks acting as a guardrail between the road and steep gorge. We were grateful to be in the big and burly Hilux – and wondered if the burnout cars commonly found along our route had proved powerless in these circumstances and just been abandoned in favour of something more suitable.

Our midway stop proved to be a fail. Fortunately for us we had had more than our fill at the Palmwag Lodge buffet breakfast because Kamanjab turned out to be a bustling petrol station and Spar; more of a rank than a one-stop.

The intersection did herald the start of 61km of glorious tar road, on which we could make up some lost time and perhaps even get in the afternoon swim that has eluded us the previous day!

There was much excitement when we spotted the first Etosha Conservancy sign and, with kind roads at our disposal, we arrived just after 15h00 at our camp, Okaukuejo.

Etosha is one giant pan, and the basin of a massive prehistoric lake that was around 300m deep in places. With scale like that to contend with and the park’s reputation as one of the greatest in the world, we had been entirely pragmatic in our choice of Etosha accommodation – chosen purely for being the shortest, easiest drive back to Windhoek for our flight home. And we had gotten very lucky.

Okaukuejo Camp’s claim to fame was a floodlit watering hole that attracted animals throughout the day and night. And our chalets were right on the edge of the watering hole, so we had swathes of animals coming right to us! This suited the agenda for our last stop perfectly: see as much as possible while doing as little as possible.

There were 4 rhino lazily wallowing in the watering hole while we unpacked our bags from the car and settled into our homes for the next two nights. They paid little attention to their onlookers, observing from the benches dotted around the rock-wall crescent that separated the human domain from the animals’.

With a giraffe silhouetted in the background and elephants entering from stage right, we knew we were in for very easy animal-spotting at Okaukuejo and could afford to take a load off with some wallowing of our own in the human swimming pool.

The Camp was compact but had everything you might need – a restaurant, a bar, a tourist office, snack shop, filling station and even a castle with spiral stairs you could climb to get a 3-storey high vantage point of miles and miles around. We took advantage of all but the filling station, revelling in being able to park the car for a solid 36-hours of downtime.

We had booked a dinner, bed and breakfast package, so the biggest task for the evening was to choose a meal from the set menu. Opting for an Oryx steak (for the third day in a row) was a great decision. Yet again juicy and tender, fast becoming a favourite that was bound to be craved and missed on our return home.

….

We had already seen enough wildlife at the watering hole to completely discount the need for a game drive, so there was no rush to get moving on the last day of our roadtrip-proper.

Easing into a buffet breakfast just after 9 (to meet the 09h30 cut-off) was about as pressured as the day was going to get. And even that warranted a little lie-down, after the obligatory check-in of the watering hole.

There was always something to see, with what looked like a hundred or more Springbok taking their turn, while a handful of Kudu were slowly edging in from the one side and Wildebeest trundling in from the outskirts. By the time we resurfaced, the players had again changed and a dazzle of zebra were playing swapsies on the far edge of the watering hole, with a few remaining Springbok who paced skittishly in anticipation. Ever faithful, a pair of giraffe obliged in the background to complete the (current) picture.

Our game play had been to hit the swimming pool at midday in the hopes of securing a set of loungers. A complete holiday cliche, all loungers had been spoken-for the previous afternoon, with towels and belongings claiming territory for absent persons.

Our thinking paid off and the pool area was near-deserted. Whether it was lunchtime, siesta or the crazy desert heat we head to thank didn’t matter, we got our loungers. We showed our appreciation by spending 3 long and lovely hours poolside, enjoying the day, the water and snacks from the tuckshop.

We were packed up and ready to go back to our chalet when we overheard another guest announcing excitedly that there were elephants moving towards the watering hole. We chivvied along and were rewarded with the sighting of a lifetime.

Almost on cue, as we got back to our homebase vantage point, 3 elephants came trotting in – literally trotting; I have never seen elephants move so fluidly – and entered the water on the edge closest to us. Then another 3… And a baby elephant… And a few more… And then a few more. They streamed in, a long line of all shapes and sizes, motivated to get to the watering hole and slotting in very neatly side-by-side so all could access.

There must have been 30 or more by the time the whole herd arrived. Some were drinking quietly at the edges, some splish-sploshing in the water, one was shooting water into the air from her trunk, two younger males were playfully locking tusks (until they got a stern look from a massive male).

And then, as organised as they had arrived, the leader started making tracks back into the bush, the herd restored its trail and within minutes they were gone again. I can’t recall having seen anything so mesmerising on any wildlife shows – and have seldom seen so well-executed a show as the effortless and seamless display the herd had put on for us.

Somehow our splish-splosh in the shower was less spectacular, but a necessary process to prepare for sundowners – on the chalet patio, watching some more “Watering Hole TV” – and another dinner on the terrace at the restaurant.

