Category Archives: Accessibility

The View From The Balcony of Port Elizabeth

Standing in the Donkin Reserve gazing over Port Elizabeth, the CBD below looking as if it may tumble into the bay, I realised that my perception of this city had been entirely wrong, and it was a wonderful thing.

Port Elizabeth’s CBD is like one of those inspiring and miraculous stories of a recovering junkie. She’s been through the mill, hung out with dodgy characters, looked like a lost cause and then she went to rehab. After years of grimy decay, she’s back – plumper, livelier, wiser, more determined and creative and with the colour back in her cheeks.

While I realise that’s a fairly weird analogy, it is apt for this inner city that found itself falling into disrepair and decrepitude at the end of the last century (sheesh, I sound old). In 2004, the Mandela Bay Development Agency started its first project to  regenerate the area and it’s just been getting better and better.

I have to admit I was somewhat mean about PE in the past. My experience of the city consisted of fleeting visits as a child to get groceries to stock our beach shack in Port Alfred in December. Memories of Christmas-crazy, Boney M-filled, Checkers-trolley-into-your-ankles trips calmed slightly by a visit to the magical old library and gelato (with real bits of chocolate) from the hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop as a reward for surviving.

Some years later, as a student at Rhodes,  PE to me was the occasional trip to Greenacres – a real shopping mall, which Grahamstown-of-yore didn’t have … What bliss, I’m not really a mall fan – and a long, dark, laser-infused night in the docks at one the first raves there. Youthfully oblivious of our own mortality, we drove that treacherous road between Grahamstown and PE on the back of a bakkie, hot-pantsed and silvery-topped. After dancing the night away, we returned as the sun rose over the bay. We didn’t even stay to look around.

So, yes, my impression was that of shopping malls and dark dockside warehouses, interspersed with cars with CB number plates. Standing up there in the Donkin Reserve, I had to to admit that I was wrong. Certainly about 2017 PE, interspersed by the more inclusive EC number plates. As an aside – I miss the town-specific plates. They satisfied (some of) my curiosity about where people were from.

 

I stray. Back to the point that PE’s CBD has (and still is) undergoing an incredible rejuvenation. The stately old buildings with their gorgeous architecture are being renovated and upgraded back to their former graciousness and the whole area is becoming people-friendly. Public spaces dotted with art, coffee shops and breweries, old churches and statues, restaurants and performance spaces and, right up there in the Donkin Reserve (both literally and metaphorically), a pervading sense of the history of this – in South African terms – ancient city.

There’s plenty of history in this city, but that of its namesake and her husband is the most beautifully tragic and is the source of the somewhat unlikely pyramid up in the Donkin Reserve, slap-bang in the middle of the city.

Elizabeth Donkin died of ‘The Fever’ in India in August 1818 at the age of 27. She left behind her heartbroken husband, Rufus, and tiny 7-month old son. Their son was sent back to the family in the UK and the devastated Rufus went to not-yet-called-PE to act as governor. In August 1820, he erected the pyramid in honour of her. It is inscribed:

‘To the memory of the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the Town below.’

See? Tragic. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be loved like that? Without The Fever and dying bit, of course. Urban legend has it that he placed her head inside the pyramid. I like that. It’s macabre and beautiful. A new addition is a gorgeous, swirling mosaic – part of the 67 Steps, which I’ll write about in my next blog, this is getting too long! – that leads up to the pyramid, the lighthouse beaming behind it and the whole bay laid out in front.

It is, without doubt, ‘The Balcony of Port Elizabeth’!


Wheelchair Accessibility

Port Elizabeth balances on a hill. The Donkin Reserve, however, is on top of the hill and if you park on Athol Fugard Terrace, there are bricked pathways with a gentle slope to see all the cool things at Donkin Reserve.

Penguin Love in PE, Cape Recife

It’s hard to believe that you’re ten minutes away from Port Elizabeth city when you enter the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. 366 hectares of unspoilt coastal bush, stretches of beautiful beach and fantastic rock pools are there with a number of hiking trails. If you’re lucky, you see otters.

At the point – the southern tip of the over 90 km-wide bay – the lighthouse stands looking glorious in its stripy onesie and red cap. It’s one of the oldest lighthouses in South Africa, established in 1851 off the aptly-named Thunderbolt Reef. This is a prickly coastline if you’re a sailor … it’s wrecked over 400 ships.

