When does a tourist become a traveller?

To be a tourist is almost as bad as to be a terrorist, some smart people say. Tourists are eating, swallowing, consuming zombies who visit attractions and leave a place without understanding a thing about it. A traveller, on the other hand, will drink in the local culture like a connoisseur.

Recently, I was a tourist in New York.

Believe me, a piece of sea foam, à la the end of The Little Mermaid, is all you can be while floating with the crowds on Times Square. Usually all you see are other tourists watching, like you, the jaw-dropping skyscrapers stretching up and up into the sky, the man walking around with a pineapple on his head (see the picture above), and the woman boasting in only a G-string, an ‘N’ on her one um… “cheek” and a ‘Y’ on the other… (unfortunately no pictures of that).

If you fork up $35 for the seventy floors with the elevator in the Rockefeller building, you are still only a tourist. With American efficiency (‘stay two in a line, guys, there are many people, click click, snap snap,’) the guides get the crowd to move upward. At Top of the Rock everyone is interested in only one thing: a selfie with the Empire State in the background.

Look, we tried to be good travellers. When we, children of Africa with souls fed on space, could no longer stand the throng, we hopped off the red Hop-On, Hop-Off bus at Central Park. Our mission was to find Cafe Lalo, where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had their great fight in You’ve Got Mail. Now that’s something original, I told my husband and kids.

Unfortunately, even there we still were only tourists. Almost twenty years after parts of the movie were shot in the restaurant, photos from the movie are still emblazoned outside the restaurant. It seems Nora Ephron’s movie was a good break for the restaurant. The place was crowded, but the service fast; my frittata was fair, the olives my son stole from my plate were apparently delicious and the cappuccino very nice. I received a matchbox with the restaurant’s name for free. Nothing to blog home about. The pizza and tiramisu we ate at Capizzi, a little restaurant as big as a shoebox in Hell’s Kitchen, the next day, was more memorable.

Back home in Maryland, after our very expensive New York excursion, I kept wondering how I could be less of a tourist and more of a traveller. I remembered the French family who took a photo of our family at Top of the Rock. We returned the favour. Then the father and mother, no longer spring chickens, have taken a selfie while kissing each other. Okay, well they made sure that the Empire State was in the picture. But you could see how happy they were to be there together. Did they plan as long as we did for their journey to New York?

Our Saturday in New York was a little miserable because it suddenly started to rain. Hurriedly we bought four $5 umbrellas that we carried with paralysed arms for kilometres through Central Park. When we were completely exhausted and everyone’s irritability level as high as Top of the Rock, we smelled a wonderful aroma. We looked around and saw a booth where a man fried candied nuts. We bought a $3 packet of almonds and tucked into it right there under our black umbrellas on our way to the bus stop. Those hot nuts, my daughter told us later, was the best thing she has ever eaten. She was so tired and the nuts were just what she needed.

Now I know what makes you a traveller – the shared memories: the laughter because everyone’s nerves have gone to bits that we would end up on the wrong train, the excitement of our first ride with Uber, the nuts in Central Park.

Hit the road with your loved ones – they are the ones making you into a real traveller.

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The Treaty of Waitangi gets Afrikaans translation!

A major event of great importance for South Africans and Afrikaans especially has occurred the previous weekend in New Zealand. New Zealand’s ground document, the Treaty of Waitangi, or the Tiriti o Waitangi, is now officially available in Afrikaans.

In fact, it is now available in 30 more languages than the two (and English) that has been the case until now. The Afrikaans translation is a product of the hard work of three Afrikaans New-Zealanders, namely Alta Rall (a member of the NZSTI), Dina Cloete and Philip Langenhoven.

A major event of great importance for South Africans and Afrikaans especially has occurred the previous weekend in New Zealand. New Zealand’s ground document, the Treaty of Waitangi, or the Tiriti o Waitangi, is now officially available in Afrikaans. In fact, it is now available in 30 more languages than the two (and English) that has been the case until now.

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The Afrikaans translation is a product of the hard work of three Afrikaans New-Zealanders, namely Alta Rall (a member of the NZSTI), Dina Cloete and Philip Langenhoven.

The Treaty Times Thirty Project was launched about 18 months ago by the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI) to translate and publish in book format the Treaty of Waitangi in 30 other languages in New Zealand as part of its thirtieth anniversary.

17 February 2017 saw the culmination of their efforts when the book was presented to Dame Patsy Reddy, New Zealand’s Governor-General, by Stefan Grand-Meyer, a representative of the NZSTI.

The translation process required each translation to be independently carried out by three translators, who afterwards worked together to compare their translations and present a final, best version. An authoritative person from their community who is proficient in the target language then had to review their final translation and comment on the flow of language and the register.