An early start the next day (necessitated by time constraints to get our mandatory Covid test results in time for our flight on Sunday) warranted an early night.

I happened to wake up in the middle of the night though and on the off-chance popped by head out the front door to see what was going on at the watering hole. Not much, just a mother and child set of rhino, being observed by some very diligent nature-mad humans. Good night, everyone!

Travelogue Namibia 4: Palmwag

PALMWAG
29-30 September 2021

Banking on a relatively short (3 or so hour) next leg on our journey, there was time for a run along the beach and a hearty steak (Oryx), egg (scrambled) and hash potatoes (imitation of the night before) breakfast.

We pointed the car toward Henties Bay and began to drive the requisite 70km along the Skeleton Coast.

We stopped to view a shipwreck, grounded as recently as 2008; surprisingly recent given the assumption of modern nautical navigation technology as well as the dilapidated state of the rusted remains that bear testament to the brutal weather that probably drove the ship ashore in the first place.

We had little to do in Henties Bay with no sights or excursions to speak of – and not ready to eat again yet. However, it was a good opportunity to pitstop (last loo for 200km of dirt road, and we knew from firsthand experience that you never know what might happen on these treks) and stock up on roadtrip essentials (water and biltong for the drive; beers for arrival).

There was precious little to see and do on our route, so big ups to Chris for planning ahead for a lunch break in Uis, which was more or less halfway through the 420km we needed to do for the day. And was a “blink and you’ll miss it” town, at best.

Brandberg Rest Camp was modest and welcomed in equal parts; allowing a leg-stretch around the terrace and a laugh at the novelty decor (including an L-shaped pool table) while we waited for our toasted sarmies.

The second half of our drive seemed to stretch on and on, slowed as we navigated the mountains, with their narrower roads, uneven surfaces and twists and turns that we hadn’t had to negotiate on the flat, straight, endless desert roads. During our planning, we had read on several reviews that drivetimes are guesswork at best and it’s always advisable to add 1-2 hours allowance on each leg. True story!

We arrived in the Palmwag Lodge camp at around 17h30, much later than we had intended, thinking we’d arrive mid-afternoon and lounge around in the pool, to beat the heat.

Nevermind though, our glamping tents were spacious and comfortable, each with a table and benches on its private patio, and fully-kitted for self-catering, including steel wine glasses, which was all the sign we needed to open our bottle of red to accompany the sunset.

Palmwag is famous for the elephants in the surrounding area, so it was hardly surprising but still delightful when all it took for elephant-spotting was to walk into the open-air dining room for dinner!

The thatched A-frame had clearly been designed to provide for a panoramic view, with no more than a wooden bannister across the far end. The few diners already seated were watching as a herd of elephants casually made their way across the veld, with a perfect orange ball of sun setting over the silhouetted horizon behind them.

Dinner in the restaurant was a multi-course affair with wine pairings, which was beyond our current appetite so we opted for the a la carte pool bar restaurant instead. A far better fit, with wraps, burgers and melt-in-your-mouth Oryx steaks.

Thankfully, we’d already seen the elephants so there was no pressure get up early to go on a game drive, so we could lounge at the pool area after all, with a few beers and shooters to loosen up after a long day in the car.

The glamping tents offered the best night’s sleep! Equipped with anything and everything you’d expect in a hotel building (including a portable aircon), the beds were every bit as comfortable, with light duvets, warm blankets and soft pillows that worked with the dead-of-night darkness and middle-of-nowhere silence for optimal slumbering.

I was very surprised when a gardener pointed out some footprints, showing that elephants had walked through the camp the night before! They must have tip-toed for us not to hear them…

Travelogue Namibia 3: Swakopmund

SWAKOPMUND
27-29 September 2021

With a spring in our step for the daily desert rise-and-shine on a work-free workday, we started the day with running a loop of our camp, down to the main gate and across and around a neighbouring camp we discovered had been hiding behind the rocky outcrop against which our chalets were nestled. Thankfully we were out early enough to benefit from the flat and dry desert course, before the sun sapped all energy and any will to move at all.

Having worked up an appetite, we were grateful for the leftovers from the braai the night before, wolfing down our Oryx, fried onion and cheese steak rolls.

We packed the truck and hit the road, with 346km – of mostly dirt road – to contend with to get us to Swakopmund.

The Namibian countryside is so vast and varied that parts of the journey seem disconnected, like you’re on a completely different road on a completely different roadtrip to the one you were on a few kilometres back (or a few kilometres forward, for that matter). Sure, a lot of the view is arid, deserty desertness… But then a massive charcoal-coloured rocky outcrop will appear, or you’ll drive through a deep gorge that must have been a raging river at some point, or tightly overlapping golden hillocks that looks like someone took to the land from above with a massive rotary beater.

