Posted by: Diakonos | 27/01/2016

South Africans in Europe – Part 3

23768438320_9e192dd41b_oArchitecture, buildings, OLD buildings… For a South African tourist, with our relatively recent history, that remains one of the impressions of Europe. The oldest building in South Africa that remains in use (not ruins somewhere) is the Castle of Good Hope. That was built between 1666 and 1667. When one then walks down a small street in the Altstadt (old city) in Esslingen, Germany, and sees a notice on a building that is was built in 1232, it comes as a sort of shock… What is more of a shock is that people are still living in it! In fact, the oldest house still inhabited in Germany is in Esslingen!

Then, in the same part of Esslingen is the Palmscher Bau Restaurant. According to the story on the menu, the house was destroyed in a fire in 1701, rebuilt in the same style the same year. Later the family ran a post office on the ground floor, and in 1862 they received a license to run a restaurant. It is still being run today as a very nice restaurant! And this is not the only example. They abound in Esslingen, and I’m sure, in other parts of Europe.

Compared to medieval Esslingen, Paris is a relative youngster! Old Paris was prone to fires, cramped and dangerous. In fact is is described as “chaotic, overcrowded, dark, crime-ridden, dangerous and unhealthy”. Emporer Napoleon III instructed public administrator, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, to rebuild the city. So duly, between 1853 and 1870, a massive urban renewal project was undertaken. Over 350,000 people were relocated, whole neighbourhoods were demolished and rebuilt. What resulted is the Paris we see today. A Paris of boulevards, circles, monuments and magnificent buildings. This work wasn’t carried out without opposition of course. In 1870 Napoleon dismissed Haussmann, who had become very unpopular, although work on his project carried on right until 1927.

Haussmann used the Seine river as the basis from where he planned his street outlay. This means that there is some logic, but it escaped us! Go for a walk at night in the 20th arrondissement (district) and see how quickly you go for a tour of places you actually didn’t plan to go to! (I never get lost, we only go on unplanned tours!) It leads to interesting sights as well, like seeing the Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix church at night, but also the “working ladies” along the Boulevard de Belleville! (Who incidentally, from a cursory glance, mostly seemed to be from Asian origin!) Thank heavens for the Paris Metro which is logical (once you learned one or two rules in using it). We didn’t walk home, we took the Metro, after a 4km “tour” my feet were sore!

For some photos of the sights and architecture of Paris and Esslingen am Neckar click on the respective city names.

[disclaimer – remember the words from the first blog in this series: “our comments is about what we experienced around there and how we saw things – not representative of the whole of France, Germany or the Netherlands.]

Posted by: Diakonos | 20/01/2016

South Africans in Europe – part 2

As promised in the previous post, let me get that favourite South African topic of security out of the way! We expected a very safe Europe, except for all the blogs warning about pickpockets! Then the 13 November attacks happened, and we were reminded that on 21 August there was an attack on a Thalys train as well – and we were going to use the Thalys and TGV to visit family in Holland and Germany as well!

So, as per some blog warnings AND a request on the Thalys website, we arrive 30min before the TGV was due to depart for Germany from Paris, expecting security checks, etc. Well, we waited and nothing happened. Then about 15 min before we were due to depart that announcement came as to on which platform our train was. We walked down, got on the train – no security checks, not even a check of our tickets! In fact, it was only a little bit before Strasbourg, just before the border with Germany, that our tickets were checked. Coming back to Paris a few days later it was the same again. Got on, got off, tickets checked onboard, nothing else.

So, about a week later it was the Thalys’ turn for a trip from Paris to family in Holland. Ok, this was what we expected – tickets and passports checked, luggage scanned, proper security. A few days later, returning from Amsterdam to Paris – zip, nada, nothing. Walked into Amsterdam station, got on the train, sat down and departed. Weird! A conductor did come around to check our tickets but that was all – until we got to Paris that is! As we got off the train customs was there to check passports and a few people’s luggage was checked, that’s it.