The team approached two reviewers, Mr Gregory Fortuin of Parirua and Dr Stanley Theron from Auckland, as they felt that the honour was due to them for their ground-breaking work in New Zealand..

Mr Fortuin used to be New Zealand’s Race Relations Conciliator (appointed by the New Zealand Government) and was South Africa’s Honorary Consul in New Zealand – an appointment that he had accepted a volunteer as there had not yet been a High Commissariat in New Zealand.

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Dr Theron was co-founder of the first Afrikaans congregation in New Zealand under instruction of the Dutch Reformed Church. Within months, the congregation, who was active in Howick, amalgamated with the Afrikaans Christian Church North Shore in Auckland. Dr Theron is an emeritus minister who has been active at his Bible Academy that facilitates non-English church leaders.

Most of the translators and some of the reviewers came together to celebrate the historic event under a painting of King George V looking very sternly down on everyone in the great function hall, as well as a beautiful painting of Queen Elizabeth that added more brilliance to a splendid, stately evening’s events. Exquisite wines and finger foods, carried around by dashing young waiters and waitresses, made you feel well-treated.

But more about the Treaty of Waitangi. It was written over a period of seven days and took seven months to be signed by all possible Maori chiefs (that is, every chief who couldn’t attend the historic first day). It has also been debated from all sides for almost 170 years.

The Treaty was signed on 6 February 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and various Maori chiefs of the Northern Island of New Zealand. A direct result was that Lieutenant-Governor declared British sovereignty over New Zealand in May 1840.

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Because the Treaty was drafted so quickly (in a few days) and was translated to Maori literally overnight, the translation of certain core words missed the mark – an issue that lead to many court battles over more than a century. And because of these interpretational differences between the two language versions, the Court realised that certain principals exist in the Treaty that had to be highlighted to promote unity in terms of the true rationales for the Treaty, an understanding of what had been agreed to and the honest meaning behind the Treaty.

These principals were then neatly explained and helped New Zealand to develop its unique, bicultural character.

The Court of Appeal decided on the following in the ruling by the then President of the Court, Sir Robin Cooke:
Obtaining sovereignty by the British Crown in exchange for the protection of the rangatiratanga, or absolute sovereignty over Maori interests, as agreed on.
The Treaty established a partnership and with it made the partners responsible for acting reasonable and in good goodwill.

Freedom of the Crown to rule over New Zealand.
The Crown’s obligation to actively protect Maori interests.
The Crown’s obligation to rectify violations of the past (in terms of Maori interests).
Maori retains rangatiratanga over their resources and treasures (taonga – including cultural treasures) and obtains all privileges of citizenship.
The obligation of the Crown to consult Maoris on all matters that may potentially implicate or concern them.

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From the Drakensberg to the Jungfrau slopes:- A story of a beginner world traveller!

From a WhatsApp message in December to boarding the aircraft in March … from the Drakensberg to the Alps! My first tour overseas was really an eye-opener; something that showed me how small my world really is.

And how I only thought that I was informed. It was an experience of learning how much there still is to learn. An experience to make friends with fellow-countrymen whom I never knew we had lost. An experience to move about comfortably in another world because of my language.

My first trip abroad had its origin in a WhatsApp message. Thanks to my friend Jannie, his sister and her four pals, who were strangers to me at the time. But now they are anything but strangers!

Jannie and I – like many others – never even thought of venturing into the world across the oceans any time soon. But that message got the ball rolling.

That message was an advertisement of the Alpenrose Hotel and Gardens in Wilderswil, Switzerland, in which the hotel marketed its South Africa week. “How peculiar!?” I at first thought. The ad offered very affordable prices and even an evening with bobotie! The South Africa week is held in Wilderswil each year at the beginning of March.

After some research I learned that the hotel was owned by two South African expats, Carel and Ryan. Carel also owns a business called Expat Explore Travel, which took the tour to a next level. They also offer tours around the world, which are joined by many South Africans.

The ad hooked me and the decision was made! I’m going skiing!

Then came the hard part …
Ask anyone who knows me whether Leomar likes flying, and the answer will be a loud NO! But after a day’s thorough research on the safest airline with the most legroom, we bought the tickets. Nevertheless, my 193 cm long body did not sit too comfortably. The tickets from Johannesburg to Geneva via Zurich were purchased at the last minute (a month ahead).

With the help of friends’ knowledge I also had to run around for a new passport and visa, because the expiration date of my passport was too close to the date of our return flight. But the procedure was quick and smooth, and within two weeks I received both. TLScontact was excellent with the visa process.