Most of the journey is flat and wide dirt road, dry and compacted to allow for some speed, but rocky enough to caution against going too fast lest your tyres pay the price. The bits through the gorge can be quite harrowing though; steep and narrow, and making us grateful for the stability of our big, heavy double-cab truck with its 4×4 capability that we hoped not to need.

Arriving in town, we had little trouble finding our Airbnb accommodation since it was adjacent to a substantial landmark, the sparkling new Platz Am Meer shopping centre. In a light and bright modern complex, our fully-kitted duplex promised to serve us well for the next couple of nights.

Hungry from a long day’s travel, we dumped our bags and headed straight out. Surprisingly, the temperature had dropped radically and it was barely 20 degrees! Fortunately not windy as Luderutz had been, so perfectly manageable with a change of holiday uniform, into jeans and a hoodie.

We found a cosy garden cafe called Wurstbude, across the road from the beach and sheltered by overhead vines, and settled in for a leisurely late lunch/early dinner, with a very cosmopolitan mix of samoosas, seafood, pizza and goulash.

Although it was chilly, it was still worth a walk back across the Paddock Gardens to the Platz Am Meer, and braving a seafront terrace table for the sunset. It was good to round off the day with making plans for the rest of our stay, before heading home for movie night.

We awoke to a grey day. Not quite raining but not quite not raining, the air was thick and wet. Not great for sightseeing… But perfect for a morning run along the promenade.

With no clear intention, we ran around the beach side of the mall and past the pretty Paddock Gardens (that already had the sprinklers going).

Conveniently, there was a paved path that ran along the beach – literally, a few metres from the water, not the usual roadside pavement! – on the whole stretch between our mall and the waterfront and lighthouse on the other side of the strand. It was an easy run, at sea level and in a light mist from the cool morning. As an added bonus, our loop encompassed the local Park Run route, so another box incidentally ticked.

Juices flowing and appetite stoked, we showered and jumped in the car to go explore Walvis Bay.

The roads were good, but there was not much to see en route bar the odd sprout of a suburb on the sea side and sand, sand, sand on the inland side. We stopped for a photo opp at Dune 7, so-named (according to Google) because it is the 7th highest in the world, at around 383m. To give perspective, the Big Daddy at Sossusvlei the day before had been around 350m… Although it did look a lot bigger, probably because of the context of the setting.

There are 4×4 and quad biking excursions available at the dunes and, judging by the odd trail of footprints, some souls choose to hike up and barrel down, but we had a different agenda so kept moving to Walvis Bay.

We planned our arrival as a drive-through experience to see us to the quayside for some fresh seafood, but had to make an obligatory stop to photograph the flocks of flamingos treading gingerly in the shallow foreshore.

The modest waterfront had a handful of restaurants and shops; we chose the anchor and were soon feasting on delicious fresh battered hake and fried calamari.

We had left Ian at home, working, so made our way back once our lunch was done.

After a rest stop, Chris and I drove to the Swakopmund old Town – no more than a few kilometers away – and used an online walking tour to self-guide through the quaint little town, making note of what to show our friends when we returned as a group later.

The town is remarkable since most of the buildings date to the turn of the last century and have been maintained in pristine condition. The town has all the old-world charm of yesteryear, but look like they were painted yesterday!

Being a holiday town, there is a high concentration of pubs and restaurants. The walking tour circuit had given us a chance to see a lot of them up close – and review the menus displayed outside.

With experience on our side, the evening’s running order was a relatively simple choice: Butcher & Brewer on the waterfront for sundowners (because it housed Swakopmund craft brewery), then Fachwerk beer garden (because it was the oldest building we’d seen, 1899) for pre-dinner and lastly Brauhaus for dinner (because the internet reviews placed it as undisputed best German food restaurant in town).

It was a winning combo. We were back at the waterfront well in time to enjoy a couple of draughts while lapping up the seaside view. Then we had a fun game of giant Jenga in the Fachwerk beer garden, while the other patrons were participating in a very leisurely game of Bingo. Then the Brauhaus dazzled us with perfect schnitzels, eisbein and crunchy bratkartoflen (roast hash potatoes).

Travelogue Namibia 2: Sossusvlei

SOSSUSVLEI
25-27 September 2021

Leaving behind lovely Luderitz, we hit the road to take us into the desert at Sossusvlei. The roads in Namibia are really well maintained – which must be no mean feat with the wind and the desert constantly trying to cover them – but also very economically distributed between landmark towns.

Consequently, we needed to retrace our route, past the Ghost Town we had passed on our way in and then visited properly the previous day, and about another 100km inland to get to the turn off to move north towards Sossusvlei.

