Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Standing on top of Africa's highest building

I got to say "I'm on top of the world". Well sort of.  At least I can say I was on top of the tallest building in Africa.  Exploring Johannesburg on the City Sightseeing tour I was quite keen to visit the Carlton Centre in downtown Jozi.  Time allowed it and I hopped off along with a couple of my fellow travelers to head up, up, up.

The great part of being on the City Sightseer tour is that they have a guide permanently based at the Carlton Centre who takes you through the shopping centre and up to the top.  Entrance tickets are only R15 per person and the trip up the express elevator to the 50th floor literally takes seconds.  Once at the top the guide took us around showing us the 360 degree view down, and I mean literally down, onto Joburg.  The Carlton Centre is the tallest building in Africa (I think I've said that already) and once the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.  It stands 223m high and was built between 1967 and 1974.  The view is absolutely magnificent and the guide comes in very handy as he points out all the interesting landmarks as you move around the viewing windows.  A great perk of the open bus tour.  He also makes sure that you get back down and to the bus stop before the next bus comes by.  I have to be honest.  If I didn't go on the tour I probably would never have had the opportunity to do this so just another great reason to get your ticket for a City Sightseeing Joburg tour when you are in the City of Gold.
 
Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards
My tour with City Sightseeing Joburg was organized by Gauteng Tourism. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

FNB Soccer City - The Calabash

If you are into soccer (or football as they call it in Europe), then you would at least have heard of the FNB Stadium.  Also called Soccer City and The Calabash, the stadium is seen as South Africa's main soccer venue and is situated next to Soweto in Johannesburg.  The stadium has a capacity of 94 736 making it the largest in Africa.  Significantly it was the site of Nelson Mandela's first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990 while it also hosted a massive memorial service to him after his death.
 
The stadium was designed to look like a calabash, or African clay pot, from the outside.  The cladding on the outside is a mosaic of fire and earthen colours and at night there is a ring of lights around the bottom of the structure which makes it look like there is a fire underneath the pot.
 
The stadium hosted the finals of both the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations but has also played host to major rugby matches and many top music concerts.  I've never had the privilege to go to a match at the FNB Stadium but its a little difficult being based over 1000 kilometers away.  Perhaps some day though. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Flame of Democracy

Constitution Hill is one of Johannesburg's most prominent heritage sites.  It is the home of South Africa's Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, and is located on the site of a number of prisons dating back to the Apartheid years.  One of these prisons were Number 4 Prison (the other two were the Old Fort and the Women's Jail)  where a lot of awaiting trail prisoners were kept during those years.  Although most of the old prison buildings are no more, some of the stairwells were kept and made part of the new precinct as a reminder of the dark days of oppression.  The Flame of Democracy is found in one of these stairwells and was established to celebrate 15 years since the signing of the constitution.  The flame was originally lit by Nelson Mandela in his birth place in Qunu and transported to Johannesburg where it was placed in this significant spot, never to be extinguished again. 

I really enjoy visiting places like this and I wish more South Africans would.  In the USA a place like this would receive the biggest regard and respect by visitors who will make sure to include it in their itineraries and I can't see why it shouldn't be any different in South Africa.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Exploring Jozi with the City Sightseeing open top bus

My visits to Johannesburg have always been ones of in and out, with very little sightseeing connected with it.  Wham, bang, thank you ma'am.  This means that I always look at the Joburg travel bloggers' blogs with longing wanting to see the places they write about.  A two day trip to Johannesburg meant that I had some time on my hands to explore and a couple of calls later I had a reference number in my hand to join City Sightseeing Joburg for a tour of the city.  City Sightseeing Joburg offers tours in their red open top buses along a set route and at scheduled times.  This would allow me the freedom to get off and explore along the way, knowing what time the next bus came by to hop back on.  The starting points for the tours are the Gauteng Park Station and Gold Reef City while there are a total of 12 stops along the way where you can get off and visit an attractions or go for a bit of a walk. 