With that, all arrangements were in place. All I still had to do, was to sort out my money at the bank. That was also fairly simple. I learned that although Switzerland used the European visa, namely the Schengen, the acceptable currency was Swiss Franc (CHF) and not euros. My savings were therefore converted to CHF.

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Always try to ask someone knowledgeable what is required for such a tour. A friend’s mother gave me a list of items of which I would need on a skiing holiday. It was worth the effort! And voila – I was ready for Switzerland! My leave was organised and my suitcases were packed.

As fate would have it, I was diagnosed with bronchitis on the morning of the flight. After a call to the doctor, I was sorted out with medication and with a prescription to take with me on the plane – as evidence that I had permission to carry the medication.

On the flight I had to resort to Rescue drops and a fizzy drink or two for my state of mind, however. And with that, I could tick off yet another item from the bucket list: flying overseas. Fortunately, we were on a night flight.

After our delicious meal, Jannie and I took our sleeping pills and only woke up for breakfast just before landing – not at all the type of flight to which I objected all these years. A quick connecting flight, and we were in Geneva.

Jannie and I were nine hours ahead of the rest of our group; so we could explore the essentially francophone city and even tick off a few more items from our bucket list – like the UN building Palace of Nations, with the broken chair as a symbol of the international opposition to the use of landmines; and the Jet d’Eau fountain in Lake Geneva. It took us a while to get to know the transport schedule.

We could indeed feel that we were no longer in our homeland. But after a hilarious incident, we learned that Afrikaans-speaking people were to be found all around the world!

After that, we welcomed our tour group at the airport as though we knew Geneva and the country like the palm of our hands … Full of bravado, we got on the train to Wilderswil, although not after struggling to get tickets to our destination: we kept mispronouncing the name of our destination when talking to the agent. It turned out that the name of the town actually should sound like “Vealdersveal”.

The route took us along Lake Geneva to Bern, where we boarded the train to Interlaken, with a short trip from there to Wilderswil. Wilderswil is barely 4 km from Interlaken. On the way we saw everything from city graffiti to rolling hills, and the only connection with our home was the Afrikaans we were speaking to one another.

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As a South African, it is difficult to understand how such a small country can be so famous. People in Switzerland do not travel much locally, but due to the long distances in South Africa, the situation is different in our homeland. Switzerland is only 41 285 square kilometres in size, compared to South Africa’s 1,22 million square kilometres.

Upon arriving at our hotel, we rushed to go get our “ski armaments” as the New Zealand supplier calls it. So we found out that many of our rugby enemies live here. On our return we explored the hotel and we met our tour guide and owner of the hotel, Carel. Carel briefly explained to us how the skiing and the area worked. The next day the group faced their first lessons, while I remained behind, sick in the hotel.

Back at the hotel, Jannie explained with childlike excitement how the first day proceeded.

On day 2 we met the other tourists and learned that we had a lot in common – with one or two exceptions, we were all born in South Africa. There were 24 South Africans in the group, and Afrikaans was heard everywhere in the hotel.

During the eight days that we were in the Alpenrose in Wilderswil, we went skiing in different villages in the Jungfrau area each day. Carel’s skiing lessons quickly made us capable skiers. Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Männlichen, Kl.Scheidegg, Grindelwald and Murren are some of the towns we visited and where we went skiing. One can ski from one town to the next, and the towns are connected via cable cars or trains.

It was a big adjustment for me to ride the ski lifts and gondolas (another item ticked off my bucket list!). My fear of flying is accompanied by my fear of heights, and that fear was severely tested when we tried out the gondolas to the James Bond museum and Piz Gloria Restaurant at Schilthorn, which lies on 2 940 m. The restaurant turns 360 degrees in an hour, making it a breath-taking viewpoint.

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We put away our skis for two days to explore Interlaken and the northern banks of the Thunersee (Lake Thun). In German, Interlaken literally means “between two lakes”. Interlaken got its name because it lies between the Thunersee and Breinzersee. The town and the lake are picturesque. And for a while I could put myself in that picture too, at the Italian restaurant in Beatenberg. Here we could see the difference in terms of lifestyle and culture, because here we met local people and not other tourists, as in the mountains.

We spent our last day in Interlaken, where we bought gifts to take back to our loved ones at home. We began missing home, but at the same time could not believe that our short time here had come to an end.

What I noticed …
People here ride bicycle or walk to transit points. Pedestrians enjoy priority on the roads. Even in busy streets, vehicles would stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings. Children walk to bus stops or to school on their own, without being accompanied by a parent.

People walk in the streets drinking a beer, although we felt like criminals when we dared to do it – especially when we came across two policemen on the bus! Teenagers may drink beer or wine from the age of 16.