This new route, although a main artery, was a dirt road, which slowed our progress somewhat. With the first item on the day’s itinerary being lunch at a German restaurant pitstop, Helmeringhausen, there may have been sense of humour issues had it not been for our holiday high spirits, a downloaded playlist (we had already learnt that consistent cell network is not a thing in Namibia) and the benefit of experience meaning we’d planned and packed padkos snacks.

Once again, our landscape view shifted from light sand to rocky outcrops to the sort of desert you see in the movies (dark peppercorn knobbles of shrubs on a red sand scalp) and then to the golden longer brush you expect in a game reserve back home. With a low mountain range – we suspected to be the Tirasberge – framing on all sides, the view could contend to be what Uncle Peter would call a vistarama.

We attempted the much-talked-about game of I Spy, but once we’d gone through Sand, Rock, Fence, Road, Sign, Sky and Telephone Poles, the options were pretty much to start again or quit. We chose to quit while we were ahead.

Arriving in the booming metropolis of Helmeringhausen revealed nothing more than a handful of buildings; a general dealer, a house, a post office, the hotel/curio shop/restaurant lunch stop and a 2 pump service station … Which proved usefully-timed as Chris spotted our back passenger tyre was flat as we left the restaurant.

The garage attendent popped a plug into the tyre and we were off, crisis averted.

Except it wasn’t.

About 100km later our back driver-side tyre burst. Argh!

Fortunately, the boys knew what to do and – besides a big mission to get the jack in the exact right place to hoist up the massive car – it was a relatively smooth operation to change out the dud tyre for the spare, which had been nested under the car.

We had been very fortunate to break down somewhere with cell phone signal – which had been at best erratic on all roads – so I was able to make myself useful and contact Avis to report the mishap and get instructions. The lady at the Avis call centre found a matching tyre at Maltahohe, 80km down the road (and not a whole lot off our route) and we dutifully obliged; spending a half hour in another of Namibia’s tiny towns while the tyre was replaced and the spare renested.

The detour meant that we arrived in our homebase for the next two nights much later than expected. It was after 6.30pm and we were chasing last light to get safely to our haven in the very remote and daunting terrain. We were relieved and delighted to arrive at the Desert Quiver Camp in one piece (and 5 functional tyres) as the darkness enveloped the road.

Sossusvlei and surrounds are famous for the dunes and the desert experience, which are immensely popular with international tourists and nature buffs alike. Consequently, accommodation options vary from camping to glamping to eye-wateringly priced luxury camps. We had taken our chances with the reasonably-priced chalets at Desert Quiver… And our bet had paid off.

Simple but tasteful, modern and very comfortable 2-sleeper chalets with aircon (essential!), kitchenette, braai facilities, and generously spaced for unobstructed views of the desert on all sides, with a serviced clubhouse with pub and pool, if you felt social.

After a fairly harrowing extended day on the road we declined the option to drive 4km down the road to Sossusvlei Lodge for buffet dinner, opting rather to have a sundowner at the pub and fashion a picnic dinner from our leftovers from Luderitz and our padkos supplies.

Great decision, leaving us to appreciate the great outdoors and continue with our newly-acquired amateur star-gazing hobby while Chris stole the show, whipping up fried cheesy hotdog toasties on the hotplate in our kitchenette.

Awaking to an already-warm 7am, we applauded ourselves for heeding the advice of the receptionist the previous night; she had warned us that leaving for the dunes too late could ruin the experience because of the oppressive heat.

With fruit and leftover hotdogs in the fridge, it was quick n easy to get a slap-up breakfast together and hit the road.

We were ideally placed, with the Gate to the Namib-Naukluft National Park a few kilometres down the road (just beyond the restaurant we had declined the previous night). However, once in the park it was another 60km to get to the shuttle that transports tourists around the dunes.

The shuttle drivers were very friendly, got us packed into the game drive vehicle efficiently and before you could say “so much sand”, we were trundling across dry salt pans and over the silky red sand dunes to get to the Dead Vlei valley with its graveyard of trees, unable to survive the dry saltiness of the ground in which they had been seeded.

The Big Daddy Dune arched above and was a 1 – 1.5 hour hike to complete end-to-end but, with the sand already as hot as it was, there was no incentive to commit to more than a few mid-dune pics for posterity and perspective. No regrets; it’s an awe-inspiring landscape and the magnitude and rugged beauty can be appreciated from any level!

The shuttle then took us across the plain to the smaller curved Big Momma dune, which sheltered a watering hole below. We were able to walk from the parking area where the water was little but a mirage on the horizon, and cross the caked clay to the water’s edge. The driver told us that when the floods come, the entire basin gets filled – way beyond the area where we were currently parked – demonstrating exactly how extreme the ecosystem is.

By then it was past 11am, over 35 degrees and a long time since breakfast, so we jumped back in the car, retracing our footsteps and stopping for the occasional photo as we drove back to the permit office at the Gate for lunch in the adjacent restaurant.

