Mommy’s Weekend Away

I have heard a handful of stories about high-powered women pumping breast milk in corporate bathrooms with a two week old baby at home. Since I’ve been “on sabbatical” for the past four years, I haven’t had to worry about expressing in bathrooms or empty boardrooms. In May, at 28 weeks pregnant, I decided to implement a self-imposed travel ban until December this year. I had dragged The Princess on about 40 domestic and international flights by the age of two and I was not going to do the same with two kids. But a few months into my “travel ban”, I received an invitation to the wedding of one of my favourite school friends in George. I quickly calculated that The Prince would be about two and a half months old at the time of the celebrations – too young for me to lift the ban, I thought.

But The Husband – having enjoyed a two week cycling trip abroad when The Prince was just a month old – encouraged me to fly solo and to go and enjoy the wedding on my own while he looked after the kids (with reinforcements, I must stress). So I booked my flights and began a regime of expressing extra milk.

Aside from planning to leave refrigerated breast milk behind, I hadn’t really thought through what it means to leave your baby while you’re breastfeeding. When I told my neighbour (and fellow mom of a newborn) that I was looking forward to wearing a cleavage busting dress for the wedding, she raised an eyebrow and pointed out that I’d have to wear a feeding bra and breastpads too. Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that. She also mentioned that if I didn’t pump while I was away, not only would my boobs explode, but I’d also risk inadvertently drying up my milk supply. I also hadn’t really thought of that.

Okay, so I’d need to pack my pump.

Then, another wise mommy friend, Mandy, asked me how I was planning on sterilising the pump while I was away. I somehow hadn’t thought of that either. My glamorous mommy’s weekend away was starting to look alot less glamorous… But Mandy – having produced enough milk for her two children to supply a neo-natal ward – had a plan.

“Are you really going to keep the milk you express? How are you going to ensure it stays chilled when you bring it back on the plane? You don’t want to take any risks… Not to mention the fact that it’ll be full of wedding champagne… Why don’t you just toss it?”

My initial reaction was shock and horror. I recalled battling to eke out a breast milk supply for The Princess. Back then, pumping sessions would very rarely yield more than a meagre 20ml at a time. Expressing 30ml was an infrequent triumph! This time around, when I express before going to bed, I can often pump up to 120ml. Still, because of my experience with The Princess, I regard every drop of breast milk as liquid gold and therefore balked when Mandy suggested throwing this away. But I confess that the thought of having to sterilise the pump’s parts after every session did not appeal. And the idea of indulging in an unlimited amount of bubbly certainly did. For these reasons I decided to take Mandy’s advice and, sniff, sniff, toss out The Prince’s liquid gold supply.

As I checked in on Saturday morning, my thoughts not only wandered to bubbly but also to the unlimited intake of coffee I would be able to indulge in…

Enter Vide e Caffe:


Secure in the knowledge that all breastmilk toxins would literally be going down the drain for the next 30 hours or so, this was my first airport stop for a fully caffeinated, GRANDE cappuccino.

Aside from the caffeine indulgence, I must admit that it felt odd sitting down quietly and alone at a table with only my industrial breast pump as hand luggage: no pram/ Baby Bjorn/ nappy bag and especially no toddler wanting to race around the entire departure lounge. And on the flight I had a whole two hours to read, to sleep… This was, however, interrupted by the SWD Eagles rugby team who treated the aircraft like a school bus, with the back row shouting across to their teammates 15 rows in front. They put the “brains vs brawn” debate firmly to rest for anyone in doubt by shouting out things like:

“Ladies & gentleman… 20 minutes in the toilet! What has he been doing in there?”

Surprisingly, my fellow passengers failed to break out into uproarious laughter but this did not deter one of these 130kg hulks, who were all well-oiled with canned Klippies ‘n Coke by then. Ignoring the definition of insanity, the hulk blurted out his toilet “joke” again and again, evidently hoping for a more positive response at each attempt. It was at this point that I started to wonder whether I’d rather be on a plane with a screaming toddler or a team of drunk rugby players. I came to the conclusion that I’d probably have more luck reasoning with The Princess, owing to her innate brainpower advantages.

