Sunday, June 17, 2012

Quick report on my visit to Pretoria, South Africa

9-10 June 2012

Left Berlin according to schedule and departed from Shoenenfeld (SFX) to Cairo. Short uneventful flight, our party of Nancy, Grace and myself me up with our colleague Noha (from Alexandria) and travelled together. Landing in Cairo, we made our way through security to our gate and spent some time in the lounge before boarding our flight to Jo'burg.

Eight or so hours and a few meals later, we were on the ground at JNB. Our scheduled driver never arrived, so we found (or were found by) Alfred, who turned out to be very good. Very chatty fellow. Heard how Christians all need to love one another and help each other. That changed into the story of his father being shot and mother having a stroke. I'm in front so I hear the stories and get to further chat with him. As we approached Pretoria, we suddenly saw a herd of giraffes (in a game reserve) running along side the road.

Get to hotel, Sheraton Pretoria, for a very thorough and attention filled checkin.

Ended up at the hotel restaurant for lunch. A very big and tasty brunch. I took a walk out around the neighborhood, not too much around except the Union Buildings and a bit park. I headed that way and walked around the park part a bit and then up the hill to the Union Buildling. Quite spectacular.

Also there were dozens of vendors selling stuff (baskets, beads, carvings, textiles, etc., the usual tourist things. Spent a long time shopping and haggling. Made some purchases and I think the vendors were happy.

I'd planned to meet an old college friend at the hotel at 1600, but as I walked back towards the hotel I heard a car honking at me and it was her. Chatted and caught up for a bit and then she headed home.

I was down early for dinner, so I thought I'd have a drink. Went to the bar, but Felix the bartender was busy. Waited a bit and then he took my order (Manhattan); no bourbon, so I requested Jamesons. Watched him make it (as he looked at the menu all the time) and he used white vermouth and about 2 tablespoons of bitters. I stopped him and said, no, that won't be good; pointed to the right things to use. He did it again, but didn't have enough Jamesons, so he added Jack Daniels. And the 2 TB of bitters. It was sort of a muddy brown. Tasted, eh, uh, well ... but I didn't want to try it again.

Ate in the Tiffin's Lounge (tied to the bar!). I had lamb burgers (really really good); drinks for the rest of my group were not too far off (if you consider a martini in a margharita glass not far off).

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11 June 2012

Got up later than planned and just had a little bit of breakfast. Met Grace in the lobby at 9:15 where we had a car waiting to take us to downtown for a visit to the Natural History Museum (formerly the Transvaal Museum. It was a short drive to downtown and then to the museum. The building is from about 1892, very dusty with some taxidermy in need of refreshing. Toured through the museum for a while and got to see my two favorites, the dodo and the coelacanth, as well as some very interesting taxidermy.

Headed outside and looked at the Pretoria city hall, then walked around; stopped in a small store and picked up some things. Then, since we heard Cape Town would be cold, went to another store and bought a fleece.

Car was waiting for us as planned and we zipped back to the Union Buildings and did some more shopping at the vendors. Walked back to hotel to get ready for our visit to the Mae Jemison Science Reading Room in the township of Mamelodi. Our host, Amy Cole from the US Embassy in Pretoria picked us up in a minivan and we headed out.

We met with some of the students and then Nancy Gwinn, Grace and I gave presentations (on Smithsonian Libraries and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, here's mine). Session went well, we had very good questions and an engaged group. After, Amy and some of the Embassy staff rode with us back to he hotel Grace and I had to swing back to pick up a camera we left behind, but other than that, a great visit. Kudos to the US Embassy staff that helped with the planning and execution of our visit.

For dinner, we had the hotel buffet which again was very good.

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12 June 2012

Got up at 5 am. Last bit of packing, showered, dressed; downstairs by 6:15; LONG LONG check out process with stamping, printing, etc. Given huge bags with a takeaway breakfast. Car arrives (same guy to brought us there). Much more quiet ride. Get to airport and it's unclear which terminal to go to (since we were split on two differnt flights). I take banana from my lunch and give it to a guy who took the luggage trolley away and said he was hungry. Stop to get a coffee and say "see you in Cape Town" to Nancy. Some last minute shopping (fleece for me and power adapters for both of us). Board the plane without any problems. Get a window seat and some food is served on the plane.

So long Pretoria!

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