We got back to camp at around 1 and since we’d been admin-forward in ordering a braai kit from reception in the morning (they offered a shopping service where you select meats, veg, salads and breads from a checklist and they deliver in the evening), we had absolutely nothing to do all afternoon besides relax at the clubhouse and enjoy the pool.

We thanked our lucky stars that we had gotten all our sightseeing done early; by now it was baking hot – around 40 degrees – and there was a blustering hot wind. The wind was so strong and so consistent that I had to position myself to sit facing into it to avoid a faceful of hair like Cousin It from Adams Family. It was also so hot that it was like having a massive hairdryer pointing at you. Fortunately we didn’t have to lift a finger because everything would have been an effort!

Once our braai pack arrived, we set about making our fire. The pack included a homemade firelighter that required us to gather dry sticks from nearby bushes to act as kindling for the wooden logs provided.

We had ordered generously, so feasted on delicious Oryx steaks, Namibian lamb chops and local wors, with foil-wrapped potatoes and onions as well as tubs of coleslaw and pasta salad. A fitting finish to a fantastic day.

Travelogue Namibia 1: Luderitz

LUDERITZ
24-25 September 2021

A Namibian trip had been on the cards for years; deprioritised for the very many other adventures that had swallowed up all the not-enough leave days.

Having robbed us of a planned trip to Lesotho in July with our friends Michele & Ian, finally the pandemic provided the perfect window of opportunity for a cross-border flit, between a brutal winter 3rd Covid Wave and any hope of travel abroad opening up again while South Africa was on the Red List.

Highly motivated, Christian took it upon himself to sketch a magnificent roadtrip for our Awesome Foursome that would include desert, sea, mountains, bush and city breaks all wrapped up in a 10 day whirlwind tour. With the magnitude of expansive Namibia, it was going to be a lot of driving. But with good company and lots of exciting excursions ahead, we jumped at the chance!

We booked our flights; holding our breath that the Covid infection numbers would stabilise and the borders remain open. When things looked promising, we booked all the accommodation and the rental car and that was it, the (impatient) countdown began.

You could tell we were hot to trot because we’d booked the red-eye flights out to make the most of our first day of holiday. This meant leaving home at 03h30 for the airport – and a very long hour’s wait between check-in and boarding, in an eerily quiet airport, with “closed until further notice” signs in the Lounge windows.

The flight was uneventful (no doubt thanks to the ridiculous hour and the smattering of passengers sleeping off the early start) and we were soon disembarking the little plane, on the runway in what looked like the middle of nowhere. No city to be seen in any direction; just dry brown semi-desert. How awesome.

We got our rental – a big double-cab Hilux that would see us through even the most rugged parts of our route – and hit the road, with an ambitious 500km of open road standing between us and lunch in Keetmanshoop.

Heading South, the miles sped by on well-maintained roads with little traffic. And not much to see bar the same dry barren veld on either side of the road.

Needing to break the journey, we randomly settled on Kalkrand as a roadside dot on the map. It proved to be little more than that when the reality presented itself; dry, closed petrol pumps, a dodgy pub, a rip-off tuckshop and public toilets at N$2 per person for the pleasure (loosely-termed, with no toilet seats or cisterns and toilet paper rations allocated on upfront cash payment – with exact monies required or no change issued).

Back in the car with massively overpriced water and chips, not 10 minutes later we drove through Namibia’s version of the Harrismith one-stop. Would have been far better suited to our intentions. Typical!

By 2 o’clock we reached Keetmanshoop, which was the town at the crossroads at which our southerly journey turned west towards the coast. It proved to be an awkward time to get lunch, with several places already concluded their lunch sitting and only reopening for dinner at 5.

Determined not to do a fast food chain lunch, we found the Bird’s Nest Hotel was open, and happy to serve us in their courtyard terrace. We ordered wraps and had our first Windhoek draught to celebrate our arrival in Namibia.

Far from done with driving for the day, we were back in the car by 3.30 with another 330km yet to do to get to Luderitz.

The terrain gradually metamorphosed from the dry veld generously dotted with brown shrubs, to rocky landscape and then to the sandy desert we had been expecting all along. Not an ideal drive to be playing I Spy, with so little stimulus!

We were very pleased when we eventually got our first glimpse of the shimmering Atlantic. Even though it was just gone 18h30, it was still light and we got to enjoy spectacular views from our digs for the next two nights; sea-facing suites in an Airbnb on the Shark Island peninsula that jutted out into the ocean from the base of town.

Luderitz is a sweet and compact little town so nothing was very far from our homebase. We decided to get moving to catch the last of the sunset at the Luderitz Yacht Club, a few hundred metres away at the waterfront, obviously.