Down the road from the lighthouse, an odd-looking building lurks amongst the fragrant bush that smells like my childhood seaside holidays in Port Alfred. It’s one of five observation posts around PE that were built in World War II to look out for German U-boats. They were staffed by women. In 1942, a radar was built (by men) and legend has it that a fence had to be built between the two because the women were partial to raucous parties! Tsk, tsk.

Plum in the midst of Cape Recife Nature Reserve is the SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre, now SANCCOB PE. Here, mainly volunteers rehabilitate injured birds and have an amazing education centre because those cute – but bitey! – li’l tuxedoed birds are in trouble.

Over the last 50 years, a time during which we’ve known better, the African penguin population has declined by 91%. That’s left the world with an estimated total population of 45 000 penguins. By 2025, it is predicted that there will be none left in the wild. None. Why? Humans. We are, to put it simply, starving them into extinction. Overfishing has led to not enough fish; climate change has made the penguins need to swim further to find the cold current fish resulting in them not being able to feed their chicks and then … pollution: oil leaks. It’s heart-breaking.

But, the guys at SANCCOB are passionate about turning this around and they deserve all the support they can get. Keith, who took us around, was fabulous and funny and, well, a perfect penguin ambassador. Also, they’re cool at naming the penguins (who are, if they’re well, returned to the wild as soon as possible). Verona. Barbie. Turtle.

Penguins will return to their home from wherever you release them. Remember Peter, Pamela and Percy? They were living happily on Robben Island when Treasure, a bulk carrier ship, sank off Cape Town, spilling oil into the sea that threatened 76 000 penguins. 20 000 clean penguins were taken to PE and released in the hope that the spill would’ve cleared by the time they made it home. It did, with Peter arriving home – 470 miles away – first. Now that’s called homing instinct.

Note: if you find a penguin in trouble, don’t move it and don’t leave it. Get hold of SANCCOB on 041 583 1830 (business hours) or 064 019 8936 (after hours).


Wheelchair Accessibility

The centre is completely accessible, including the courtyard in which you can watch the li’l guys being fed.

 

Modica Meanderings, Sicily 2017

There’s a church half way down the Corso Umberto toward the circle in the centre of Modica. This church – Chiesa Madre di San Pietro – is not the most grand one in this beautiful town, which is difficult to fathom, due to its grandiosity. No, that prize goes to the Duomo di San Giorgio, up an impossibly steep back road that leads up one of the cliffs upon which most of the town of Modica precariously balance.

We pass the church, with its huge, wide steps watched by the twelve apostles who flank them, twice each time we go for an amble (which is often, there’s much to see): once on our way down the gentle slope and again on our way up. Each time it offers up a different view as the sun changes position and the huge blocks of stone from which it’s made change from rock-coloured to pink in the setting sun and then golden in the orange light of Mediterranean nights. The apostles, too, take on different looks as they watch frilly brides and their grooms posing for photos, exuding love; black-clad old Sicilian women clutching rosaries heading in to the ornate church to pray; and youngsters gathering on the steps to watch the town on their evening ramble.

The evening ramble was one of my (many) favourite things in Sicily. In fact, the whole lifestyle is. The Mediterranean countries just get it right. It’s hot in the middle of the day so they close up shop and head home for a siesta. Later, when its cooling (slightly), everything opens up again. Even later – because the sun only sets at about ten – families go out for their evening stroll and, often, dinner at a sidewalk Osteria. Friends stop and greet, discuss their days, pass the baby around to be cuddled and made to gurgle and laugh. It’s just so friendly.

Our amblings during the day and ramblings at night take us past – and into – ancient buildings that glow, huge doorways and tiny side alleys, music schools and town halls and gelateria, all wound around the aroma of one of Modica’s most famous things … chocolate.The original Aztec way of making chocolate was learnt in Modica during that occupation and it is the best I’ve ever come across (not forgetting that I’ve tasted plenty of chocolate in my time).

Hemingway’s, in the back alley behind the church, serves amazing aperitivo – which will get their own blog, they’re so wonderful – at sunset, while old men play chess watched by their teenage grandsons. At the end of the alley, the disciples from Chiesa San Pietro turn pink in the setting sun.

Later, as we amble home, we happen across the local orchestra practicing. Standing next to ancient buildings that are burnt orange in the evening light, the sky that blue that squelches my heart, we listen to a full orchestral soundtrack of an ABBA medley as we stand listening on a pavement worn smooth by hundreds of years of just such ambling. It is entirely surreal and wonderful.

*For in-depth wheelchair accessibility advice, contact me via e-mail on shinybriony@gmail.com.

