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Cruising on the MSC Sinfonia: Total bliss from Durban to Cape Town

 Cruising on the MSC Sinfonia: Total bliss from Durban to Cape Town

Cruising on the MSC Sinfonia: Total bliss from Durban to Cape Town

By Helen Ueckermann,

“I am on a ski holiday,” announced my fellow passenger, an elderly Durban gentleman, balancing his walking stick between his knees.

Ski holiday, I repeated incredulously; we are on an ocean liner, after all…

Yes, he grinned, Spend the Kid’s Inheritance. He laughed a merry laugh while his sixty something girlfriend of 16 years offered a happy smile.

So, this is what my ocean cruise is going to be, I wondered. Filled with funny geriatrics sunning themselves on decks?

I am all for peace and quiet, but maybe not quite on their level, I mused, squinting out over the ocean swells.

I need not have worried. It became clear enough that a cruise on the MSC Sinfonia is a fun filled experience for all.

We embarked in Durban the afternoon before for a four night cruise to Cape Town. The old man forgotten for a moment (I was to encounter the pair several times during the journey, always cracking jokes and having the time of their lives) I azed out over seemingly never ending waters, the warm sun on my skin, a cooling breeze in my hair, a continuous supply of lovely food, combined with friendly, unhurried people in a holiday atmosphere.

No wonder passenger ships have grown increasingly popular as a holiday destination in itself, it is the ultimate getaway from the rat race and related stresses. And here’s the secret – once on the ship, you can go absolutely nowhere. Internet connection is limited and you are effectively cut off from deadlines, clients, pressing assignments.

And so I soon found myself lounging on a deck chair, drink in hand, completely relaxed, all rat race related stress forgotten for now, all left behind in Durban’s busy harbour. Forgetting where the ship was taking me, just being in the moment, floating on the wide open ocean and letting it all go. Luxurious bliss.

Boarding a passenger ship can be a long and quite exhausting process. It entails waiting in queues, lots of stamping of documents, organising of luggage. Be prepared to spend a few hours in administrative hell before you start your long-awaited cruise. This should be no surprise, taking into account that the Sinfonia can accommodate over 2100 passengers who have to be boarded within three hours, and is also home to 730 crew.

My companion and I opted for priority boarding at an extra R500, which made the process much shorter and more pleasant.

We also opted for a spacious balcony suite featuring a double bed, spacious wardrobe, bathroom with bath and shower, television (which we never even switched on), telephone, availability of internet connection by your own laptop (on payment), a mini bar and safe and air conditioning. We were going to enjoy this journey to its very limit, an escape in luxury and style!

The best part of an ocean cruise must be the food, and on the Sinfonia you get great value for money. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be enjoyed buffet style, or you can join your fellow passengers in the dining rooms, which we, as true gastronomes, preferred: now queues and the meals are indefinitely better than at the buffet counter.

Fine dining can be enjoyed in the Il Galeone and Il Covo restaurants, while casual meals can be enjoyed at the Caffe de Mare out on deck and the La Terrazza Buffet.

If that is not to your liking, you can visit any of the seven indoor cafes and bars, among them Shelagh’s House Irish Pub, the Sinfonia Karaoke Bar and the Buddha Piano Bar. Outside, on the pool deck, you will find the Capri Bar.

Add to this the traditional afternoon teas, fresh fruit carving demonstrations, an evening pizzeria and Chocolate Bar and the captain’s famous gala dinner. Enough about the food already, except to mention that most of it is included in your ticket price, so no worrying about mounting expenses once on board.

For those travelling with children, an ocean cruise is the ideal destination. Not only do kids under 18 who share a cabin with two adults, come along for free, but there is ample entertainment to keep the young ones occupied.

Fore children aged between 4 and 12 years there are special programmes every full day at sea from 09h00 – 12h00 & 14h00 – 17h00, including treasure hunts, fun sports, creative activities and games. An evening activity programme is available from 20h00 until 23h00.

A children’s play area is available for children aged 2 – 4 years of age, however a supervising parent must be present at all time. There are no babysitting facilities on board due to insurance regulations.

Teenagers have their own get-togethers, including supervised disco’s, a video game arcade and a special teen area. While the youngsters are being entertained, you can do as little or as much as you like.

I could choose to spend a lazy day on the pool deck, or get active enjoying lecture presentations, creativity classes, fun activities on the deck and indoor game shows. Daily crosswords, Sudoku, brainteasers and word search puzzles are also available. Other facilities include jacuzzis, a gymnasium, a jogging track, casino, duty free shops and in-cabin movies. After sunset you can choose from live bands, the disco and deck parties.