I was on the red eye flight from Port Elizabeth to Jozi and as soon as I got my car I headed over to Gold Reef City in the hope that I would be in time to catch the first bus of the day.  Pulling into the parking lot on the hotel and casino side I spotted the red bus and seeing that I had 5 minutes before departure I headed straight to it.  Eugene, the driver, met me with the biggest smile of the day.  During the day I landed on his bus another two times and he had that smile every time I saw him.  He printed out my ticket, gave me a brochure showing the route and, more importantly, the time table and offered me a pair of earphones to listen to the on board commentary.  This all while asking me where I was from and giving me some advise on what I just had to see during the day and some timing tips.  The Commentary by the way is done in 16, yes your heard right, 16 languages.  When it was time to get going I took a seat upstairs, popped the earphones in my ears and made use of the on-board wifi to tweet my first picture of the day.  The first of many to come.  The commentary is very informative but not overwhelming.  They tell you everything you need to know and what you see along the way without giving you information overload.

It was impossible to get off at every stop but I knew what I wanted to do.  My first stop was at the Apartheid Museum where Gauteng Tourism had organized entrance for me along with permission to take photos inside the museum.  One can probably spend half a day in the museum, but two hours later I was outside waiting for the next bus while checking all the photos I took.  I will do a photo blogpost about my visit to the museum shortly.  My next stop was in the mining district where I took a walk around to look for a couple of Geocaches I new was in the area.  Too many muggles around meant I came up empty handed and I nearly missed the next bus when I saw it driving towards the busstop which was a good 400 meters from me.  A flat out run and a waving arm caught the driver's attention and he waited for me at the stop. 
 
I gave Newtown and the Wits University Origins Centre (this one I'll definitively visit some time in the future) a miss and got off at Constitution Hill where entrance was also organized for me.  Unfortunately the lady at reception didn't know I was coming and to quote her, "If I don't know you're coming then it wasn't organized."  Not the friendliest reception.  She eventually agreed to find out who knew about my visit but 30 minutes later when I went to ask her if she had found anything out yet her answer was, "What did you want again?"  I immediately walked out and boarded the next bus.  Very sad that I didn't get to see what I am told is a very special place, but it also meant I would now have time for a visit to the Carlton Centre.  The Carlton Centre is the tallest building in Africa and the passengers who got off was met by a guide from City Sightseeing and we were taken to the observation deck at the top of the building.  The view from up here is literally a bird's eye view and I will write about it in another post as well. 
 
Unfortunately for me the hotel I was staying at wasn't at Gold Reef City so I had to head back towards my car so that I could go and check in before getting ready for the Lilizela Awards I was in town for.  I was very happy with what I got to see and learn, but I will have to come back to visit Newtown and Maboneng at some stage as these two areas are now at the top of my "Joburg to do list".  After this day I can say with conviction that City Sightseeing Joburg is the best way to explore Johannesburg without any worries of getting lost, getting all the info you need and feeling safe and secure.
 
Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards.  My tour with City Sightseeing Joburg and visit to the Apartheid Museum was organized by Gauteng Tourism. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wild Fly Fishing in the Karoo

Fly fishing - An angling method in which an artificial "fly" is used to catch fish. The fly is cast using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. Casting a nearly weightless fly or "lure" requires casting techniques significantly different from other forms of casting.

Karoo - The Karoo (from the KhoiSan word which means Place of Thirst) is a semi-desert region of South Africa. The Karoo covers nearly 400 000km2 of South Africa and is mostly defined partly by its topography, partly its geology but, above all, its low rainfall, arid air, cloudless skies, and extremes of heat and cold,
 
So lets put the two together.  Fly fishing in the Karoo.  Doesn't make sense does it?  But it does.  Alan Hobson of Angler and Antelope Guesthouse in Somerset East runs fly fishing tours doing just that.  Fishing in the Karoo.  The Karoo isn't all arid.  There are some great rivers and streams flowing through the region and the area around Somerset East has some of the best fly fishing spots in the province.  One moment you could be driving through a dry landscape and the next you drop down into a valley with water that could just yield something like this...
 