Small Town Girl in London

Everybody knows that I’m a Small Town Girl, despite the fact that I live in the biggest city in South Africa. (This actually came as news to me when I did a quick search on that … Cape Town is the biggest, population-wise, followed by Durban, and then only Jozi! As Joe always used to say Ex Africa semper aliquid novi.) Anyway, back to the point … my Small Townism and its view on London.

Well, my view on London is this: it is an incredible city with the most enormous number of things to do, places to see, people to meet, and my The Weatherman was so kind to me and kept the sky blue and the sun shining, yet my African blood gets nervous and my African heart gets claustrophobic and I find myself thinking that everybody on those streets of London is just having such a hard time of keeping up and it makes me sad and leaves me feeling entirely drained.

Cue: my friends. So many of them that live and love in London, and love it and thrive, which is why on day two in that bustling city I met a bunch of them in Greenwich at The Old Brewery (perfect accessibility), watched over by the huge trees (another thing that will keep me loving London) of the park and side-eyed by the Cutty Sark, and it was wonderful.

Friends from forever ago and friends from more recently and even some new friends, a beautiful hound called Paloma and a surprise pop-in by wonderful family friends made for a day so filled with joy and loveliness and love, that I felt entirely refreshed. Oh, and I met a knight – Sir Ian McKellan, or Gandalf, as I like to think of him – which was pretty bloody marvellous. He was just lovely. Also marvellous – being able to hop on a bus (the right way around, this time) and get home safely and easily.

Gandalf and me, London

The next day we braaied under the hot London sky (yip!) and frolicked in the ‘hot tub’ – set on cool due to extreme heat – with one of my oldest friends (and hostess with the mostest) and her lovely neighbour. Perfect, lazy, Sunday. Then Gogglebox … GOGGLEBOX! It’s brilliant. Voyeurism to the max.

Travelling stories and pics will resume with the next blog – to Sicily we go!

Hot and Heavy in London

We arrived early on Friday morning, mid-June, our pilot cheerily informing us that the day was forecast to be hot in London. I’m from Africa, so I sniggered to myself. Hot. In London. As the great doors of the BA plane were opened, a rush of warm air replaced the stale, over-breathed, sneeze-and-cough-filled air of the 12 hour flight from Cape Town. This pilot wasn’t having us on. My snigger wilted and left.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, Cape Town Airport

A frustrating no-show of the booked-and-paid-for shuttle and we were in a black cab*, heading through the centre of London during Friday morning rush hour. I’d forgotten about the chattiness of London cabbies. For the two-and-a-half-hour trip (eek!) he kept up a running commentary, and now I know his entire history, and all about his daughter’s relationship dramas. And his best friend, Clive’s. And their medical histories. In infinite detail. (Note to self: don’t mention you’re a pharmacist.) He also drinks down the pub with the terrorist attack hero dude that shouted ‘I’m Millwall’.

Past Buckingham Palace, along Pall Mall as she dressed up for the parade the next day, winding through green parks, the terraced buildings of the story books of my childhood interspersed with areas of barricaded shops, broken windows and graffiti, the streets filled with people of every nationality. London is nothing if not diverse. Yet oh-so-British.

 

Flat to Let, London

Finally reaching Aimee’s house, we threw our cases down and headed to the bus stop to go to central London, where I had two appointments. Ah, London, and your accessibility. A ramp from the bus to the pavement, a place to sit (first facing the wrong direction, resulting in some fairly hairy stops – especially with the driver of the 10:37 89 bus to Lewisham Station, who could give Cape Town taxi drivers a run for their money – until we worked it out, turned me around, and got me stable). Admittedly, we looked a bit like Idiots Abroad for a while there.

Big Ben and a Bus, London

The air is thick with heat and city bustle as we drive into the city on this bus with an ever-changing population and a soundtrack of the pinging bell for stops and almost-indecipherable teenage conversations of who’s hot and what’s happening this weekend. I am reminded that teen pregnancy is alive and well and living in London. One baby is called Chicken and her mum is proudly telling her sister that she’s just received her first dole payment. (Chicken may or may not have been a term of endearment.)

Tower Bridge from London Bridge, London

Stuck behind Friday afternoon traffic over London Bridge I watch the hundreds of handwritten notes to the previous week’s terrorist victims flapping lazily in the hot breeze that is doing nothing to cool the concrete walkways and buildings of the inner city. On the bridge, tourists take grim pictures of the flowers at the site. Here the air is humid and heavy with sadness as the muddy Thames rushes under the bridge, heading away away to the sea, seeking coolth and solace.

