Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rating South African Airways

We booked our tickets in April with departure from Oslo to London Heathrow, travelling on with South African Airways to Johannesburg. The rating confirms South African Airways as a reliable airline for the traveller, but the comfort on board is the airlines biggest potential, as there was extremely little space on economy.

Punctuality: BBBBB

The airplane left both London Heathrow and Johannesburg on schedule.

Price: BBB

We paid all in all around €1000 round trip, including taxes. A reasonable price for the ticket, but the airline experience is definitely not worth it. It was a very long and uncomfortable trip.

Comfort: B

Both flights took around 11 hours, and both were nights flights, leaving in the evening and arriving at the destination early next morning.

Both flights were an agonizing experience. The seats were very close to each other leaving absolutely no room for the legs. The airline showed, ironically, several videos on how to exercise in order to increase blood circulation. Ironically, as there were no room to do the recommended exercises while seated.

The seats were were narrow as well, so if you are slightly obese, there will be very little room for you. It was extremely difficult to leave your seat without considerable discomfort for the other guests. And when those in front of you decided to lean back their seat was uncomfortably close to your face.

I will strongly warn those of you with a increased risk of heart disease to choose South African Airlines, due to the unsatisfactory conditions on economy class.

Food: BBB+

Meals were included in the price. On the way down we were served an interesting and very spicy chicken dish. On our way back to London the lamb served was tasteless. The desserts were too sweet for my taste, but thank God for the salad, but the cream dressing served on the way back had a very strong and bitter taste. Biscuits and cheddar cheese. Yum!!

Breakfasts were better. Omelet and bacon/sausage tasted well but followed by a rather tasteless fried tomato. Yogurt and fresh fruit. Very good and freshly brewed coffee.

Drinks: BBBBB

All drinks were free, included sparkling wine and hard liquor.

The total score: BBB+

South African Airways is a once in a lifetime experience.

As comfort goes, it is one of the worst experiences I have ever had. I strongly warn passengers choosing South African Airways flights to South Africa. With so little space, the airline may, in my opinion, risk lawsuits if passengers suffer from circulatory diseases during or immediately after the flights. I therefore strongly recommend South African Airways to reduce the number of seats in economy to increase more comfort for its economy class passengers.

More on Risotteria, New York City

Enjoy Food & Travel visited Risotteria in New York city in April. We recommended the restaurant for vegetarians, as more than half of the menu at Risotteria is vegetarian and enphasized that the restaurant also specializes in gluten free food. All of the pizzas and panini are available as gluten free.

Scott Cohn in CNBC has recently visited the Risotteria, honouring it for its contribution to those of you that may not eat food with gluten.

You can see an interview with the owner and happy guests here.

Crime in South Africa

Every where in the wealthier communities in South Africa you are reminded on the harsh reality of everyday crime. Fences with long spikes, electric fences and watch out signs are clearly visible. This as parts of the population enjoy a western living standard where as others live under conditions you will not imagine. For this is an important reality even facing the traveler. Do not take any chances on your way. Here are some rules to follow when traveling and staying in South Africa.
I have no first hand knowledge to South Africa, and thus these rules are based on the experience s from my trip, and discussions from those that do know.

Rule number 1: Be streetwise - dress and accessorize wisely!

When you travel around, leave you Armani suit, Dior dress, Rolex and Cartier ring behind. Do not flaunt any valuables while being in a city area, as this will make you an attractive target for criminals. In fact, one of those we visited, told us that a kid had been killed for as little as a watch.

Rule number 2: Lock your door while driving in urban areas!!

This was stressed by most of those I talked to. The chances to be attacked while stopping at a traffic light must not be ignored, night as day.

Rule number 3: Do not leave your luggage in your car for others to see!!

We were strongly advised to leave our luggage at the hotel, while traveling around. Either that, or hire a car that does not display your luggage for others to see. The last day we were in Johannesburg, a friend kept our luggage in the closed luggage compartment his car, while lunching in Newtown.

Rule number 4: Do not walk in most urban areas after dark!!

I say most, as there are areas considered relatively safe. Where we stayed in Johannesburg, Melville, we could walk relatively safely, even after dark, whereas during my stay at the Durban beachfront, I was strongly recommended to stay in the hotel after dark. I was even warned to take the relatively short distance to the Suncoast Casino and mall that was a safe area, as it was patrolled by guards during all hours. Do consult the staff at the hotel you stay.

Rule number 5: If you have to leave after dark - take a taxi to your destination!!

Taking a taxi is very inexpensive in South Africa. So if you will leave your hotel after dark, order a taxi to your destination and back to the hotel. In that way you do may enjoy a good time in a large city without having to put yourself at risk.

Rule number 6: Be aware at ATM machines

We were particularly alert while withdrawing money at the ATM machines. We were aware of strange situations, even in a safe area as Melville. Thus we were always two as we withdrew money.

Rule number 7: Check security with someone that knows the place you stay!

South Africa is a large country, with many differences. Do not make your own risk assessment, but ask the staff at the hotel or the local Tourist Information for their opinion and act accordingly!