As for me, I chose to spend lazy days reading on deck and some entertainment in the evenings – live cabaret shows and Bingo. I preferred the decks right at the back of the ship where few people hang out and you can have uninterrupted peace and quiet with the ocean whispering its secrets in the background. Truth be told, I couldn’t even get myself to read, I was so spaced out!

After only four nights on board the MSC Sinfonia, I found myself in another world. In fact, it took me another three days at home to recover and get myself into action mode again. Small wonder I felt a wee bit green towards the few who were continuing their cruise from Cape Town towards the Mediterranean. Another 18 days of blissful relaxation awaited them.

For us it was back to the grinding mill of deadlines and assignments, but not we made a firm promise to ourselves: We will be back!

What to remember: Your ticket, passport, spending money, camera, sun cream, essential medication, and something for motion sickness if you are prone.

How much money do you need: Meals and entertainment are included in your cruise fare. You will need spending money for drinks (15% Bar service charge is levied on all bar and on all restaurant bills), duty free shopping, photos, gambling (including Bingo), your laundry, visits to the beauty salon and optional shore excursions.

Find out more about ocean cruises on the MSC Sinfonia at www.msccruises.co.za.

Hidden Corners of the Cape- The Forgotten Highway

Mitchells Pass

Mitchells Pass

Whilst we live in a very beautiful country, it is interesting to note that its main history is fairly recent, only really going back to about 1850. Before that date the hinterland was largely unknown and unexplored and tended to be the bailiwick of various African tribes who fought one another for territory; even the Voortrekkers made only a small impact on the land beyond the Witteberg mountains as they ran to escape the rigours of British rule. Those that headed eastwards along the coast towards Grahamstown had other problems, but this article is too short to deal with those.

Until 1850 the Great Karoo and the lands beyond the Orange River remained largely untamed and only intrepid botanists, missionaries, and other explorers ventured so far afield from civilization. There was a reasonable road from Cape Town north to Paarl and Wellington, and thence a wagon trail along the mountains and through the old Roodezand pass to Tulbagh, where a small farming community had laid out a village at the head of the Bree River Valley, then by an even more tortuous route over the Witsenberg into the Warm Bokkeveld, through which the wagon trail led towards what is now known as the Theronsberg Pass. The trail crossed this pass, continued through Hottentotskloof, and entered the poort known as Karoopoort, described by W.J.Burchell in 1811 as ‘the door to the desert’, since it marked the exit from the Warm Bokkeveld into the Ceres Karoo.

Somewhere between 1827 and 1848 the course of the road was changed when Mostert’s Pass was opened through the gap in the mountains made by the river as it flowed down from Ceres, just a small settlement in those days, past the peak known as Mostert’s Hoek, to join the Bree River; this pass was later re-surveyed and engineered to become the present Mitchell’s Pass, which was opened in 1848. With each new development the road to the interior became easier and more frequented and in 1850 an inn was opened in Karoopoort.

There had been a farm in the poort which was noted as far back as 1774 by Thunberg, a Swedish gardener from Kew Gardens. The farm consisted of a thatched homestead, some cornfields, a fruit orchard, and a stream set about with oaks and poplars. The inn was a very basic structure built to the south of the present house and provided little more than overnight shelter to the weary traveler. However, it was an inn which was destined to offer its limited hospitality to many well-known people such as Rhodes, Le Vaillant, Dr.Livingstone et al.



In 1852 Bain’s Kloof was opened and this year really marked the beginning of the period in which the road to the interior became a highway. Travelers would take the train as far as Wellington (which was in those days the end of the line) and then would continue by wagon or on horseback through Bain’s Kloof, Mitchell’s Pass, and Ceres to Kafferskraal (where there is still a farm of that name) where there was an outspan. They would then carry on to Leeuwfontein (which still exists, but not under that name) where they could overnight, and then over the pass to Hottentotskloof, where there is still a picnic spot with water. The next stopping place would be at Karoopoort, where they could stay the night, before continuing into the Ceres Karoo, where there were outspans at Platfontein and Smitswinkel.

