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.
WHERE TO EAT 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.
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
MY BUCKET LIST NOW IS AFRICA
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
DINNER AT THE WESTCLIFF
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.
RIDING A HOT AIR BALLOON OVER THE CRADLE OF MANKIND
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 (www.airtoairafrica.co.za/).
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.
BREAKFAST IN AFRICA
Beautiful croissants after a hot air balloon ride
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.
VISITING THE CRADLE OF MANKIND
Welcome sign at South Africa’s Cradle of Mankind. We didn’t expect to be truly fascinated with this attraction, but we were.
DINNER AT THE SAXON
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.
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.