And with this in mind, you can enjoy a great and safe trip to South Africa

General information on South Africa

South Africa is a vast country with large contrasts, and two weeks are a very short period as there is so much to see. I have, however picked up some pieces of information I would like to share with you. I was lucky, as I travelled with people that had lived there, and they knew the do's and the don'ts. But if you are planning a trip without any prior knowledge to the country you are advised to do some research.

Getting there

Most major airlines operate services to the main South African international airports, i.e. Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Peak season is during the Southern summer from the beginning of October to the end of March.

I checked the prices when we planned our trip, and as we travel from Scandinavia there are no non-stop flights, and we had to travel through one of the major European hubs. We chose (regrettably) Heathrow as our transfer. You may get some great deals if you book on the net, and check different sites as prices may vary. We managed to get a ticket at around €800 round trip, and ended up around €1000 including taxes.

As the flight takes around 10 hours and that South Africa is located on Central European time, many flights are night time flights.

Health precautions

Consult your doctor in order to get the right shots before you leave. I got shots for diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. I was also given a drinking vaccine against ETEC-diarrhea. As we planned to go to one of the malaria areas, we were given malaria tablets. Most of South Africa is malaria free, except the east parts of the country bordering Mozambique. If you e.g. go to Kruger National Park, you must take Malaria medication.

It is vital that you check with your doctor as the consequences of not doing so, may be serious to your health.

I found that the food standard provided in South Africa comparable to that of Europe, but beware of food enjoyed off the beaten track. Our Norwegian acquaintance that lived there confirmed this impression. I generally stay away from dishes that contains raw eggs. You may also get effects from the fact that there is a different bacteria culture in the food. This may give you nausea, even if you are not ill. It may therefore be a good idea to give your digestive system a little boost adding some good pro biotic remedies. Consult your pharmacist.

I am sensitive to mosquito bites and had a bad allergic reaction in South Africa. Cover your legs and lower arms during dusk and night and use an efficient repellent. I regret that I did not.

Money and prices

The local currency is South African rand (ZAR), and you'll get approximately 8 ZAR for 1 USD, and 10 ZAR for 1 EUR.

Once there, you'll find that you get much for your rands compared to Europe and the United States. You can get a good double room for under 500 ZAR a night including breakfast. Remember to give tips to service provided by the cleaning staff in hotels, and for many other services.

South Africa provides the same challenges for the shopaholic, as the rest of the developed world, as there are so much to buy. Gold is comparatively cheap to buy, but beware - much of the gold is only 9 ct, and not 14 ct. And do go to an authorized dealer, as you may end up with even less precious metals if you don't

Getting around

South Africa is a vast country so if you want to travel long distances you may have to book a domestic flights, if you do have not much time.

Public transportation in e.g. Johannesburg is based on small minibuses, and these are mostly used by the African population. There are very few ordinary bus services.

There are bus services between the largest centres, and Greyhound is one of them.

If you choose to rent a car you will find that it is reasonably cheap. We paid around 400 ZAR pr. day for the car on the picture. Be aware that you drive on the left side of the road.

The main roads have a very high standard and the speed limit is mostly 120 mph. and this will bring you quickly from one of the large cities to another, but the distances in this vast country may make a domestic flight a good alternative to cover the longest distances. You may see the general motorway standard on this short clip. But beware - South Africa has everything from the smallest dirt road to motorways comparable to the US and European ones.


I was surprised to find that South Africa had its seasons. When we landed in Johannesburg the trees were bare and every where we travelled we discovered that trees and plants were in full bloom. As this spectacular flower one of the trees in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.

When travelling during winter (April through September), be prepared for low temperatures, and snow may be found on higher grounds. During summer temperatures and humidity may vary. One lady from Pretoria warned me on Durban in February, whereas some friends found Cape Town in February very pleasant. So check the conditions where you go and dress accordingly.

Flora and fauna

South Africa has a vast variation in scenery and what lives there. You will find breathtaking flowers during spring and even during the summer. I highly recommend a visit to one of the many parks to enjoy the rich wildlife that this country has to offer. Kruger National Park is the biggest but you may see more animals in one of the smaller parks.

I encountered the wildlife at Pilanesberg, and that was a truly remarkable experience. I will share my moments from there later.


This pasta with chicken in a creamed peanut sauce was served at the Orange Acorn in Melville, a part of Johannesburg. It was remarkable. I have enjoyed some remarkable dinners, and some less so, but you have so much to choose from. Indulge!!

A good meal starts at 25-30 ZAR. Wine is also cheap, both in restaurants and in shops. But do remember to add another 20% to you restaurant bill, as a tip to the waiters.

I will share my culinary experiences from my two weeks in South Africa, and much, much more.......

For those of you that considers to go to South Africa, do!! It is a remarkable country with a remarkable population that has achieved so much after the fall of the apartheid.

South Africa October 2007

Yesterday I returned after two weeks in South Africa. Rarely have I learned so much as after this vacation. South Africa is a country of immense natural beauty but here I have encountered the worst poverty I have seen until now. Therefore I will also tell you my meeting with a country so rich in natural beauty and resources, but also on the daunting tasks that may lay ahead, after the fall of apartheid. So stay tuned here at Enjoy Food & Travel for more from South Africa in the weeks to come.