Maybe it’s the South African paranoid mindset, but I expected better security, especially after somebody already carried out on attack on the Thalys. Maybe the guy sitting in the corner of our coach was an undercover security policeman, but he was deep undercover, having a good snooze the whole trip!

24160407386_7d5f89b34e_zWith lack of security on the trains, Paris and Amsterdam was in a sense the opposite, especially with regard to two-wheeled transport – whether motorcycles, scooters or bicycles. Everything is locked down with big chains, mostly two. (see more photos here). Now I know motorcycles are stolen in South Africa, but with my (naive) mindset of a safe (safe-ish) Europe, this was new to me. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been strange, because Amsterdam is seen as the bicycle-theft capital of the world…. But really, with so many bicycles what do you expect? Apparently around 340,000 bicycles are left daily at Amsterdam central station as people commute! And in Paris around 19,000 of the Velib’ bikes for rent are stolen each year.

That’s two-wheeled transport, what about houses? While not the whole of South Africa is so prone to house-breaking as the big cities, most of us are used to having alarms and burglar bars. It came as a surprise to see serious security in France as well! In the richer areas around, for example, Versailles, the walls of the houses look exactly like those in Sandton, Houghton, etc. Tall walls, blade wire, electric fencing, CCTV cameras. The security at our children’s apartment in a nice area in Paris was also surprising. Rfid-tag to get in at the door on the street. Then 3 meters on another door, opened by rfid-tag again. Then up to the apartment. Front door of apartment is about one and a half times thicker than a South African exterior door. Deadbolt lock, which pushes out 5 round, solid, 15mm thick steel bolts. Three horizontal, one into the top frame, one into the floor! Serious like a safe door!

Ok, that’s Paris, and in the countryside? Eighty kilometres outside Paris, in the countryside, I saw a sight that would make a lot of South Africans green with envy. Step out the front door of the house. Lock the door. Press the button. Now here a South African would expect the familiar sound of the alarm activating. Not here – the sound of electric motors wining! Every door, window, downstairs and upstairs are covered with steel shutters that close electrically! Ok, it could be for insulation as well, but the house already has double glazing, and it was one of the rare sunny days! Maybe part of the explanation was the three Gypsy camps we saw a few kilometres away, and the attitude of most people (even though they don’t really want to talk about the Gypsies) was similar to what Cher sang: “Gypsys, tramps and thieves“.

Still, probably safer than the big cities in South Africa, even though criminality seems to be wherever people are. Was “interesting” to be warned about the “resident pickpockets” on some Metro lines though!

Until next time!

POSTSCRIPT: After the above was posted, this arrived in my inbox :

Proof that no country is perfect!

[disclaimer – remember the words from the first blog in this series: “our comments is about what we experienced around there and how we saw things – not representative of the whole of France, Germany or the Netherlands.]

Posted by: Diakonos | 18/01/2016

South Africans in Europe – part 1


The Eiffel Tower on one of the very rare days where you could see a bit of blue sky!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, said Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. For a South African at the end of 2015, visiting France, Holland and Germany, this was very apt! Due to the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, the city had mercifully fewer tourists than normal. Even Germany’s tourist figures were down. On the other hand, after the South African president fired our finance minister, the rand fell from around R12 to the Euro in April to around R17.50 to the Euro at the beginning of 2016. Not good for a vacation budget! When a pancake (crepe) cost almost R180 (10 Euro) one tends to loose your appetite…

Luckily our trip was planned around the wedding of our son to a French lady, and our visits mostly included accommodation with family.

I don’t intend to do the usual “day 1, day 2” style of blogging about our trip here, but rather to focus on themes, places or events that caught our attention. Posts will be published as I have time and energy! 😉

Between me and my wife it was respectively our first and second visits to Europe, though we’ve travelled a bit in Africa. Before this trip the furthest North I’ve been was Lake Malawi!

