Johannesburg….sort of!


I started my long-awaited March break with a plane ride to Johannesburg. I was going to be taking the “premiere class” sleeper train all the way to Cape Town and I figured I’d get there a day early, check into my hotel and then see a bit of Johannesburg. I thought maybe I’d do the open-top city bus tour, stopping off at the Apartheid Museum and perhaps see if there was anything on at the symphony or find a local place where there was live music.

Well. None of that happened, sorry to say. So this post may not be all that interesting…but it will serve to document the first part of my journey and be sort of an introduction to the rest of the trip!

The plane to Jo’burg was small, but comfortable and we were served a light breakfast on board. When we landed, I grabbed my brand new bright purple wheelie bag and went to find the Gautrain, which would take me to Sandton…a suburb of Johannesburg where I had booked my hotel.

About Sandton. Originally, I had booked a hotel right near the train station. I figured that way I could see more of the city, easily catch the hop-on, hop-off bus and be close to where I needed to be for my train trip the next day.

However, more than one person warned me about central Jo’burg in general and the area around the train station in particular. So I listened…and booked a hotel in Sandton, which was suppose to be a “nicer” area. I booked a place right near the shopping district and within walking distance of the Gautrain station. I figured it might be a little more inconvenient, but I wanted to be safe.

Then the hotel I booked emailed me and said that the branch of the hotel I had booked was closing, but they could book me at a sister site, just up the road. So I went with it. In hindsight, this was a mistake and I should have stuck with the place near the train station…especially if I wanted to see any of the city! But…I digress.

The Gautrain (pronounced “howtrain”) is a brand spanking new public transportation system, easily navigated, extremely safe and very reasonably priced. I got my rechargeable ticket, boarded the train and was at the Sandton station within 20 minutes. Then the fun began. My hotel was supposed to provide free pick-up and drop-off to the train station and I had been instructed to call them when I arrived and they would send the shuttle get me.

So I called, but the woman on the other end of the line seemed a bit confused about what I wanted and her accent was very difficult to understand. It sounded like she was telling me to wait at the “tea cup.” At first I thought that perhaps this was the name of a cafe…but finally realized that she was saying “pick up.” I told her that I would wait there and described my purple suitcase and bright white hair.

25 minutes later, I was still waiting and getting a bit annoyed. A woman in a small silver car, who was there to pick up someone else, saw me and asked where I was going. When I told her, she said that she thought it was just up the street. I called the hotel again and the hotel lady seemed just as confused as before…I told her never mind, I would take a cab.

When the silver car woman heard this, she said, “Oh don’t take a cab, they are so expensive, why don’t you let me drop you off?” At this point, the people she was waiting for showed up…an American couple originally from Orlando who had just flown in from Hong Kong. We all piled into the little silver car and Rivita (that was her name) drove me to my hotel, which was NOT “just up the street,” NOT anywhere near the center, but almost 2 miles up the road and near absolutely nothing. Rivita actually called the hotel twice to ask them exactly where they were located…and the lady at the hotel was equally unhelpful both times. We finally found it and I thanked her (and the Orlando couple) profusely.

(I was extremely grateful for this kindness…I promised to “pay it forward.” Who knows how long I would have had to wait for a ride from the hotel!)

When I walked into the hotel, there were drop cloths and ladders everywhere. They were doing a major renovation in the lobby. The place smelled of fresh paint and wallpaper paste. Luckily, my room was ready, even though I was early. I dropped my bags and went to the restaurant (a quasi-Italian joint called “PapaChino’s”) for some lunch; I was starved. I had a passably good lamb pita and a killer mojito.

I still had the idea of maybe going into the city and getting the tour bus….but by then it was 2:00pm. By the time I got there, it would be closer to 3:00pm and bus only ran until 5:00. Besides, I was kinda tired and this was my vacation.

So I took a 3-hour nap instead.

When I got up, I realized that sight-seeing in Jo’burg probably was not going to happen this trip. So I spent the evening curled up in a chair overlooking the garden and pool, reading and having a glass of wine. The next morning, I was pleasantly surprised when the (included) breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen and the coffee was freshly brewed. Getting a ride back to the train station proved to be much easier than I had anticipated.

And now….I am sitting in the premiere class lounge, enjoying complimentary tea and biscuits with the other passengers, while we wait to board our train to Cape Town!

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