But despite the bruisers on the plane and having to express every four hours, I was thrilled that The Husband had pushed me to go to the wedding. The experience was worth every ounce of discarded liquid gold. And The Prince and Princess were even cuter and cuddlier than I remembered when I arrived home the next day.

On Blogging, Breasfeeding, Mess & Me-Time

Bless me, oh God of Blogs, for I have sinned. It has been one and a half months since my last blog post…

20 minutes ago, I fired off this tweet:

1) no husband 2) no help 3) a broken stove 4) 2 kids under 3
= 4 good reasons to eat out & drink wine all weekend long #overwhelmed

And now, miracle of miracles, I am seated in front of my laptop as both kids are sound asleep – The Princess upstairs in her bed and my two month old Prince next to me in his pram. The silence is almost freaky. I keep my head down and focused on my keyboard and screen in an attempt to ignore the unbelievable mess that is my home. The amount of havoc that one toddler has wreaked during the 8 hours she has been awake since 4pm on Friday, is truly staggering. Okay, she did have a little help from her friend. Note: “friend” – singular – only one other toddler monster. But this particular child takes messy eating to brand new heights: she managed to smooth cream cheese into the actual weave of the playroom rug. I stare at the white moosh on my brown mat and wonder how in God’s name one would go about removing it entirely.

Fortunately, when I am in survival mode – and I have probably been in that mode for the past two and a half years since The Princess’ birth – I can live in, around and on top of, mess. I don’t like mess, but I like cleaning up even less. In rare moments when kids are not being fed, bathed, changed, entertained, placated or put to sleep, there are just too many more interesting things to do in this life, to waste time tidying up. Like writing blogs, watching The Sopranos from start to finish – my current entertainment during breastfeeds, going for walks with the jogger, reading, the list goes on…

Of course those moments are ridiculously rare but I crave them anyway. A fellow full-time mommy recounted a story that she heard from a mom of three. This mom reported that after her second child, she stopped expecting any more microscopic moments of time to herself and that was how she coped. I still expect those moments. To give up that expectation would be to lose myself completely and I just don’t think I could cope with that. I need “me time” or, what I should rather call “Mac time” – time alone with my laptop: reading, writing, researching, shopping, corresponding, catching up on admin. My sanity depends on it.

I let my ears take in the sweet sound of two kids sleeping simultaneously…

The Prince was due for his three hourly feed five minutes ago but I just can’t bring myself to wake him up – even at the risk of messing with my milk supply. On that topic, my milk has mysteriously evaporated at every 6:30pm feed of the day. I managed to breastfeed exclusively for 7 weeks before The Prince had his first taste of formula and now, literally overnight for the past 10 days, I have virtually no milk at that time of day. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a breastfeeding crusader – certainly not amongst groups who have the means to procure alternatives and the infrastructure to ensure proper sterilisation. I know of too many examples of extremely intelligent adults whose mothers were unable to breastfeed to believe that formula cannot ensure the same level of brain development as breastmilk. Some women just don’t manage to breastfeed or to breastfeed exclusively (I struggled tremendously with The Princess and found it hugely stressful). However, personally, I just would have liked to have given The Prince formula less often than once a day for the first four months. But yesterday my neighbour told me something interesting. Her nurse told her that 200ml of breastmilk per day is just as good as an exclusive breastmilk diet. She equated this to eating All Bran: you can eat one bowl of All Bran or three bowls of All Bran but you’ll get everything you need in terms of fibre etc, from just one bowl. I have no idea if this assertion has been scientifically proven, but I like the theory so I’m choosing to believe its veracity.