The barman served us ice-cold Windhoek draught in ice-cold beer mugs and we celebrated our arrival before heading off to The Portuguese Fisherman, which our host had recommended to us for dinner. We saw why, with a magnificent meal of fresh seafood plucked straight off the local coastline.

Curfew and the long day curtailed any further shenanigans and we were pleased to get an earlyish night to recharge the batteries.

We had driven past Kolmanskop on our way into Luderitz and had a sneak peek of the famous Ghost Town, which was #1 on our To Do list. A few enquiries revealed that there were guided tours at 9.30 and 11, so we chose the latter to allow for a breakfast in the restaurant in the Ghost Town beforehand.

The tour was brilliant. Our guide set the scene with the story of Luderitz, named after a tobacco dealer from Bremen. Looking for copper, he had completely overlooked the diamonds that existed in abundance just down the drag. Over 5 million carats were mined in Kolmanskop; 90% gem quality diamonds (10% industrial) compared with 60/40 in Kimberley.

Although even that was relatively short-lived when 1927 saw the start of the death of Kolmanskop when bigger diamonds were found on the other side of the Orange River so all the people and equipment went there. There was mass exodus from the town which eventually died completely when the hospital closed in 1956.

Kolmanskop is an open air museum, where visitors are guided through the existing buildings to get the history and anecdotes, and then are free to wander at will in and out of the houses and businesses of the deserted town.

The tour began in the Town Hall, which sounds pretty lush for this weird manmade oasis in the Namib, at the turn of the last century. The Hall had a champagne lounge for the ladies, a smoking and poker room for the men, with a restaurant that had bell strings suspended from the ceiling and over the tables such that each could command personalised service from the kitchen, where you can still see the original stoves that prepared hundred of meals a day. It also had gym equipment and housed the first library in southern Africa. Below was the bowling alley – complete with still-operational mechanism to return the ball from the skittles end to the start of the lane! – with the original bar and bar-fridge still in place.

The Hall was on Kaizer Wilhelm Street (Millionaire’s Row), where you are still able to walk through many of the buildings, including the architect’s house, the Quartermaster’s house that also acted as B&B for the VIP guests and international artists who came to put on shows on the stage in the Town Hall.

Our guide told us that the houses were very advanced for their time. There were seawater taps in the houses. Fresh drinking water was imported from Cape Town in barrels, by the thousands of kilolitres! There was even a seawater swimming pool with diving board.

The hospital was also very advanced for its time and could bed 250 people at a time – which seems like a lot since there were only 300 German adults, 44 children and 800 Namibian workers living in Kolmanskop – and first Xray machine in Southern Africa, which was an essential not for health purposes, but rather to detect diamond-smuggling. There was also a wine cellar below because the head doctor believed all patients should have a glass of wine every day.

Even though the town was established in 1911, every house had a telephone and electricity. There was an ice factory that used sea water tanks, amonia gas and electricity to freeze in about 24 hours. Complimentary frozen blocks were delivered to everyone each day to put into their cold cupboard to keep their food cold, along with a crate of lemonade and soda water; all delivered by mule-drawn taxi.

One of the colourful anecdotes shared was in the butchery, where the story goes that the menfolk would get hammered in the bowling alley bar, get into trouble with their wives and then break into the butchery to steal all the sausages when their wives refused them dinner. The butcher would then consult the barman to see who had been at the alley and consequently send them a bill for their haul. Sounds like a fun caper – and like a reasonably good existence in general, bar the actual living in the remoteness of the desert and the punishing windiness.

We suspected the excursion was going to be the highlight of our tour. A great start that was going to be hard to beat!

Still full from the sumptuous breakfast, we skipped lunch in favour of a drive around the Peninsular that we could see across the bay from our deck. Our hosts had put together a printed album of the highlights of Luderitz so we knew to expect a 60km loop with several bays and lookout points.

We picked the more interesting ones; Diaz Point (for the cross placed there by Bartholomew Diaz in 1488) and Halifax Bay for views of the Penguins on Halifax Island and the grave of George Pond of London, who had been outcast from Luderitz and walked to Halifax Bay to reach his only friend on the island, but died of hunger and thirst waiting for the low tide so he could get across. It was, as we suspected commonplace, blowing a gale, so George probably had quite a miserable end of days, poor chap.

Very pleased with our day’s achievements so far, we took a time out at a pizza bar in town called Ritzi’s to grab a cold beer before our walking tour of town. With everything so close together, we figured there was no rush.

Good thing too, because the 2 sights we’d earmarked in town turned out to be literally a couple of hundred metres apart. It was a 20 minute affair to see the famous Lutheran church with its spectacular views and original stained glass windows and Goerke Haus, which was built on Diamond Hill by the richest man in town for his lady, for her arrival from Germany. No expense was spared and he built a fabulous mansion, with everything fully imported from Germany. All for nought though; she got to Luderitz and couldn’t abide the wind so left him and went straight back to Germany.