Only small quantities of meat are used in the food, but there is a wide variety of food cultures to choose from, for instance Italian, Indian, Irish etc. And many restaurants serve everything from pizza to kebabs; from pork schnitzels to horse steak!

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The Swiss are very set on being on time with everything. Yet, nobody is rushed for anything, because it is not necessary to hurry anywhere if everything happens on schedule. There is no African time here.

Wilderswil …
Wilderswil is a small, quiet town just before entering the mountains. The town is characterised by unique wooden houses, decorated with personal items, with the snow-covered mountain in the background.

The town follows a minimalist lifestyle, and has few shops. All noise (if any!) must stop by 10 in the evening. Even the fountains in the gardens must be switched off punctually at 10 pm. The residents are quite comfortable with the situation in their town, and they meet up with one another at the restaurant or bar each week, to keep in touch.

Carel and the Alpenrose staff managed to create somewhat of a “’home” for us South Africans in Switzerland, but we were also taken on a journey of food and drinks every night. Everything was served, from real Swiss fondue (a little salty for my taste), to a German dinner with schnitzels, to South African bobotie and banana salad. And every meal was complemented with the appropriate drinks.

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The mountains …
On our arrival, the foothills were still rather colourless, but the steep uphill train ride was nonetheless beautiful. The towns higher up showed signs of snow here and there. But after it had snowed, the pale green hills were covered with a thick layer of snow. The towns became more colourful and vehicles sounded different with their chain wheels on the tarmac.

One experiences a totally different feeling. The snow brought calm over the area, but that calm faded quickly as the train went higher up the mountain. The calm then made way for the excitement and fun of hundreds of people who thoroughly enjoyed themselves on skis, snow boards and sleds. Tourists took thousands of pictures, hoping to capture that feeling through a camera lens.

Final thoughts …
My first tour abroad made me realise that there is a world out there that of which I would like to experience more. I want to tour places where I can meet new people and have new experiences. The people I met on the tour, gave me a different perspective on life. And I know some of them will remain my friends for a long time to come.

Even though those people no longer live in South Africa, they are very well informed about what is going on here. The expats we met, still have an emotional bond with the country. It makes me proud to say that this country is still my home.

The experience also made me aware of how narrow one’s mind-set can be here in South Africa. There are people in other countries who also think and live like we do: we are not alone.

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Howzit my China, Philippines

Long, long ago there was consensus among humankind about which natural phenomena represented the cream of the crop on our small planet. The Seven Natural Wonders of the World – the Great Barrier Reef, the Victoria Falls, Rio de Janeiro Bay, Mount Everest, the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights), the Grand Canyon and the Parícutin Volcano – were the world’s finest examples of geographic excellence, and no one would ever dare to question the eminent status of the Super Seven. Right?

In 2007, a Swiss non-profit organisation, the New7Wonders Foundation, decided on behalf of all earth dwellers that the Seven Natural Wonders of the World had lost some of their wonder, and the organisation launched a global campaign to identify the “’New” Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

After four years of eliminating rounds, during which more than 100 million votes were cast in 220 countries, seven natural phenomena were once again elevated to the status of Mother Nature’s crown jewels. In addition to our own Table Mountain, the new list included the following six: the Amazon Rainforest, Halong Bay, Jeju Island, the Iguazu Falls, Komodo Island, and the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

It is the latter which is relevant to our story, because Puerto Princesa – the capital of Palawan – was next on our list of destinations. I did indeed look forward to coming face to face with one of the official New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, but where I come from, an underground river can only be accessed through a borehole, and I therefore struggled to understand how we were all going to fit through a hole in the ground to see this wondrous phenomenon.

The confusion was, however, cleared up rather quickly. This natural wonder is not literally an underground river. It is a 5 km long cave with a river at the bottom. And instead of crawling through a borehole, we could gain access to it in a rowboat that was rowed by a guide.

In our row boat we were taken from one giant hollow to the next. In each of these “halls” stalagmites and stalactites formed the decor, and our guide tried hard to convince us that these distorted mineral formations looked like all kinds of imaginary objects, including vegetables, a pulpit, a lascivious young lady, and even a litter of kittens. However, I neglected to swallow a hallucinogenic pill before embarking on this journey, and therefore I could not really see these objects.

Our visit to the Puerto Princesa Underground River was an entertaining trip, and I would not call it a waste of time. But it baffles my mind why this natural phenomenon is one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, whereas the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest and the Great Barrier Reef are not. The Swiss are not at all notorious for this kind of thing, but I suspect that serious election fraud was committed in this case.