Other than feeding every three hours, my life at present – as per my tweets – is mostly taken up with training for the 94.7 cycle challenge on 17 November. On 10 August when The Prince was just two weeks old, our family of four was driving out to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding in The Cradle. There were hundreds of cyclists out and amongst them were a notable number of women. I thought I saw The Husband look longingly at what appeared to be couples cycling together and I must have had a rush of blood to the head as I heard myself announcing confidently that I would ride the 94.7. For non-Jozi dwellers, the 94.7 cycle challenge gets its name from the frequency of a local radio station and is, just to be cute, literally 94.7 kilometres long. It sound like a “cute” idea at the time, but as I started training, I realised how hard cycling actually is, compared to being just generally quite fit from gym, a 5km run once a week, some personal training, regular speed walking etc. That incredible burn in your legs – there is just nothing like it. And don’t even get me started on cleats…

But more about that in a future blog. The Prince has just woken up and is screaming for his lunch!



On Khloe Kardashian, Self Esteem, Liz Hurley & White Jeans

Having a new baby means being awake at all sorts of ungodly hours. Thanks to The Husband’s generosity and pragmatism, we have a night nurse. I say “pragmatism” because he knows how grumpy I get when I am sleep deprived and he knows there is a practical – albeit costly – solution. Her name is Precious. She taps me gently while I am sound asleep and says with urgency:

“He’s awake!”

I fly out of bed in response to the urgency in Precious’ voice, dash to the nursery and then flop into the feeding chair and sometimes even fall asleep while Precious changes The Prince’s nappy and readies him for his feed. And then I generally sleep through the feed until she prods me and tells me it’s time to change sides. I can safely say that I would trade in my car if I had to, for the luxury of a night nurse. I feel human the day after Precious’ shift and like a dead woman walking the day after her night off.

Most nights I crawl back into bed and pass out after the feed, but some nights (and, fortunately, so far, not many) I simply can’t get back to sleep. This was the case a few nights ago. I was so wide awake that I eventually crawled out of bed at 4am and crept to the TV room.

I happened to turn on M-Net just as a show called The Talk started. It featured a bunch of women sitting around a table. Amongst the women, I recognised Sharon Osborne. As the introductory music ended and the audience applauded, one of the women introduced the first topic of the talk show with the solemnity one would expect were she reporting on a grave political crisis: Khloe Kardashian’s poor self esteem.


The camera then cut to this round-table of female presenters looking traumatised by the news and brimming with empathy for the reality TV star. In order to give viewers a real taste of the emotional hardship endured daily by Khloe, the presenter quoted Khloe who had said that “being compared to somebody else every day does sort of beat up your spirit and soul.” Apparently Khloe reported that she had been called the “heavier” and “less attractive” of the sisters. Luckily for Khloe, Sharon Osborne was the first to comment with a statement that is bound to reverse all her psychological trauma:

“I just think she has the BEST personality out of everyone!” Sharon gushed, to rapturous applause from the in-studio audience.

Thanks, Sharon. You do know that you basically just called her ugly? When my dad was at university in the sixties, the prevailing catch phrase for an unattractive woman was: “She sure can cook!” With the emancipation of women and Woolworths microwave meals, the modern version of this maxim has morphed into: “She sure has a great personality”.

I konfess that I just kan’t watch Kris, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie Kardashian/ Jenner and their show at the best of times, although I can’t think of a better cure for insomnia than Khloe Kardashian’s complexes. If only I’d been able to keep the TV on for an extra minute or two, I would have been able to pass out from absolute apathy.

Aside from bad TV at 5am, the weeks following the birth of a child can be tough. Especially when they happen to be the very weeks when Hyde Park and Sandton City go on sale. About a week after The Prince was born, The Husband’s favourite Hyde Park store was offering 50% off all their merchandise and he was looking to spoil me. What could I do under the circumstances other than engage in aspirational acquisitions? I was immediately drawn to a gorgeous pair of white, skinny jeans with gold zips. Tres, tres St Tropez or tres, tres Sandton. But as I picked them up, I was reminded of something a friend told me last year. She told me that it had been said (by some famous and fabulous male stylist, I think) that if you’re a woman and your name is not Liz Hurley, you simply should not wear white jeans. Sorry, honey. Although I agree that I am not Liz Hurley and that I should not wear white jeans, I have always loved white pants and am delighted that white jeans have made a comeback. So I now have this pair – that cost 50% less than usual – hanging in my cupboard, staring at me and taunting me. I should somehow sticky-tape them to the fridge…