There were things that we expected, things that were different and the same as in South Africa, but also the unexpected. Also, we basically stayed in four different locations (Paris, Janville in Picardi, Esllingen and Hilversum), so our comments is about what we experienced around there and how we saw things – not representative of the whole of France, Germany or the Netherlands.

The normal South African reaction to what we miss after a trip to Europe is SUNSHINE! That was true of this trip as well. There were two other things we missed that was unexpected! Number one is that is was very near to impossible to open windows! You could open big glass doors, or swing open some windows. The South African style of just popping a window open a bit is not possible, and we love fresh air! Plus we experienced unseasonably warm weather in Paris, so fresh air would’ve been nice.  The second unexpected missing thing was birdsong! We know it was winter, but we are used to hearing birds in winter in South Africa as well. Except for the ubiquitous (fat) pigeons and crows, and lots of water birds in Holland, we hardly saw any other birds.

After reading some blog posts before the trip, we expected a very dirty Paris. We were pleasantly surprised that this was not so! There is the usual cigarette buts, and now and then somebody that didn’t pick up after their dog did it’s “business”, but on the whole Paris was clean for a big city. In fact, we experienced Germany dirtier than France! Especially the train stations. The one French habit that was strange, even to a South African, was the male attitude to urinating! In fact, walking down the street, you quickly learn to avoid any damp spots or flowing streams! A well-dressed person would walk down the street, and randomly stop and urinate. We even saw some bistro customers, having a smoke outside, urinating right next to the bistro door – and the bistro did have toilets!

On a more positive note. In all three countries visited we found the service to be helpful and friendly. This again was something unexpected as numerous blogs have something to say about the rude French! Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I started any conversation in a shop by explaining in Afrikaans: “Ek praat nie Frans nie” (I don’t speak French). The poor people were probably so shocked by this that they were too happy to help me in English!

Enough for today! In the next post I’ll have a look at that favourite of South Africans – security!

Posted by: Diakonos | 06/06/2015

Guest post: The uniqueness of South African food

Makes me hungry! Wonderful collection of South African foods!

A Hungry African

Saffa Tradingis an online food shop that specialises in exporting authentic South African Food like Biltong, Boerewors, Groceries, Drinks, and SA Wines. They also stock various other unique South African essentials like SA Pharmaceuticals, weight loss products and even Springbok Memorabilia. All items can be shipped via trusted delivery companies such as DHL, Post Office Airmail and EMS. If you love South African produced food but can’t get it where you stay, this is the site for you!

Saffa Trading will be posting guest posts to “A Hungry African” regularly to get your taste buds going and maybe inspire you to try some South African dishes or order some South African delicacies. The first post is on the uniqueness of South African food, which dishes on the list have you tasted?

South African food is world-renowned amongst foodies, and our top-class restaurants and eateries delight the taste buds of countless tourists…

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Posted by: Diakonos | 15/11/2014

Lesotho 2014 – a quickie

From 29 June (Rhodes) to 4 July (Kokstad) we made an extremely warm trip through Lesotho. Driving with the aircon on, 2300m above sea level, in the middle of winter in Lesotho does not seem right!

It was a very short trip staying over at Rhodes, Ramabanta (Excellent!), Katse Lodge (clean and functional) and St James Lodge (Story follows). Roads were good, except for the last 40km before St James Lodge (on the way from Tsaba Tseka) which took almost 4 hours!

We were booked to stay the last nght at Molumong Lodge, having paid our deposit upfront. Got there, and it’s not functioning as a lodge anymore! After some (expensive) phone calls to South Africa, Derick Alberts, who handles the bookings for Molumong managed to secure accomodation at St James Lodge for us. Clean and warm in a freezing night, was all we could ask for.

Roads were mostly better than the last time I was there, with lots of raoadworks being done by the Chinese. Even the low level bridge over the Senqu East of Tsaba Tseka is being replaced with a high new bridge.

Fuel was a lot more available, and from filling stations(!) than when I was there last in 2005.

I would love to go back to Ramabanta area, it is really pretty there.

Some photos, taken by me and the wife, are available here:

Bell river

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