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Published: November 12th 2015
When I hear the name Pretoria it conjures up images of grand colonial era buildings, wide avenues and historical monuments. As Johannesburg is not far from Pretoria we decided to visit. There is an efficient train service between these two cities so we decided to leave thecar at home.. The Gautrain (with 'Gau' pronounced somewhere between "cow" and "how") is a modern, comfortable and relatively cheap service. Pretoria is about 25 minutes on the train from Johannesburg and a single ticket costs around R50 (£2.50).
The Gautrain service is connected to the rest of the city by a network of buses. Unfortunately on the day we traveled there was a strike, though at out local bus stop this wasn't mentioned. We arrived at the garish Monte Casino and waited for the bus. We carried on waiting past the time the first bus was supposed to arrive. We waited until the second bus arrived, forty-five minutes after the first should have been there. When we got on the bus we carried on waiting. Eventually we left the bus stop and started a long slow journey into Sandton, where we could catch the train from.
Sandton is the financial heart of
Johannesburg, where all of the big banks are based. Like the rest of Jo'burg it just looks like urban sprawl. There is no distinctive architecture, nothing at all to identify the area except for how well dressed many of the pedestrians are. We went into the shopping centre there and found a high-end mall with lots of designer clothes and upperclass restaurants. We spent a lot of time looking for the Apple shop but struggled because there was little signposting in the mall. By dumb-luck we found it, after wandering around in circles for a while, and then had to work out how to get out again.
We left the mall, got on the train and had a pleasant journey to Pretoria. When we arrived we stepped out of the station and discovered that Pretoria was even hotter and more humid than Johannesburg. I found the climate difficult to deal with but persevered. We stopped just outside the station for a picnic on a piece of grass, where all of the locals seemed to eat their lunch.
After lunch, we walked away from the station and immediately came into a run-down neighbourhood. The poverty of the shops was
made apparent by the smells emanating from them. Here a local trader addressed me as "whitey"... Not the best way to get me to buy his half-melted artificially flavoured ice. We backtracked quickly as we realised the area had little to interest us and the road wasn't leading much truer than the bus and taxi station.
Taking a different route away from the station, we walked around a few blocks. Here we discovered the faded remnants of the colonial era buildings I had expected, their grandeur lost as they aged and their environment declined. These streets seemed nicer and many were lined with vibrant jacarandas which helped to lift my mood. We wandered past a couple of museums and council buildings and then, to my immense surprise, discovered the South African Space Agency... I didn't know they had one! We cut through a lovely, well-used park to find our way back to the station.
We wanted to walk to Freedom Park, where there are apartheid memorials. Unfortunately, a glance at the map showed this to be a long walk, despite it being only a couple of hundred metres behind the station. There was no bridge over the railway
line, and no one had thought to build an exit at the far side of the platform. As it was late and we wanted to see the Union buildings we gave this a miss. Tired, we went to get a coffee and also found internet good enough to Skype my parents. It was nice to hear their voices as we'd been out of touch for quite a while.
After hanging up we caught the train to Hatfield where the Union Buildings where. Sadly we didn't get to see them as the bus strike stopped our only means of getting there. Instead we had dinner in Spur. Afterwards we met Beatrix and joined her for a worship event at the University of Pretoria. This was not really to our taste so we left quite soon and sat outside drinking coffee. I fell asleep on the return journey so remember little of it... Thus ended our trip to Pretoria, which had not been at all what I expected.
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