To be fair, it really is a windy town. But we still enjoyed the view from our relatively sheltered deck as we recounted the many highlights of the day, so this Mrs Goerke might have been a bit hasty.

We closed off our time in Luderitz with sundowners at a fun local pub in town called Bottles, dinner at Essenweitz at the Waterfront and then star-gazed from our deck, thanks to the clear skies and carpet of bright stars that seemed so much closer than at home.

Travelogue Northern Cape: Part 2

NORTHERN CAPE Part 2

KAKAMAS
3 August

Having already spent our first night in the Green Kalahari belt, the plan was for our second day to be spent travelling to the farthest end such that the remainder of our trip would be spent winding our way back (slowly) in the direction of home.

This meant that Wednesday’s plan began with a visit to Augrabies Falls and had us sleeping in Kakamas.

With only 70km to cover and very relaxed hosts at Bezalel Wine Estate, there was no hurry to start our day. With the sun up and the makings of a lovely morning, it was very refreshing to put on our running togs and take a jog through the vineyards again while we discussed the finer details of the plan for the day.

We settled on a picnic at Augrabies Falls. And we already had all the supplies. Bonus.

On the road with our friends, Motley Crue (the audiobook into which we were now thoroughly engrossed), the time (and the endless bushveld scenery) whizzed by and we were soon at Augrabies Falls National Park.

We pulled up at the main building and – whether it was because of Covid, being midweek or just winter in the Northern Cape – discovered we had the place to ourselves.

Taking the winding path down to the gorge, it was a now-rare pleasure to be able to enjoy the open-air excursion mask-free. The Park has set up wooden walkways and viewing decks along the edge of the gorge and we walked end-to-end, able to admire the fierceness of the falls, the magnitude of the gorge and the scary drop between us on the overhanging viewing deck and the water so far beneath us.

Having done 2km along the walkways, we were ready for our light picnic lunch and enjoyed our sarmies, watching the little dassies sniffing and scurrying about the place, like chubby little Daxies.

The Kakamas Hotel was also directly on the N14 which runs from Upington to Augrabies so we’d passed it on our way through and, with the hotel being on the far side of Kakamas from the Augrabies side, by the time we checked in we’d had two passes through Kakamas which, thanks to boundless graphic signage, was enough to give us locals-level qualification on lay of the land and a very clear agenda. Wine-tasting and pizza at Die Mas.

The Kakamas Hotel for all its small town lodge charm boasted a 4-star rating, which showed in the efficient way we were managed from car to our ultra modern suite, with slimline admin consisting only of our obligatory Covid declaration form and the three little words everyone is always excited to hear: Breakfast Is Included.

Pausing ever so briefly to appreciate our pretty home for the night – from the gravel pathway across the shaded lawns down to the pond where the local gaggle was lazily sliding across the still waters – we were motivated to get back in the car and on our way to our next adventure.

Die Mas had come recommended to us by friends in Jo’burg, and lived up to the anticipation that had been set.

With Wine, Brandy and Gin tasting on offer, we settled (as the only customers, spilt for choice) at a bench table at the outer edge of the grapevine-covered terrace to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and wonderful view, and ordered the white wine flight.

The chap serving us had no sooner poured into the tasting glass when a gust of wind came along and blew it right over! With no intention of wasting any more wine, we moved inside to an upright-barrel table.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the white flight, we ordered the red as well. While swirling and sniffing and sipping and critiquing, a couple of swarthy chaps came in and sat at one of the sets of table and chairs.

With awe, we watched as they ordered the wines, the brandy and the gin tastings all in one go. AND a Brandy and Coke long drink each for in between. They did a bit of swirling and some sniffing, but mostly slinging and giggling and having the best time.

We, meantime, had been served the bad news that the kitchen was not operating. So no pizza. But, when in Rome and all that, so we did a brandy tasting (seemed to be working for our neighbours) and ordered a bottle of Rose Pinot Noir instead.

The wind had died down so we moved back outside and enjoyed the start of sunset with the lovely local’s finest, pleased to see our super-tasters from inside leaving with arms laden with the cases they’d bought to take home.

An extensive Google to try and find a dinner alternative revealed a distinct lack of options. Not believing what we were seeing, we took a drive through the part of town that seeped inland from the N14 and despite finding schools, the usual handful of town buildings, a compact and neat suburb and after a brief foray into the local settlement, we found that Google had indeed been telling the truth.

Fortunately, our hotel had a restaurant, so we had a very pleasant poolside dinner with another bottle of Die Mas Pinot Noir for good measure.

UPINGTON
4 August

While our hotel was a pretty slice of the countryside, it was also right on the main road, which left nowhere to do our now-ritual morning run.