Liz Hurley Leaving Her Home London June 17, 2008

But since that’s not terribly practical, I decided to re-join Weight Watchers instead. I polished off a cupcake in the car on the way there and arrived ready to take a deep breath and step on the scale. The last time I attended Weight Watchers was before I found out that I was pregnant with The Prince – a time when I weighed a lot less than I do now. For this reason, I made a point of mentioning to the Group Leader that I had stopped Weight Watchers because I’d fallen pregnant (they don’t allow pregnant people to follow the programme) and that I was returning because I’d just had a baby. Clearly, however, I did not place enough emphasis on the word “just” because a few minutes later I climbed on the scale to hear the Group Leader say (raised eyebrow and all):

“I see… yes… well…your weight has gone up quite a bit.”

“I literally just had a baby eleven days ago!” I snapped.

To this, my fellow members responded as one would hope the Sisterhood would respond with remarks like:

“Oh my gosh, I’d still be in bed!” and

“You look amazing for someone who just had a baby!” (From my observations and my own behaviour, women say this to one another post babies, no matter what, but somehow it’s still nice to hear even if you know it’s a big, fat lie.)

I automatically felt better.

But sisterhood or no sisterhood, I still have to find a way into those designer white jeans before they go out of style again.

Preggie Exercise & The Chat Burning Zone

A while ago, The Sister asked me what blog name I was planning on giving my son. Since I called my daughter The Princess, it follows that I would call my son The Prince. But two days ago, an actual prince decided to make his appearance on exactly the date that I was due to give birth – Monday, 22 July 2013. And my son decided not to make an appearance on the day he was predicted to arrive.

“Stuff being born on the same day as the future king of England!”, he thought.

Like The Princess, who frolicked inside my belly for an extra week before I demanded to be induced, my son appears to be very comfortable in utero. Anyway, since he will not share a birthday with the most famous prince in the world, I think it’s okay to call him The Prince, alongside his sister, The Princess.

One of the reasons why an overdue baby can be bad for the self-esteem, is that the dreaded number depicting what one weighs on the scale has more time to climb. With The Princess, despite her above average birth weight of 3.66kg, I managed to contain my weight gain to a fairly respectable 12kg, which I understand is considered normal for someone who is not underweight – something I have never been accused of. On Tuesday I hopped on that hateful machine, just for a laugh, and my weight gain had gone from 12.8kg one week earlier, to a whopping 14.2kg. The Prince better justify this being one BIG baby!

One of the ways I have tried to (unsuccessfully) to contain my pregnancy weight gain, has been through exercise. Unfortunately, however, when I was five months pregnant, I started to feel a stabbing pain in my right side every time I did any cardio exercise. I couldn’t even walk around Sandton City at “speed”, so going for runs (which were becoming uncomfortable anyway with my growing belly) and even walks around the neighbourhood, became impossible.

I have never been very motivated to do my own workouts in a gym. I either need to be in a group training session or a I need a personal trainer to keep me in line. But being pregnant, super hormonal and having to entertain a busy toddler all day during school holidays, weekends and the many public holidays that surface in South Africa around April and May, changed my view of solo gym sessions. Suddenly, Virgin Active and its Club V for kids could offer me multiple solutions:

1) a way to burn off just a few bites of the truckloads of chocolate my hormonal self was insisting on consuming

2) a brief break from childcare and a change of scenery

3) a chance for The Husband and I to work out simultaneously over the weekend or on a public holiday if he wasn’t cycling

4) fun for The Princess in the form of a million toys and games that were new and novel

There was only one problem: despite having successfully started playschool in late January at 21 months, The Princess wasn’t interested in being left with childminders, despite the fact that she was in Toy Heaven. I knew this because she screamed the house down on more than one occasion when I tried to leave her at Club V.

I almost gave up, but on Easter Monday, I was determined to make Club V work for us. And somehow, it was suddenly like sleep training – a relatively small amount of pain for many years of gain. She screamed for a few minutes when I left the room and then fell silent as the childminder managed to distract her. I crept to the elliptical trainer, put one earphone in and waited for my name to be called over the intercom to come and placate my hysterical child – as had happened many times before.