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Somewhere over the rainbow …

If there is one place on earth where all rainbows meet up, it will surely be in Keukenhof, the Netherlands. This former kitchen garden (hence the name) has since the 15th century developed into one of the foremost flower gardens in the world. With more than 7 million bulbs – of which just more than 800 tulip varietals form part – it is indeed the place where the world’s rainbows get their inspiration from.

This year’s exhibition stretches from 23 March until 21 May. We were lucky to have visited the garden on 19 April – the week widely considered to be the best to experience its full impact.

Now I have to mention that Keukenhof does not only offer tulips. There are also hundreds of thousands of hyacinths in colours that range from the well-known dark blue, light blue and white to salmon-coloured and even buttery varietals. Small grape hyacinths (muscari) colour the world (there is even a scene where a myriad of cobalt blue grape hyacinths imitate a river that runs through a forest). And of course there are the daffodils, narcissi and other bulbs that complete the picture, as well as hundreds of other bulbs that are allowed to grow wildly, including Fritillaria meleagris or chequered lily.

Keukenhof’s secret for the extended flowering time is at the same time impressive as it is simple and no engineering trick. The gardeners employ what they call a lasagne method to plant the bulbs. According to this method, the bulbs are planted in three layers – the top layer flowers first and provides the first colour explosion. As soon as these have flowered and the dead flower heads are removed, the second layer has already broken through and is ready to parade their colour spectacle to viewers. And as soon as the second layer has flowered, the third colour splash follows. In this way the garden can keep its gates open for two whole months to take away people’s breaths.

The Internet says that a person can differentiate between 7 million colours. Believe me – Keukenhof challenges this fact, as I am sure that my eyes were forced to include an additional 500 000 colours! Every tulip imaginable is represented in the Tulpomania section of the garden; even one as green as grass and tulips with such fringed petals that they look like warthogs – we promptly started calling these “rafeltulpe” (fimbriated tulips).

And if that is not enough, the Willem Alexander Hall offers a collection of tulips that are quite extraordinary. This is where I saw the tulips any Rembrandt fan would recognise – those of his still lifes and which had lead to the great tulip crash of the 17th century.

Keukenhof is one of the places one simply has to see. There are a few hints that the prospective visitor has to take note of:
* Buy your ticket online. Then you can choose from three days and skip the line to enter. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and then decide which day will suit you best.
* Go early. The earlier you go, the more tulips you can photograph without thousands of models posing around every corner and ruining your composition.
* Take your own food and drinks. There are many camera (and the food and drinks available are quite expensive).
* Wear comfortable shoes. You will walk for miles on end, even if you don’t want to (your eyes will force you!).
* Take along an umbrella – even on sunny days, the Dutch weather may surprise you with a quick shower.
* Remember your camera, cell phone and anything that can take pictures.

There are still a few days left to visit Keukenhof. If you are in the area, go there.

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The De Hoge Veluwe National Park and the Kröller-Müller Museum

About an hour’s drive from Amsterdam you get to one of the largest continuous nature reserves in the Netherlands. The De Hoge Veluwe National Park lies between the towns of Apeldoorn, Ede and Arnhem in the province of Gelderland.

Geologists and geographers will keep you busy for hours on end about the geological history of De Hoge Veluwe. It once (somewhere at the end of the last Ice Age) marked the end of an enormous glacier that created and formed this beautiful piece of land. I won’t go into too much detail – rather read the Wikipedia article online. Because, although nature’s beauty is here at its best (certain parts reminded me of the Highveld and even the Karoo), we visited this park of about 55 km2 for a completely different reason: Between the woods, grass and veld, the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world is nestled away in the Kröller-Müller Museum.

You can reach the museum in one of two ways: Either you pay the additional amount for your car and then drive through the park on your way there, or you can climb onto one of the world-renowned (and free!) white bicycles and discover the park on your way to the museum. Well, in the Netherlands you do as the Dutch do, so there we were: each with his/her own white bicycle, ready to pedal.

But the weather decided differently and the clouds opened up over us. So, a bit embarrassed, we went back to the gate to fetch the car and continue the journey warm and dry (we parked a healthy 10 km from the museum, just in case someone thinks we were simply too lazy to cycle!).

The museum is breath taking, to say the least. Of the 90 Van Gogh paintings and 180 sketches, at least 40 are exhibited at any given time (the collection rotates). The whole Van Gogh Wing was built for this purpose. Highlights included Sorrowing Old Man (“At Eternity’s Gate”), Four Sun Flowers Gone to Seed, The Potato Eaters, Terrace of a Café at Night and, obviously, Country Road in Provence by Night.

