Day 259: First Class Travel

Mon. 29th April 2013

Music & lights fountain show at the Boardwalk Casino, SummerstrandWe could definitely get used to this First Class travel malarkey. We’ve essentially been spoilt ever since we checked into the airport in Taiwan – Executive lounges, lie-flat beds, hotel upgrades, free food and drink, an entire section of a train to ourselves. And now we are woken up with coffee delivered to our train compartment. Mind you: a) the last time this happened was on the Inca Trail and that was far from luxurious; and b) we’re also greeted with the news that the train will be 3 hours late into Port Elizabeth (PE) as a result of last night’s accident.

Yes, it is all our train!There would have been a time when this would have been Bad News, now it is just as chance to see more countryside as it goes past the train windows. Given that when we were locked in the Premier Class lounge in Jo’burg, I put the chances of us actually being on the train to PE at no more than 50:50, it is all just a bonus. In any case, the scenery continues to be just spectacular – flat plains and scrub land and then as we get closer to PE we start to go through some tunnels and along the side of gorges.

More or less how I imagined Africa would lookJanet reminds me that we are supposed to be looking out for some wildlife and sure enough within a couple of minutes of paying attention to the passing countryside, I spot some antelopes / gazelle (white legs, black/dark brown stripe then light-brown back). They go so quickly I don’t have chance to raise Janet from her Sudoku. Then, there is another group – ditto. Finally a third group, quite close to the train and standing still. Although I point them out, they seem not to be in range of her white stick, and so I still don’t collect the Smartie points. I am more successful, though, with a large grey bird (it may have been a Bustard, but equally, it might not!) I spot waddling along a field. There is no chance of a photo of any of the wildlife but at least I have the satisfaction of Janet confirming the bird spotting.

Looking out at the pier in Summerstrand, Port ElizabethPE is at the east end of the south coast of South Africa. Our plan (as suggested by a friend) is to hire a car and to spend a week driving along the famous Garden Route to Cape Town some 800km away. The scenery is supposed to be spectacular and then as we get closer to Cape Town there are the famous wine growing areas of Stellenbosch and Franschoek. We discover a minor flaw in our plan on arrival in PE when it turns out that there are no car hire firms at the railway station. There are, however, plenty of taxis and so we take one and head for the guest house where we are staying tonight. This involves driving a little way along the coast of Nelson Mandela Bay to the beach suburb of Summerstrand.

Security is somewhat of a priorityIt is a little disconcerting when we pull up outside the Abalone Place Guest House to see the steel gates and large signs warning of electrified fencing. This is just another reminder that for all the progress South Africa has made, there is still a long way to go. However, once we get inside it is very modern and comfortable and Cynthia, the owner, couldn’t be more helpful. She immediately gets onto sorting out a car hire for us- and even gives Avis grief when they fail to turn up with the car on time. We’re now sorted with a little VW Polo for the week.

Looking out along the beach at SummerstrandThere is enough of the afternoon left for us have a walk down to the beach for an exploration of Summerstrand. The place reminds us of Poole (but with better weather) – a seaside town with a glorious beach geared up for the tourist trade but slightly up-market – so, no “kiss me quick” hats and guest houses instead of B&Bs. The sea is warm and crystal clear and the sand is fine and clean. This is equivalent to the end of October in the UK and there is no way we’d be in shorts and t-shirts having a paddle at that time in Poole!

And the Indian Ocean rolls inOn our way to our guest house, the taxi driver explained that PE was in the middle of a redevelopment programme with plans to improve the beach front further and to move the industrial port slightly out of town so it is less of an eyesore. One of the new developments is the Boardwalk Casino complex which is like a (very) mini Las Vegas hotel with shops and restaurants clustered around a lake beside the hotel and casino itself. In the evenings there is a music and light fountain display with the water jets computer controlled to synchronise with the music. Again, very Las Vegas but quite effective.

Ready for the show - Boardwalk Casino, SummerstrandToo tacky to be really First Class, but fun to watch for the 15 minute show and in our ‘not fully over our jet-lag’ state we appreciated the simplicity of finding a restaurant with a view that looked out over the show.

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