But the announcement never came.

From then onwards, I struggled to get The Princess to leave Club V. I had to pretend that I was leaving her behind. Sometimes even that didn’t work.

So, since Easter, I’ve had no excuse not to frequent the gym. There was no way I could bounce around with my big belly in a group exercise class and so the elliptical trainer became my friend. Some days, the pain would surface during a workout and I would have to severely decrease my intensity. After my 20 minute time limit was up, I’d climb onto the treadmill. If I kept my speed down to embarrassingly low levels, I could walk without pain in my side.

Although I have never been the sportiest or fittest chick in town, my Type A personality means that if I motivate myself sufficiently to go to the gym, every second must count. I must achieve maximum efficiency – within my own (fairly great) physical limits. I must be – as a very wise late friend of The Husband’s used to say – “a legend in my own lunch box”.

Before I was heavily pregnant and before this stabbing pain from exercise began, I would look at women talking on the phone on the treadmill with internal disdain. If you were able to have a fat chat, you weren’t pushing yourself sufficiently, right? Or, if you were holding on to the bar you were wasting your time. If you were walking at a speed of 5 or less and no gradient – and God forbid you were talking on the phone, messaging, looking at Facebook or holding on – you may as well be lying on the couch since you certainly weren’t going to break a sweat.

When my neighbour was 38 weeks pregnant a few months ago, I asked her how she was feeling. She sighed, looked at me and said: “You know what, Natalie? I just don’t think our bodies were meant to be shared.”

There have been days during this pregnancy when my neighbour’s words have rung so true. Not least when I’ve been on the treadmill. On those days, I have smiled to myself, smiled at the women scrolling through Facebook on their phones next to me and I’ve been reminded of that classic scene from the movie “The Switch” with Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman. (The movie in which Jennifer Anniston’s character is the platonic BFF of Jason Bateman’s character and she decides to get pregnant via a sperm donor.) Jason Bateman’s character’s personality is definitely Type A and contrasts sharply with that of his colleague. The two men are at the gym, each side by side on a treadmill when Jason Bateman’s character looks over at his colleague and says with raised eyebrows:

“You’re eating a chocolate bar? On 4?”

To which his colleague replies indignantly: “I’m in the fat burning zone!”

I draw the line at consuming chocolate whilst actually on the treadmill, but for the last few months I have been exercising in what I term “the chat burning zone”. I catch up with my phone calls, I post status up-dates on Facebook, I tweet, I respond to sms’s.

But I don’t hold on to the bar. That would really be letting myself go 🙂

Mommy’s Big Night Out/ In

Ever since The Husband went on a five night cycling trip in mid-December, followed by a four night cycling trip in late January, I have been fantasising about going away… all by myself… just me and my beloved Macbook… relishing the quiet… not worrying about anyone but yours truly… sleeping… reading… maybe even going to gym… shopping… napping… writing… reading… sleeping… Sigh.

There were just a few snags with the fantasy. I am over aeroplanes (I’ve taken over 40 one-way flights since The Princess’ birth two years and three months ago) and I don’t like driving long distance. Oh, and I regard Sandton to Monte Casino as long distance. Naturally, this limited my options. Also, I genuinely like Joburg. I like the shops, I like the choice of gyms on my doorstep, I like the vibe, I love the winter sunshine… I actually really like my home too. But despite my love for The Husband and our beautiful, super intelligent and amusing daughter who adores me, sometimes I just feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor and I simply “vant to be alone.” It doesn’t help that our house is very, very open plan, so sitting down to do something simple like write a blog while The Princess is awake is completely impossible. And so I fantasised about checking into a local Sandton hotel for a few nights and squeezing in all the abovementioned things…Sigh.