Astronomers found that the positions of the stars in Terrace of a Café at Night are exactly those of the stars over Arles, France in the middle of September 1888. And of course there was a number of self-portraits, as well as well-known portraits the likes of Madame Ginoux and Joseph Roulin. Another highlight for me was Vilmos Huszár’s painting Vincent, which depicts a sunflower and he dedicated to Van Gogh.

Drunk from all the Van Gogh colours, we then explored the museum’s sculpture garden: More than 160 sculptures of all different styles, media and sizes. You can also philosophise about the level of artiness of some of these creations, but then again – to each his own. Two great favourites still are the white duckling floating around aimlessly on its little pond, as well as the range of busts (in copper!) depicting humans with animal ears, horns and antlers (like a fairy tale!).

Unfortunately, the weather once again interrupted and we couldn’t criss-cross the whole sculpture garden. But next time, definitely!

Handy hints:
* Buy a Museum Card if you plan on taking a cultural tour through the Netherlands – it saves you a lot of money and is valid for 31 days from the date of purchase. This card gives you free access to the Kröller-Müller Museum (although you still have to pay to access the reserve).
* If you like peaceful days at museums, try visiting the museum on Fridays.
* You may take pictures in the museum, as long as your camera’s flash is turned off.
* Take a raincoat if you plan on criss-crossing the park on a bicycle (and the weather doesn’t want to play along!).

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Thinking of visiting Dubai

Worldwide visited Dubai from 15 to 20 May this year with other South Africans as well as with some of South Africa’s best artists the likes of Arno Jordaan, Dewald Wasserfall, Leah, Snotkop, Willem Botha and the Weiveld team. It was an absolute privilege to have been able to share this visit.

Day 1
We flew to Dubai from the O.R. Tambo International Airport, with a stop-over in Cairo.

We were welcomed at the airport by an English- as well as Afrikaans-speaking tour guide who was very friendly and helpful. Our accommodation for the week was in the Citymax Hotel Al Barsha. This hotel offers modern accommodation, is conveniently central, right across from the Mall of Emirates, one of the world’s largest shopping malls.

Day 2
Our tour bus waited for us outside our hotel. While getting onto the bus, we were greeted with Afrikaans music playing … Imagine listening to Groen Mamba in Dubai! As we drive along, it came to my attention that renewing is visible all around is.

New buildings rise up literally everywhere. The streets are very neat and no garbage anywhere. The green lawns all along the roads are wonderful surprises between the shiny, high buildings and I understand why Dubai is known for its ultramodern architecture.

We got an opportunity to take pictures of the Burj Al Arab Hotel from the beach. This hotel is currently the only 7 star hotel in the world – and also one of the most expensive.

We also visited the awe-inspiring Atlantis Hotel – a luxury hotel on the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, based completely on the Atlantis theme. We were also taken to this archipelago later via an underwater tunnel.

The second archipelago, the Palm Jebel Ali, is already under construction and will be three times larger than the original. There are also plans for a third one, which will be five times larger than the Palm Jebel Ali. Everything is bigger in Dubai!
The temperature rose to 40 °C!

That evening, we visited the Dubai Mall. It is the largest shopping Mall in the world, and sports air-conditioning, very fast WiFi, luxury brands and restaurants.

Outside again, we were treated to Dubai’s water fountains. The Dubai Fountain shoots water into the air for as high as 500 feet (or 152,4 m) – as high as a 50-storey building! It was designed by the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas and can be seen from anywhere on the Promenade, as well many close-laying structures.

Performances are at 13:00 and at 13:30, as well as every 30 minutes from 18:00 until 22:00 on weekdays, and from 18:00 to 23:00 on weekends (the weekend here starts on Thursday over Friday and Saturday). This was the first time that I have seen the Dubai Fountains and the water dance performance surprised me.

The selection of music is in itself unbelievable. Words and pictures cannot do justice to this wonder. I encourage anyone who visits Dubai to go and see these fountains.

One of the highlights of our tour was the visit to the world-famous Burj Khalifa. At 829,8 m high with 163 storeys it is currently the world’s highest man-made structure – three times as high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris! It didn’t matter how far I stood: I simply could not fit the Burj Khalifa in one picture.

Day 3
Gold and herb souk
We visited the gold and herb souk today, a covered gold and herb markets in the centre of Dubai. A handy tip when visiting these stalls is to negotiate a good price. If they tell you it’s 100 dirham, then you say 70 dirham – and then stand your ground!

If you have excellent negotiation skills, you can walk away with quite a number of bargains. However, the stall owners can be very intimidating and overwhelming and do not take no for an answer!

Desert safari
At 15:00 we were picked up at the hotel by the Toyota Land Cruisers of Dessert Adventures. We were going on a desert safari about 70 km from Dubai – and this is definitely not for those who get carsick easily! As we drove up and down the dunes, you could hear the screams from the women in the cabin!