Ancients Dwarfed by Youngsters, London

The ancients mix in with the young there in the city. I’m talking buildings, because, weirdly, there are almost no ancient people in the city. Except us.  We make the two appointments by the skin of our teeth, stopping on street corners to marvel at the ancients and watch the people. The appointments are dull, the city not. It seems that here, work ends at lunchtime on Fridays … the pubs are spilling out onto the streets, cold beer, icy white wine in the hands of the suits.

Leadenhall Market, London

We pop in to Leadenhall Market, a glass-domed Victorian market built in the 14th Century. It is gorgeous, intricate and heaving with Friday afternoon revellers. We stand beneath the main dome, enthralled, until our stomachs start shouting. It’s been a long time since the stiff old eggs on the plane at 5 am. Leadenhall Market is too full, we want an olde pub. Twenty minutes of walking about, we find one next to the monument. It too is heaving, and the one bar man disappears, presumably terrified by the mass of thirsty customers demanding his attention.

Hangry, we head over the street, past the Monument to the Great Fire of London (you can go nowhere in London without passing something amazing) and find The Hydrant, which has the friendliest waitress. A cold beer for GM – London Pride because London – and a cold glass of wine for me, the biggest Scotch Egg with Black Pudding I’ve ever seen (the chickens in the UK must be ginormous!), Potato and Leek Croquettes and Hummus, Tzatziki, Babaganoush and Pitas. We guzzle, it’s good, and our personalities reappear.

It’s time to get back on the bus to head back to Woolwich, to old friends and comfy beds.

*Accessibility in London

Transport is a breeze on buses and in black cabs. They all have ramps that go into them and space for you to be, remaining in the wheelchair.

Thali Thali Game Lodge

Heading up the west coast on the R27, the brilliant blue Atlantic glitters to the left, the vast fynbos-filled brush synonymous with this region flies by to the right, and fluffy white clouds play in the clear autumn sky. It’s the perfect day to escape city claustrophobia. We take a quick detour to Tori Oso in Mamre for coffee, a quick explore, and heavenly chocolate cake.

Then back onto the R27, too full to stop at all the enticing padstals, we pass the West Coast National Park and turn right into Thali Thali, just before the Langebaan road and a gentle hour’s drive from Cape Town. Here, on their 1,460 hectare game reserve, they keep a family of gangley giraffe, herds of zebra, wildebeest and a wide array of buck. This is not the Kruger Park, but rather ‘Safari Lite’: perfect for people wanting a little taste of South Africa’s wild, close to Cape Town.

Giraffe mama saying hello

The accommodation is arranged around the central lodge, with a pool that’s home to three friendly ducks, a restaurant and deck overlooking a little waterhole, a lapa and a children’s playground. The staff are wonderfully friendly and incredibly obliging.

The accommodation close to the main area are three converted self-catering cottages and, a little further away, five luxury en-suite tents. There’s a big old 4-bedroomed farmhouse with massive fireplace in the kitchen and a wrap-around porch situated more privately a little way down the road.

We stayed in one of the 2-sleeper self-catering cottages. They’re well-equipped, with everything you’d need for a weekend away and a big, comfy bed with crisp linen. The stoep overlooks the kid’s playground and has a great fire pit to the side, in which we braaied (and next to which we huddled – winter is in the air!) The kitchen/lounge has a fabulous big fireplace which, I’m sure, is welcome on wintery nights. We ate in the warmth of inside but, luckily, left the door open so we saw two of the tame-but-shy deer come to visit us just outside. What a treat.

A one-and-a-half hour game drive in the morning took us out into the oh-so-dry bush (The Weatherman, sir, please send some rain) along with other guests and a sweet young guide. Emus and springbok and wildebeest watched us drive by under a darkening sky that threatened rain, but didn’t bring any. Round a bend in the road we came across the giraffe family, out for a morning stroll – mom, dad, and the two girls (8-months old and 22-months old and already very tall!) Fun fact of the day: giraffe can pick their own nose with their tongue. Useful when you don’t have fingers, I guess.

Some tiny mongooses (mongeese?) chasing frankolins down the sandy path ahead of us, views across to Saldanha, some gorgeous eland and a bunch of zebra in their stripy onesies, and we returned to the main lodge for a warming cup of coffee on the stoep. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning, for sure. Or a weekend out of the city, for that matter.

A night away felt like a little holiday – some quiet, lots of fresh air, lovely people and gorgeous animals.

(Accessibility info, for those interested, is below this gallery)

Accessibility

Andriette and Amalia, from Thali Thali, were lovely when I phoned to organise and was completely upfront with what they could offer accessibility-wise, and offered help with anything we needed.