In 1870 the diamond fields of Kimberley were discovered and for a brief time the road, now known as ‘the Forgotten Highway’, became exceptionally busy. A weekly service between Cape Town and Kimberley was started by a company known as The Diamond Fields Transport Company and diggers, fortune-hunters, speculators, and traders in their thousands passed through the poort on their way to make their fortunes. Soon afterwards, a coach service was begun from Wellington via Beaufort West to Kimberley. At times there were as many as thirty wagons, nose to bumper, travelling through the pass, carrying wine, brandy, hardware, mining equipment, tobacco, biltong, dried and fresh fruit, vegetables, and skins. They were not only headed for Kimberley as there was another road which led eventually to Calvinia and thence northwards to Gordonia and Namaqualand. This road fell out of favor in 1877 when the Pakhuis Pass was opened, offering a more direct route from Cape Town; in the same year, the railway line had reached Touws River, making road transport less attractive and effectively beginning the decline of the Forgotten Highway through Karoopoort.

By 1895 the road was all but deserted, and in 1900 the inn closed. The Forgotten Highway was passing into history, overtaken by the railways and the need for speed and comfort. Parts of the highway can still be seen: Bain’s Kloof remains largely unchanged except for the tarred surface, and until 1948 it was still the main road from Cape Town to Johannesburg; Mitchell’s Pass, although much wider than the original, is still the only road from the coast to Ceres; the farms Kafferskloof and Leeuwfontein still exist and their outspans are still clearly visible; Hottentot’s Kloof is still there and still used; there is still a road through Karoopoort to Calvinia and Sutherland, and the original farmhouse, inn, and fig orchard are still very much in existence, as is the outspan under the poplar trees by the river; in 1981 the fig orchard was made a National Monument, and even today there is still a clause in the lease over the farm (it is still owned by the Sate) stipulating that free overnight accommodation must be offered to travellers; the farms Platfontein and Smitswinkel are still there for those who care to look, but the road with its motley crowd of hopeful travellers, has long since disappeared into the mists of time.

When next in the area, pause awhile under the poplar trees by the river, switch off your engine and you might hear the beat of hooves and grind of wagons as they toil through the poort; imagine how what is now a quiet and lonely spot was once the Forgotten Highway to the riches of the future.

Experience Africa

For many, Africa is a jungle where the sounds of the drums send the message and the roar of the lion adds to the eerie danger. The adventure lures, but there is always a nagging in the back of the mind that Africa is dangerous and not only because of the lions.African Lion

Africa has a long history of colonization, brutal tribal wars and racial tension which, in many countries, is not yet history. If it is not the Zimbabwean government cheating with the elections while killing those who oppose them left right and center, it is farm murders and rioting locals in South Africa.

masaiThe media hype around these issues quickly escalates into fear and those who watch these happenings on news broadcasts all over the world instantly believe entire countries are affected and dangerous. The reality is that while there are riots in South Africa, more than ninety percent of the country is not disturbed by this and while Robert Mugabe is in a deadly fight with his opposition party, tourists are enjoying the magic of the Victoria Waterfalls without any incident.

All that said there are areas and countries which are dangerous and tourists should always do their homework before traveling to Africa. Some people prefer to make use of a package tour for at least their first travel. This gives them the peace of mind that they don’t have to drive on unknown roads or end up in strange and dangerous areas which might happen if they travel alone.

The scenic beauty and wildlife are Africa’s most popular attractions and sights you will not be able to see anywhere else in the world. The Victoria Waterfall, in the Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia is classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and one of the most awesome sights.

Victoria fallsThe East Coast of Africa which includes places such as Durban in South Africa, Zanzibar Island, of the coast of Tanzania, and the coastal areas in Mozambique has the best beaches for swimming and surfers flock to Durban to take on the magnificent waves.

Cape Town in South Africa is one of the most visited African cities. The colonial history is still very evident in the large Cape-Dutch buildings and the Castle of Good Hope which has protected the shores of the Cape since the 1600s.

Cape townApart from the history Cape Town has the best scenic routes in the country. Spectacular routes between the mother city and smaller villages nestle between the ocean and the majestic mountains. When the sun sets over the ocean the feeling of peace and tranquility cannot be surpassed by any other experience.

Cape Town is very modern city with the most luxurious hotels on the continent, but it also caters for the alternative traveler with unique boutique hotels of very distinctive character as well as vibrant hostel accommodation.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Table Mountain Cape Town

Another African country that is virtually unknown to many travelers is Namibia. This magnificent area is home to one of the harshest, but at the same time picturesque deserts in the world. The ever-changing dunes change from yellow to red while the sun sets to darken the picture into a ghostlike setting with haunting memories.

NamibiaWhile safari type holidays will always be one of the biggest attractions of Africa, tourist should remember that there is far more to this presumed desolate continent than the roar of a lion or the lingering sounds of the tribal drums.