At sunset we arrived at the top of one of the highest dunes, where we could take pictures of the sand dunes against the orange-yellow backdrop of the sky. The nerve-racking go-cart ride is surely worth all the screams if you are honoured to take in this breath-taking scenery. Everyone ran up and down the dunes like children..

Just before it got dark, we stopped at a Bedouin camp in the heart of the desert. Everyone took their seats on cushion chairs next to rows of knee-high tables. A delicious feast awaited us: roasted chicken, mutton and fish with a treasure trove of side dishes.

A man walked up the stage in the middle, wearing a wide-hooped dress. He started turning while the dress turned with him: higher and higher until it reached his neck! Then, to our surprise, he suddenly switched on the dress’s lights!

Day 4
At the Dubai Marina a myriad of skyscrapers towered above us. We sailed with other South Africans who live in Dubai all along the lake in a luxurious boat. It was wonderful to have been able to speak to everyone there and to find out more about their lives in Dubai. Dubai overflows with possibilities and opportunities for South Africans.

Less than 15% of Dubai residents are citizens of the UAE; the rest are foreigners. South Africans comprise the sixth largest group of foreigners. Most South Africans live in the outskirts of Dubai – the farther you live, the less expensive it becomes. School education here is also very expensive – the average school fees here amounts to more or less R200 000.

Day 5
Dubai weekends stretch over Fridays and Saturdays. On Friday morning (South Africa’s Sunday) I therefore attended a church service of the Afrikaanse Gemeentes VAE (Afrikaans Congregations UAE) by. It was so wonderful to pray, sing and read the Bible in Dubai in my mother tongue!

The Kuier in Dubai #5 concert was held in the Zinc Night Club at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Leah, Willem Botha, Dewald Wasserfall, Arno Jordaan and Snotkop entertained more than 450 South Africans in Dubai. After the four days’ tour with these artists I have almost forgotten about their talents as they were just part of our tour group.

The artists had the audience on their feet! Although they sang their own hits, they also included song that made you long for home. Many South Africans sokkie’ed on the dance floor. Even the very stern security officials could not stand still when Snotkop hit the stage!

Dubai does not disappoint when the energetic night-life starts. Sometimes you even forget that you are in the desert. I met many South Africans at the concert – actually temporary emigrants as Dubai does not offer citizenship, only excellent work opportunities. Dubai is surely a city where many cultures get along well, being more tolerant towards other religions and lifestyles.

This was my first visit to Dubai, but surely not my last. Dubai is an unforgettable, safe city that offers numerous attractions, shopping malls and hotels to choose from.
Sue-Ann de Wet is the Project Coordinator for South African Diaspora at AfriForum, and manages AfriForum’s Worldwide initiative.

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Celebrating the life of Diana, Princess of Wales

I visited Kensington Palace on 25 May 2017 to view the new dress exhibition “Diana: Her Fashion Story – The definitive dress exhibition”. I recognised all the dresses and it reaffirmed what an impact Princess Diana made even on me – living in South Africa at that time.

It was wonderful to see these dresses up close, but it was Diana wearing them that made each item special.

An excerpt from the exhibitor’s description: “Trace the evolution of the Princess’s style, from the demure, romantic outfits of her first public appearances, to the glamour, elegance and confidence of her later life.

Don’t miss an extraordinary collection of garments, including Victor Edelstein’s iconic velvet gown, famously worn at the White House when the Princess danced with John Travolta.”

“I don’t go by the rule book… I lead from the heart, not the head.” – Diana, Princess of Wales

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What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of China?

What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of China?
Mega cities? Skyscrapers? Factories? Pollution? Human ant heaps?

The abovementioned definitely count among the side effects that accompany the fastest industrial revolution in the history of mankind, and therefore China is to most people probably synonymous with this undesirable by-products of development and progress.

It is also true that nearly all consumer goods are nowadays produced (and imitated!) in China, which involves air, water and sound pollution as some of the biggest headaches with which city fathers in this region are faced with. But in a classic example of a yin-yang balance, this huge country also houses many of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, of which the Zhangiiajie National Park in the Hunan Province is one of the jewels in this crown.

The authorities recently spoiled us with a long weekend, which offered us with the ideal opportunity to pay a visit to that part of this fascinating country. Between Zhangiiajie and the nearby Tianzi Mountain we came across the following:
Gangways with glass bottoms that will instantly heal anyone with a case of acrophobia. Permanently. Because he will die of a heart attack.

Dozens of aerial railways, of which one is the longest in the world. Mine is still longer than yours!

The rock jungle where the film Avatar was filmed.