Well, after six months of vivid fantasies, yesterday, I finally took the plunge and booked myself into a hotel for Thursday night, 20 June. Okay, the hotel is 300m from my house and although check-in time was from 3pm, I felt too guilty to leave The Princess for the afternoon when she only woke up at 2pm after school… I vowed I would leave my house for the 30 second commute (quite literally) at 5pm when the supper/ bath/ witching hour began. But, having no deadline, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to leave this little angel who adores me and wants to be with me whenever she stops to think about it. And so I stayed to read her a story and put her to bed at 7pm. Then I left home with my suitcase full of one night supplies: my laptop, my book, my i-pad – all my little “me-time” indulgences – and promptly sms’ed my nanny with the hotel’s phone number and my room number – in case of emergencies. (The Husband was at a work function).

A word or two on present-day decor trends in hotels: since when did it go out of style to have actual lights fitted to the ceiling in hotel rooms? Somehow, it’s become de rigeur to simply bathe a hotel room in the gentle, romantic light of bedside lamps and perhaps a desk lamp or passage light. WTF? I happen to like light. So, in an effort to create some additional light in the room, I decided to turn on the desk lamp. I have to say that it was no small feat trying to locate the hidden switch on this baby:


I eventually gave up and asked the Room Service waiter to turn it on for me. He fiddled around for the elusive on button and eventually confirmed that lamp wasn’t working. He’d call maintenance.

So much for “vanting” to be alone! I was now waiting for maintenance, as well as housekeeping because when I checked in, the very thoughtful lady at the front desk took one look at my enormous belly and said, “When I was in your condition, I found the type of hard pillows the hotel provides highly uncomfortable. May I offer you some feather pillows?” I had to smile at her pregnancy euphemism: being in a “condition”. In some ways it sounded so Victorian and, in some ways, with all the glorious ailments that have been plaguing me (heartburn, indigestion, bloating, weight gain, shortness of breath) I honestly did feel as though I were in a “condition”. And yes, I would need those feather pillows in my “condition”, please.

While I was waiting for maintenance and housekeeping, I decided to fire up my Mac and start this blog. I had been assured that getting connected was fast and free and did not require an impossible combination of illogical letters and numbers as a password – all I needed was my surname and my room number. Something I thought even my technologically-challenged self would be able to cope with. But apparently not. After several attempts to go on-line, I kept getting a “back-end error” message. I suspected that this was not good. I called the lovely lady, Jacky, at the front desk.

“Oh yes,” she confirmed, “we’re off-line at the moment because the IT department in London is in the process of up-grading our line from 4 megabits per second to 10 megabits per second.”

Was I meant to be excited for them? Here I was, paying a small fortune for solitude, 300m from my home with its very own 10 Mb per second, uncapped ADSL line… It felt as though, after six months of fantasies, the universe was truly conspiring against me…

Jacky called back shortly afterwards asking me to try to connect to the internet again. I tried and failed. She then wanted to know what computer I was using. The “Aaaah…. I SEE…” response I got did not sound good either. Basically, it was my fault I was having trouble connecting with a Mac? Jacky then explained that whilst she would ordinarily love to send the technical guy up to my room to assist, it was a really busy time of night and could I perhaps come down? I pictured the scene in the lobby that I’d witnessed when I entered the hotel to check in. Having only ever been to this particular hotel during the day, it had escaped me that the bar was more or less positioned smack in the middle of the entrance. It was pumping with British-accented flight attendants and crew whom I knew were a primary target market for the hotel. (I had seen and overheard this crowd around the corner at Tashas enough times while The Princess was a babe in the pram and we practically spent our lives escaping to Tashas). I looked down at my newly purchased, breastfeeding-friendly, spotty pink and black pyjamas from Woolies and declined coming down to the front desk for technical assistance.

Then Maintenance arrived. The representative was charmingly honest. After a quick once-over, he confirmed that he couldn’t change the bulb in my desk lamp because the particular globes that these funky desk lamps required, were not available in South Africa. A minor oversight during the furniture and decor installation! Oops!

In the hotel’s defence, the Maintenance man very quickly replaced my lamp with a similar looking device. Perhaps this globe was one of the original imports from when the hotel opened for the World Cup in 2010? Nonetheless, the funky lamp now worked. And then through some fiddling around on my Mac, in my spotty pink and black PJ’s, this technologically challenged Mommy managed to connect to the Internet. Yeeha!