Good opportunity for a sleep-in and a hearty brekkie before the hop back along the now-very-familiar N14 to Upington.

We’d called ahead and arranged early check-in at our hotel, the Oasis, which soon proved to be a lot of value for our money, from the prime location on park-and-walk-anywhere Schroder Street, to the airconditioned reception to the access to the amenities at the Protea next door. And yes, Breakfast Was Included.

Since it wasn’t yet midday, we had plenty of time for a session in the fitness centre in the Protea. Chris opted to do weights and whatnot while he had access to the equipment and I filled the gap of my missing running partner by running along with the Olympics contestants on the telly in the gym. I did 2 sets of 3000m steeplechase with the world’s finest athletes, cheating a bit since I didn’t think the hotel would appreciate me leaping on the treadmill or splashing through the kiddies pool for authenticity of my virtual event.

Our pre-planning had uncovered a local offering called “Sakkie Se Arkie” that looked worth a try. The review promised a relaxing couple of hours of sunset cruise down the Orange River, which sounded about our speed. Showered and ship-shape, we prioritised going down to the jetty to book so that we would work timings around that excursion.

Fortunately we had taken the car purely because the Orange River Wine Cellars tasting rooms were 4km from the hotel or we would have felt very foolish driving to Sakkie Se Arkie, which we’d assumed as a turn of phrase when the Oasis receptionist had told us it was ‘around the corner’, but which turned out to even be understated since it was just on the other side of the Protea Hotel building!

Sadly, the cruise season had not yet begun (combination of weather and lack of demand) so there would be no Arkie for us. But there was wine-tasting, so all was not lost.

And neither could we be since the tasting rooms were literally on our road. Four short kilometres straight-straight down dead-straight flat-as-a-pancake Schroder Street.

We were very soon seated at a table at Orange River Cellars with a flight of 7 of their finest wines to sample; 3 whites and 3 reds of our choosing + a bonus red one that was new and being promoted.

We worked through the rainbow of generous tasters while lunch was served and then, with nothing else on the agenda, ordered a couple of glasses of our favourites and frittered away the afternoon, absorbed in the novelty of wine-routing.

We had hoped to get a pint of Guinness somewhere in the Northern Cape to add to our online Index. Some Google research had offered the promise of an Irish pub in Upington. And of course it was said to be on Schroder Street.

A few doors down from our home base, we had driven past it on our way out. It looked shut at the time, but we irrationally hoped it was something odd like small town hours or curfew-related restrictions or somesuch.

No such luck. On our return to our side of Schroder, a close up inspection revealed a note in the door that advised the pub was closed owing to lockdown and it was unknown when or if it would reopen. Equal parts sad for them and disappointing for us.

This only left the Red Ox for us for sundowners.

A complete surprise, the Red Ox proved to be a particularly shiny hidden gem. Upmarket enough to be associated with Sandton’s Butcher Shop or Rosebank’s Grillhouse, but with the added appeal of being riverside with spectacular sunset views over the Orange, our only regret was that we had eaten so recently since the delicious cuts on display in the counterstyle showcases and in the “Buy to Braai” fridges at the entrance were nothing short of mouth-watering.

We made do with sampling the local Kalahari Lager and Red Ox pilsner as it got dark and we planned our next day.

KURUMAN
5 August

When we had done our planning, we had only booked up until Upington, leaving the last couple of nights free in case we wanted extra time anywhere or got referrals along the way. Neither being the case, we were flying a bit blind, with the internet as our guide.

Scrutinising the route home, we made two decisions; firstly, to spend Thursday night in Kuruman (because we’d heard of it and there was a hotel in the same chain as the Kakamas Hotel that we’d so enjoyed) and secondly, to return home on Friday since the remaining distance was manageable and there was nothing else ‘must do’ en route.

Thursday morning began with a last run in the vineyards, accessing them by crossing the Orange on the bridge we’d seen from the Red Ox the night before, followed by a hearty breakfast at the hotel – a rare-pleasure buffet, carefully managed by the banqueting staff in line with rigid Covid protocols.

The only stop we made on the trip to Kuruman was at Kathu.

Established as an iron ore mining town, our limited view of Kathu gave us the opinion that although nice enough, there’s not a hell of a lot to see and do, so we settled for a quick visit to the local mall.

Leaving Kathu, it would appear that the town holds future promise with a lush looking country club and some adjacent residential development.

We did not hold a similar opinion of Kuruman which, sadly, was dusty and delapidated by first impression.

When the hotel manager at check-in warned us off the town’s claim to fame, the Eye of Kuruman, because of threat of vandalism and theft, the day’s fate was sealed.

We had booked a garden unit and it was right next to the pool so we did with our last afternoon on this roadtrip what we so seldom do on holiday. Absolutely nothing. And loved it.