I've known Alan for a number of years now and by all accounts he must be one of the top fly fishermen in South Africa.  I've been wanting to go fishing with him for a while now and on a whistle stop visit to Somerset East I got to accompany him to a nearby dam for an hour or so before the light faded and we had to pack up.  That hour was more than enough though for him to demonstrate to me how it all works and for me to have a go.  When you see somebody fly fishing on television it looks quite easy.  You just flick the rod forward and back and wait for the fish to bite.... NOT! Its slightly more complicated.  You hold the rod in your one hand and the line in your other.  As you flick you let go of the line little by little to let the fly go further and further.  Its also not just for flicking.  There is a whole scientific technique to it, but after a couple of tries I got it right. Kinda.  At one stage I even got a bite as well but it got away.  I have to tell you though, it must have been the same size as the one Alan is holding above.  That is my story and I'm sticking to it.
 
Back at the ranch guesthouse, Alan went to show me his fly shop.  The fly shop along with the guesthouse's dining room and Alan's malt whiskey collection is situated in what used to be a  Catholic Church on the premises of the guesthouse.  There were flies everywhere and I just couldn't get enough of looking at the different styles and sizes.  I asked Alan how you choose which fly to use and I again found out that science and biology is very much involved in it.  If you really know what you are doing you choose your flies according to the conditions and what you see on the water.  If you see little insects walking around on the water and there is fish movement around them, you choose a fly that looks like those insects.  If there are flying insects, that is what you choose. Hectic! Clearly fly fishing is the total opposite of just sticking a worm on a hook on a line and casting it in just once.  I was back in the fly shop the next morning after breakfast to watch Alan's fly tying assistant at work.  Looking at her work I knew Alan had taught her well and even though I only had an hour or so by the water the previous night I knew he had taught me well too.  Now to find an excuse to go and spend a full day out on the waters with Alan. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fort Peddie flowers

A little while ago I stopped by Fort Peddie on my way from Port Elizabeth to East London and discovered this historic site while hunting for a Geocache.  The thing with most travelers is that they are so focused on the big things that they often miss the little ones.  In this case the big things were the old tower and the cavalry barracks which I both went to have a look at.  The former to find the cache and the latter because I wanted to see it as I was there already.  I noticed these pretty purple flowers growing outside the old stables and the staff working in the office nearby must have had a good laugh at me crawling around trying to get a nice pic without catching my own shadow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hibernating snails

One of the beauties of travelling is exploring and discovering new places and things.  I dropped my mom off in Despatch after a visit and swung through town to pick up a Geocache I hadn't ticked off my list.  I parked next to a couple of Coral Trees (Lucky Bean Trees as some people know them) and on my way back to the car noticed a whole bunch of snails on one of the trees.  And when I say a whole bunch I don't mean like 10 or 20.  There were literally hundreds.  On closer inspection I saw them on all the trees along the road but I selected the one with the most and grabbed my camera.
 
I've been sitting with these pics for a while now and posted one of them on my Facebook Page.  The pic got a lot of reaction and somebody asked why they do that.  Going back to the day I saw this, I noticed that non of them were moving.  It was as if they were dead.  A snail cemetery perhaps.  Pulling one or two of them off they had a film across the hole of the shell and the snail was still inside.  Peculiar.  So this morning I decided to consult my good friend Google.  It took some time but finally I found out that some snails go into hibernation, specially during colder months and very dry periods.  Not sure which one of the two was the cause of this mass hibernation as it was a dry winter.  Both perhaps but regardless, always nice to discover and learn something new.

I got the following information off Snail World:

Some snails Hibernate.
Some species of snails actually hibernate during the colder months of the year. They cover their bodies with a thin layer of mucus, which prevents them from drying out. Sometimes snails are also able to hibernate in the summer to survive if they are faced with a severe drought. They live off of the stored up fat during this time of year. This process is one of the many reasons why they have been able to survive for million years.