All sorted! Except for the feather pillows which hadn’t yet arrived. The problem was that by this stage it was 9:30pm and I couldn’t have cared if the pillows were made out of sand and the Internet had never been invented. I was ready to pass out.

My bladder woke me up at 02:30am with the imported desk lamp still burning, clutching a rock hard pillow to try and support my oversized belly.

And that is the story of my big night of “me-time”. Of course my internal mommy alarm and my squished bladder woke me up at 5:55 am this morning but the good news is that check-out time is 12pm and I don’t plan on getting out of my spotty pyjamas until then. Mmmm.

The Red Bus Tour of Jozi


In the inner city there is no excuse for loneliness and this is in welcome contrast to suburban life where so many live behind high walls and commute by car.” (Spaces & Places Johannesburg by Gerald Garner, by p. 75)

For Sandtonites who have never worked in Jozi’s CBD, the idea of venturing into “town” can be daunting, especially if one never has to. Back in the day, I recall trying to get from Parktown, through Braamfontein, to one of the Absa towers in the south east of town. I’d driven the route with my boss before and it seemed simple enough, yet I managed to get lost, driving up and down one-way streets, for up to an hour, every time I tried to go through town. Not even Africa’s tallest building, The Carlton Centre, helped as a landmark. I found it just blended into its surroundings, flanked by fellow tall buildings and shabby yet vibrant streets. After one or two experiences like that, I resorted to taking the freeway to my client, where I could more easily memorise the few one-way turns I had to make in order to locate the relevant Absa parkade.

I also found that even though I may have grown comfortable over the years with making my way from Jozi north to one particular pocket of town, I still had no idea how these pockets connected to others in the CBD. As a result, “town” simply remained a scary mystery.

Until last Sunday, that is.

I heard about City Sightseeing’s Red City Tour of Jozi a few weeks ago and had been keen to check it out as a weekend outing with The Husband and The Princess.

Our outing started off in “European Vacation” style as a comedy of errors (less funny at the time). But instead of acting like ditsy Americans unable to find their way out of the Arc de Triomphe’s maze, we acted like ditsy middle class South Africans who go everywhere by car and who can’t navigate public transport for love or money. I had an old Gautrain timetable (back when they still printed them) for the Pretoria to Park Station line, but it dated back to the days before trains were even running to Park. At 10:43am, I realised that the next train from Sandton to Park Station was at 11am and that trains only ran every 30 minutes on weekends. With that realisation, we made a mad dash to drive the 1.1km to the Gautrain station, park the car, set up the pram, get The Princess in the pram, buy tickets and get the lifts to the platform. By some miracle, we actually made it onto the platform with a couple of minutes to spare. Just as I was thinking that it was odd that the train had not yet arrived, it dawned on me that I had led us to the northbound side of platform B8 where trains headed for Pretoria stopped, rather than the southbound side, to catch our train headed for town. And so we had 29 minutes to spare until the next train to Park Station at 11:30. A real rookie rail-user error. Grrr. Once we were on the correct platform and had caught the train, it was a mere 8 minute journey for the bargain price of 22 ZAR per adult (one way).


When we arrived at the immaculate, brand new Park Station (I confess to being a HUGE Gautrain fan), a Gautrain employee told us to take the well-marked Wolmarans St exit (serviced by lifts and allowing us to avoid road crossings with The Princess in her pram) and to look out for a dude in a red jacket – a representative from City Sightseeing. Our lack of planning meant that we’d just missed the 11:38am bus and so had to wait for the next one at 12:20pm (they run every 40 minutes from 9am).


Looking heavily laden with The Princess in her stroller, we were ushered onto the bus first and so got the best seats in the house – upstairs in the front row. We were able to leave her McLaren stroller downstairs in an open area with no seating (which I assume is intended for strollers and wheelchairs), secured by a special seat belt. Upstairs, The Princess insisted on having her own seat and the stewardess even brought her, her own pair of earphones so that she, too, could get connected for the tour’s commentary.


