Travels with my family

It was back to Johannesburg again last weekend, this time for my brother’s 50th birthday party. And, for our travelling party of four – my father, my sister, my brother-in-law and me – the trip was all about food, glorious food.

To start with, we travelled with 6.5kg of cheese sausage in a coolbag. This was because, apparently, there’s nowhere in Jozi that makes cheese sausage – a side-dish for the 50th – the way they make it in Wellington.

My luggage – a family heirloom dating back to before the dawn of time, if my brother-in-law’s sneering laughter was anything to go by – was a little larger than everyone else’s; I protested that I’d packed my bulky running shoes, and my sister said, ‘Closed shoes? For Joburg in summer? I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous.’

(Above: My dad with the coolerbag of cheese sausage and my sister with my embarrassingly outdated suitcase, at Lanseria.)

The flight from Cape Town International to Lanseria airport was, for someone with a genuine fear of flying, okay – until we started circling Lanseria in a frightening series of banking loops, waiting for a giant hailstorm to abate. It didn’t, so we flew to OR Thambo, where we landed and sat on the tarmac for an hour or so. While we waited, my sister SMSed her kids (aged 12 and 14) to find out how their respective exams had gone that day – their responses were classic.

Then we took off again and flew back to Lanseria – by this time miraculously clear-skied. (‘But I do hope we get to actually experience a Joburg summer thunderstorm,’ my sister said.) It made for a total flying time of almost five hours.

By the time we got our hire-car at around 9pm we were starving, and decided on the spur of the moment to head for Parkhurst to find somewhere to eat.

When we lived in Jozi (my three siblings and I all grew up in Parkview and Parkwood in the 1970s and ’80s), Parkhurst was a sorry little suburb of post-WW2 houses on small, weed-infested plots. We’d all read of its new incarnation as a boho-chic trend-magnet, and wanted to see it for ourselves. As we turned into 4th Avenue, a gigantic thunderstorm hit – both granting my sister’s wish and, as it turned out, proving that Jozi in summer is sometimes closed-shoe weather.

The rain was so heavy that the simple act of getting out of the car involved stepping into fast-flowing torrents of water, and anyway all the restaurants we looked at as we cruised slowly up and down the main road were packed to bursting. But we persisted, and ended up getting a table at Vovo Telo, where we feasted on delicious Italian food and drank several bottles of a yummy red blend called ‘Boer & Brit’.

On Saturday morning our main mission was to buy a good many Italian kisses from Woolworths – my brother’s choice of dessert – so we headed for Rosebank, which was also one of our old stomping grounds. My friend Mandy and I waitressed at a restaurant directly outside Woolworths (and both of us remembered, with a shudder, the ghastly owner who would rub himself against us as he walked past – back in the days before sexual harassment was a thing) – happily, this is now a branch of tashas, and there we shared amazing red velvet cake, Bar One cheesecake and Greek shortbread, and excellent coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.

The Italian kisses bought and safely stored in two coolerbags with lots of ice, we headed for Zoo Lake. My dad used to run around the lake with our dogs early in the mornings; we fished and rowed and attended Carols by Candlelight there; and when we were very young, it was a ritual for us to go down to the lake after church on Sundays with my mother and her mother to feed the ducks. So it was a lovely nostalgic stroll for us.

And then it was on to The Fishmonger at Thrupps Centre in Illovo for yet more munching – and it was yet another fabulous experience, with scrumptious food, lovely wine and good service by the management and staff. (We also wandered around Thrupps and marvelled at the range of imported goods there – the original Thrupps in Joburg was in Lower Rosebank, near to where we lived, and we all remembered our mother ordering her Christmas ham from Thrupps way ahead of time – it was, according to her, the only ham to have.)

The 50th was held at Lemon Rose Farm in Randburg. Once we’d divested ourselves of the 6.5kg of cheese sausage and 120 Italian kisses, we joined the party. It was a fun gathering that included meeting many old friends. And – bonus for the sisters – we got to hold our brother down, noogie him in the chest, and dangle a thread of spit above his face, like he used to do to us when we were kids.

Sunday morning called for that ultimate South African hangover cure, a Wimpy breakfast. Then it was on to the Vaal River, for what we thought was to be lunch with friends, but turned out to be … breakfast. So lunch was naturally out of the question, and by the time we got to Lanseria for our return flight in the evening, we were ready to eat again. Weisenhof Restaurant at the airport wasn’t quite up to the standard we’d become accustomed to in our two days of constant stuffing our faces but it filled the gap.

The only real food disappointment was the breakfast offered at the BnB we stayed at. I can see no reason for any establishment other than, perhaps, a school hostel to make omelettes with processed slabs of cheese, not have HP sauce available, and have mixed-fruit jam rather than marmalade on the breakfast table.