The cottage and me

The 2-sleeper cottage we stayed in was all on one level (including the stoep, which was bricked, so a little rough), with a concrete floor and moveable mats. There is a tiny lip into the front door. The cottage is divided into two rooms and an en-suite bathroom.

The front door opens into a lounge/kitchen/dining room with a lovely big, open fireplace. There’s enough space to move around. This room opens into a large bedroom with double bed (without a foot board, luckily – I’m 6-foot!)  which has plenty of space on both sides to get in with a wheelchair. Fan, heater, big cupboard, safe and hanging horse all there.

The bathroom is more than big enough, with plenty of space next to the toilet, but no bars. The shower has a lip into it and no bars, but is big enough to put a plastic chair in, for those who can manage that. The basin has a cupboard underneath it.

From our cottage (right next door) to the main lodge was across a little patch of grass and on a bricked (slightly bumpy and slightly sloped) to a bit of a steep ramp (I’d say about 1-in-6, at a guess) up to the entrance to the bar/restaurant. Once inside it’s all flat leading out to a lovely deck with a view. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the resident Jack Russell chasing the emus from here. There are both high tables and chairs and normal ones.

The game drive vehicle is not specifically adapted to make it accessible, but Thys – who is tall and strong – with the help of GM and the game ranger hauled me into the front seat and I tied my scarf around my shoulders and head rest to stabilise me. All good. They have plans to build a ramp and are keen for suggestions and very helpful!

One of the tents is also accessible but was unfortunately booked, so I couldn’t see in and give a report back but I think the privacy of the location of the tent and being inside one would give a lovely feeling of being in the wild.

Thali Thali is a perfect place for a break from the city or a beginner’s safari experience.

 

Mamre Werf and Tori Oso Coffee

The road into Mamre is announced by a welcoming white sign beset with sweet graffiti detailing who loves who in this tiny village with a big history. It’s one of those places whose turn-off you pass on your way to somewhere else. Darling, in this case. You shouldn’t pass it, though, because there are treasures there. Follow the road all the way in until you reach the circle, then turn toward the big old trees of Mamre Werf.

Welcome to Mamre

Tyrone is 5-years old. He goes to school at the school behind the old church. At weekends, he hangs out with Noah, 1, at the coffee shop. They’re a delightful welcoming committee and Tyrone’s drawings in salt and pepper are fabulous. Tyrone and Noah are here with the lovely Stephanie and Marlene, proprietors of the Tori Oso Coffee Shop.

Tori Oso Coffee Shop, Mamre Werf

Situated in a beautiful old thatched Cape Dutch building – the old shop, built in 1880 – at the incredibly well-kept old Moravian Mission in Mamre, It is one of those welcoming family restaurants with high ceilings, thick walls and warm wooden floors. Outside, two newish-looking hitching rails stand waiting for horses. Apparently this coffee shop is a movie star too – a Western was shot there last year.

The menu is down-to-earth food: moer coffee, a range of toasted sandwiches, some light lunch options and, if they’ve baked, chocolate cake of the gods (at less than R20 a slice!).

Cemetery Hill, Mamre Werf

There was a funeral on at the church, so we settled at the coffee shop and ate toasted sandwiches as the mourners left the church. Once it was empty we took an amble around the beautiful old mission, set up a gentle hill overlooked by the graves on Cemetery Hill. The air in the church still shivered with sadness.

Everything at Mamre Werf is beautifully maintained – the church (1818), parsonage (1679), Longhouse (1697), Bakhuisie (1700), Old School (1876) and the mill (1830). A local guy does a walking tour and gives the, by all accounts, fascinating history. We were sorry not to have phoned and booked him as we walked around a place that was swirling with stories.

Then we had cake and chatted to Stephanie and Marlene, who are just fabulous. The cake is moist and dark and utterly delicious.

What a surprising little treat on an autumnal Saturday morning.

Wheelchair Accessibility

Mamre Werf is not specifically geared to wheelchairs, but is completely do-able with a bit of strength on your side. A tar road leads up a gentle slope on one side, a slightly bumpy (due to roots of the gorgeous old trees)  dust road on the other. There is a ramp up to the church and a couple of little steps along the way to the entrance (more lips than steps, and not a series of them: just one at a time).

Tori Oso Coffee Shop is easy to get into and has a wide toilet (no handles or bars) which is currently used as a store room, but they’re incredibly sweet and helpful and with a little forewarning would get it sorted in a jiffy.