With a toddler in tow, I wasn’t expecting to be able to take advantage of the individual plug-in earphones and audio guide but The Husband started listening right in the beginning and encouraged me to do the same. The Princess was naturally less fascinated by the commentary after a minute or two but she was excited by the prospect of being on a double decker bus and having a great view of the streets of Joburg. This meant that both The Husband and I were able to listen to most of the commentary.

I have to say, we were both absolutely fascinated.

My knowledge of the history of Joburg’s CBD before this tour was more or less limited to my memory of Eloff Street being prime real estate in Monopoly (and in real life before the mass business exodus and subsequent urban decay that set in, in the early nineties). So those who are more knowledgeable about the city’s history might already know all the basics the Red Bus tour has to offer, but for us it was the perfect amount of content to whet our appetite. Here’s a brief overview of the bus’ twelve stops, interspersed with some pictures:



Statue of Gandhi in the rejuvenated Gandhi Square
Statue of Gandhi in the rejuvenated Gandhi Square




With a two year old, we decided that either Santarama or Gold Reef City would be our stop of choice, but we learnt that Santarama is currently undergoing refurbishment, so we decided to save it for next time. Not having grown up in Joburg, I had never heard of Santarama, but to The Husband, passing its entrance was like a blast from the past as he recalls going there as a young child.



Gold Reef City is exactly half way along the two hour round-trip bus tour and so it took us an hour to get there from the Gautrain Station at Park. En route, we entered Jozi’s southern suburbs and passed places I had only ever heard of by name like Turfontein Race Course and Wemmer Pan. The Husband has often spoken of his rowing training and racing at Wemmer Pan when he was a teen, so it was great to be able to place it geographically.


Having visited the Apartheid Museum before, I personally wouldn’t choose to combine a visit there with the bus tour. The Apartheid Museum is brilliant but obviously harrowing given South Africa’s recent history. It is also very detailed and best absorbed if you do not have time constraints. In my view, if you have the option, rather go straight there by car or dedicate a few hours, or a morning, to the museum.




Balconies of flats in Newtown, replete with the essential Saffer accessory - a Weber braai
Balconies of flats in Newtown, replete with the essential Saffer accessory – a Weber braai


Sunday worshipers near the Origins Centre, Braamfontein
Sunday worshipers near the Origins Centre, Braamfontein


Graffiti in Braamies
Graffiti in Braamies


Passing the entrance to Constitution Hill
Passing the entrance to Constitution Hill

and back to the GAUTRAIN @ PARK STATION

Although we hadlofty plans to leave the house by 9:30am on the morning of our bus tour, we actually left much later and then proceeded to miss our train, so by the time we got to our chosen stop, Gold Reef City, it was already nearly 1:30pm and The Princess was very much ready for her day sleep by then. We popped her in the pram and, after fatigue overcame her curiosity with her surroundings, she dutifully fell asleep. We then decided it was pointless to go into the theme park with a sleeping child and went in search of lunch instead. I had heard of the restaurant Back of the Moon many years ago, so when we happened upon it inside the Gold Reef City hotel and casino complex (right where the red bus stops), we decided to try it. The Princess happily slept through the live band while we enjoyed a romantic lunch – our day was working out perfectly 🙂

We then checked the timetable and hopped back onto a bus at 14:45. Although The Princess woke up when we wheeled her on-board, she knows that she is no longer allowed to keep her dummy once awake and so she feigned sleep every time we looked her way for the rest of the tour! We decided to play along and left her in her pram, secured by the bus’ special seat belt situated near the front of the downstairs area and settled in to enjoy the rest of the commentary. The one down-side was that one doesn’t get nearly as good a view of the sites from downstairs as one does from upstairs. Yet another reason, why we are keen to take the tour again.

All in all, I would highly recommend the experience. We were fortunate in that The Princess really played along and so we were able to absorb the historic and cultural experience. But even if this hadn’t been the case, it would have been just as fun to experience The Princess’ excitement at going for a ride on top of a big red, double decker bus.