Balai Isabel

36 hours so far in Johannesburg

With very good champagne in hand,
we had a great time talking to David Higgs,
Johannesburg’s (world-famous) and hottest new chef.

He just moved from the Cape Town area to Johannesburg
and now he’s opening a new formal restaurant called Five Hundred
at the Saxon Boutique Hotels.

Tonight he made us a most amazing tasting seven-course dinner
paired beautifully with wines

It’s been a wonderful and amazing 36 hours in Johannesburg so far, living a TRAVELIFE.

Yesterday we arrived in Johannesburg on a 12-hour flight from Hong Kong and checked into the beautiful Westcliff hotel, an Orient-Express hotel that’s one of the city’s most loved and elegant hospitality icons.

It’s also considered one of the top two — if not the top — places to stay in Johannesburg.

The kids of Soweto township

We literally dropped our bags and then got back into the car for a city tour and a trip to see the township of Soweto, which is about 40 minutes from the city itself.

Then we had an impromptu, delicious and very enjoyable lunch at a famous and trendy African restaurant in Melrose Arch, one of the cool places to hang out.

The restaurant had really cool live music
as we ate our first lunch in South Africa yesterday

Here we’d had our first taste of springbok in South Africa.

I’d ordered a very tender oxtail as well. Then we’d shared a huge plate of samosas to start and an excellent almond ice cream dish afterwards.

These are the main dishes we ordered
That’s the remains of
our very delicious almond ice cream

In the afternoon, we sat by the infinity pool of the Westcliff having drinks at sunset with Ian Jones, the general manager of the Westcliff who has just moved from Canada, and his top executive Wellington Mpofu.

It was lots of fun as we’re all well-traveled people, and so we sat around exchanging stories about favorite destinations, travel experiences and hotels.

The infinity pool of the Westcliff
overlooking the city

Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya and Mozambique are all high on my bucket list at the moment, and I learned a lot about Africa in general from our conversation with them, and with other people in the business, so far, over 36 short hours in South Africa.

The entrance to the apartheid museum

Afterwards, we had a tasting dinner at the Belle Terrasse restaurant of the Westcliff — a very fitting start to our two weeks of adventures in Africa.

The Belle Terrasse is supposed to be the most elegant restaurant in the city. It certainly had a lovely view and great service, as well as wonderful food. More on that in a later blog.

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November 2013

Please stay tuned to this blog for more details…

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Then today, we woke up at 3 AM to catch a hot air balloon flight over the forests, mountains and lakes around the Cradle of Mankind area outside of Johannesburg with a company called Air to Air Africa (

 There are several hot air balloon companies in this area, but we were so glad we chose Air to Air Africa as the service was warm and friendly, and the management is very safety conscious.

Our pilot had 30 years of experience with hot air balloons.

That’s our pilot, very much in charge,
as we floated over some lovely hills.

We’ve done hot air balloons before, but I’d never had such precise safety orientation before or seen a management so careful about weather conditions.

They also served a mean breakfast afterwards, which we both enjoyed a lot. We weren’t expecting to, as we’d actually decided to do the balloon ride and then have breakfast at a very famous dining destination nearby.

But they were full, and so we had to have the breakfast that came with the hot air balloon package instead. It was very nice and such a wonderful start to a great holiday.


As for our balloon ride, we had a most scenic flight in our balloon over the plains and hills of South Africa, a country so vast and rich in uncountable ways.

I experienced an adrenalin rush because it was just so beautiful.

Beautiful croissants after a hot air balloon ride
Al fresco breakfast on the terrace

We’d sat out on a terrace of a lodge in the Cradle of Mankind having eggs over easy, sausages and home-baked croissants, with a view of the pool.

It wasn’t luxury as we usually knew it, but everything was perfect.

The third wheel at breakfast today….

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a giraffe comes over for a really close-up look at us, while a peacock meandered about in the other direction, and a couple of springbok played in an adjacent field.

All very picturesque and surreal — but this was probably the moment that I finally felt we were really in South Africa. A trip we’d been talking about and planning since May, ever since we decided to do a trip together.

Welcome sign at South Africa’s
Cradle of Mankind.
We didn’t expect to be truly fascinated with this attraction,
but we were.

And this is what we planned out for the rest of the day: a tour of the Cradle of Mankind, a long drive to Sun City for a quick visit and a club sandwich and fish-and-chips lunch at Sun City’s six-star hotel, and then an equally quick tour of Pretoria, the capital of South Africa.

The Boss was in charge of the entire daily itinerary, so I’d set my mind on a grin-and-bear it attitude. Especially as he let me choose the Big Picture itinerary and all the hotels to stay in, anyway.

But everything worked out perfectly and I enjoyed everything he’d planned.

We shared a club sandwich at Sun City,
including a special concotion of ketchup, hot English mustard
and mayonnaise for a sauce
We both like dessert
and we’ve come up with a pretty good arrangement:
I get to pick the dessert and we each eat about half.

We were stuck together in a car for much of the 13 hours today because of the very long drives. I’ve never done such a long drive before, frankly. But time passed pretty bearably and quickly.

And for much of the way The Boss was making me laugh with on-the-spot jokes and helping me think of titles for future blog entries.

Maybe he knew I hate long drives and I was just putting up with this one because of his fanatical obsession to see a million things in just under 36 hours.

He wandered around
while we had our eggs and croissants

He said: “You can call one ‘Breakfast with a Giraffe.‘” That was pretty helpful actually. But some of his other suggestions were not too useful. He added: “And another one can be ‘The Boss Knows Everything.'”

It went on like this for quite awhile, enough to amuse me until we finally reached Joburg again.

Yup. By 6 PM today we’d done everything we’d set out to do, and that everyone we’d talked to had advised us not to do in one day. And then we’d added a balloon ride on top of that to complicate matters even more.

So you might say that we’d set a sightseeing world record of sorts, thanks to our tenacity.

Our driver was simply exhausted by the end of it all, driving us out of the hotel at 3 AM and back at 6 PM.

The Boss had contracted him for two days in a row, you see, for our Joburg stay, so that we could go anywhere we pleased; and he had the slight misfortune of having pretty demanding passengers who did only what they pleased, didn’t follow a set “tourist pattern” and laughed in the backseat of the car a lot.

The beautiful suite at the Westcliff

We were back by just after 6 PM for an hour to change before dinner at the city’s hottest new restaurant, even before it opens next week.

The restaurant Five Hundred is opening on Tuesday with Chef David Higgs at the helm, a really famous chef who used to head one of the top restaurants (in the Cape area) in the world, according to the San Pellegrino guide.

We were simply exhausted by the evening, even before dinner began.

A driver with a fancy car had come to collect us at 715 PM for the restaurant, and we were both falling asleep in the car.

This cheese appetizer,
created by David Higgs at the Saxon Boutique Hotels,
 blew our minds away.
We enjoyed it with glasses of 30-year-old Port.

But, boy, the meal and the entire experience certainly woke us up.

We had such a wonderful dinner and we drank almost every wine in the accompanying wine tasting course.

Even The Boss, normally so jaded and critical about food in particular, was smiling and impressed. I kept looking across the table to see his reaction to every course, and he certainly seemed in foodie heaven.

This evening deserves a separate blog entry, which I’ll do once I catch my breath back, living a TRAVELIFE in pretty amazing South Africa.

Good night from God’s Own Beautiful Country.



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