A lift that is able to lift you 330 m high along the side of a cliff within seconds.
Jaw dropping scenic beauty.

Thousands of Chinese nature lovers.

It stays a distinctive challenge to travel in the Chinese heartland, seeing as the English of most people over there is limited to “hello”, “okay” and “David Beckham”. But on the positive side, my charades skills are now once again razor-sharp. One word, two syllables, first syllable sounds like…

During our visit we didn’t break, misplace, miss or lose anything. And nothing ridiculous, saddening or fashionable happened.

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Three medieval German treasures

When one tackles Europe, there are definitely three types of attractions on your list: art museums, cathedrals and maybe a castle or two. Art museums are normally limited to the most well-known, such as the Louvre in Paris or the Rijksmuseum on Amsterdam. Neuschwanstein, Versailles and Chambord are without a doubt at the top of the list of castles and palaces (and maybe even the grey, unimaginative Buckingham Palace). The Notre Dame in Paris, Westminster Abbey in London and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are kings among other cathedrals.

And yet – sometimes one wants to escape these tourist traps and experience something of the bygone days of Europe. We encountered three such medieval treasures in Germany.

Monschau in the Eifel region close to Aix-le-Chapelle (Aachen in German and Aken in Afrikaans)
This sweet little town appeared in written documents in 1198. Driving along a lazy mountain pass through hills and valleys, you first see a few houses to your left.

Then follows a large hotel and an enormous parking area where you can leave your car (the little streets further on are very cramped up, although two or three competent Germans actually navigated their huge Mercedes Benzes skilfully through these narrow alleys!).

Then you start walking (take along hiking shoes, as the cobbled streets do not guarantee an effortless stroll!) – and suddenly, around the next bend, pretty timber-framed houses (photo 1) greet you, each one older than your family’s secret pancake recipe! The cutest antique shops, eateries and even toy shops invite you to spend your last euros as quickly as possible.

Somewhere along the way, a river (a favourite spot among trout fishers) finds its way between the houses, and all along the river the gorgeous architecture repeats itself (photos 2 and 3). And quite unexpectedly, the town also boasts a little protestant church!

Relax on the town square under warm woollen blankets (if it is winter) and sample the local beer. The traditional food compels you to lick your fingers long after it has been devoured.

Although a rainy day greeted us, we enjoyed every moment. It is said that the town is even better on sunny days. Next time, we will visit over Christmas, as the town’s Christmas Market is known far and wide. Adieu until December, Monschau!
Bachanach on the banks of the Rhine.

A few kilometres upstream from the Lorelei (on the banks of the Rhine, therefore) is nestled the gorgeous little hamlet of Bachanach, one of the lucky towns that escaped the Second World War’s bombardments. What makes this town quite interesting is the various gateways through which one approaches it. At one of these gates every single flood since the times of Noah are recorded. It is actually a miracle that the town has never been swept away completely!

Just like Monschau, Bachanach boasts many true and real medieval timbre-framed houses (photos 4 and 5). Some buildings are so skew that you don’t even want to walk next to it!

Two things reminded of the Jewish Holocaust. The first is an impressive ruin: The Werner Chapel (photo 6) commemorates a very sad event of the 13th century when a German boy, Werner, was apparently killed by Jews. This murder resulted in a pogrom during which at least 40 Jews were killed. It is actually fitting that the chapel, which was to have been built into a cathedral, was never completed and today resembles a skeleton.

The second little piece of memorial is much smaller, inconspicuous and, to me, more tragic. In one of the side alleys, two cobbles in front of a picturesque house were removed and replaced with two copper cobbles (photo 7). These bear the names of two people from Bachanach who lived in that house but lost their lives in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp during the Holocaust.

May these two reminders remind us for ever that no live is worth more or less than another, and that no race is superior to another.

Burg Eltz
What is a trip along the Rhine without a visit to a Rhineland castle? Already in South Africa we have decided to visit this off-the-beaten-track castle. The 33rd generation of Eltzes live there – the first generation had built the castle in the 12th century already. And very interesting: this is one of only three castle to the left of the Rhine in the Rhineland Palatinate that were not destroyed.

What makes this castle so different? It was built by ordinary people who could not afford to each built their own castle. These conglomerates of castles therefore housed more than one family, and in the case of Burg Eltz three families (more than 100 people) over many generations simultaneously resided in the castle (photo 8). The inner courtyard (photo 9) offers an interesting perspective on this cohabitation with many a door leading to different parts of the castle – and be careful not to go via your mother-in-law’s sitting room to your own!

It boasts wonderful examples of Renaissance art and furniture, as well as two almost running lavatories! The restaurant on the outside serves the most delicious local beers that I have ever tasted in the Palatinate!

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