Gretchen’s Trip Report – part 1

June 1, 2011  By: Africa Adventure Consultants

As you know, several of us in the office recently spent time in Africa to see what’s new, what’s improved and what’s happening. I had the pleasure of a quick but very interesting trip to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.
I flew South African Airways from Washington, DC to Johannesburg. This flight stops in Dakar, Senegal en route. It’s a quick and painless stop, but can be frustrating on a long journey to spend an hour somewhere you aren’t staying. If you want to take a nonstop flight, the JFK (New York) to Johannesburg flight became nonstop on May 1st. I personally feel like it’s better to get it all done in one fell swoop, but we’ll leave that to seat availability and your discretion on your own journey!
Upon arrival in Johannesburg, I was met and greeted at the airport and escorted to the Gautrain station. Get it? Johannesburg is in Gauteng province, hence the Gautrain!
I hardly needed the escort, as the way to the train is very clearly signposted, but it’s always nice to be greeted upon arrival. Joburg airport is amongst the best in the world; it has decent places to eat, great airport lounges for frequent fliers and shopping galore. I know a number of people that build a little extra time into their journeys just for the shopping!
Getting my Gautrain ticket was easy. There are automated kiosks as well as a manned booth. I opted for the latter and got a ‘return’ (two-way) ticket to Sandton, a desirable area of the city where my hotel was located. I entered the station with my ‘Gold Card’ (ticket) and awaited the train. The station was immaculately clean, well lit and staffed with security. The train runs frequently (every 12 minutes during peak hours), so you never have to wait long.
When the train arrived, I alighted and took a seat. The train was as spotless as the station and was comfortable. The ride to Sandton takes fewer than 15 minutes; a fraction of how long it might take by car depending on the traffic. The Sandton station is clean and well lit as well, and easy to navigate. I took the elevator and found myself on the street opposite my hotel; the Radisson Blu Gautrain.
The rooms at the Radisson are spacious and modern and will fulfill your needs for a short city stay. For dining, you will find the ‘All Day Restaurant’ in the hotel serving up very good food (including some traditional African dishes), with a nice wine list and views of the surrounding area. The breakfast buffet is staggering; it’s a heck of a way to kick off your morning.
The hotel also has a bar, as well as a sundeck with a pool and an outdoor bar. If these aren’t enough for you, there are a few restaurants within the building on street level, though I did not have the opportunity to dine at any of them as my stay was short. Finally, the hotel also has free wifi (and decidedly expensive computers for you to use if you don’t have your own; about $7 for 15 minutes access) and good workout facilities.

I would submit that taking the train to the city after an 18+ hour journey is not for everyone; sometimes you just want to fall in the back of a vehicle and be whisked to where you’re going. Definitely weigh this before deciding whether the Gautrain is right for you and your trip. The benefit is that it’s a budget friendly way to get into Sandton. The drawbacks are that it requires some maneuvering after a very long and tiring journey, and only goes to two places (as of this writing), so the lodging options are very limited.
My return journey to OR Tambo the following morning was just as easy and uneventful. From there, I was off to Botswana and Zambia. More on that next week!
Gautrain station photo courtesy Gretchen Healey

 

Hotel photos courtesy Radisson Blu Gautrain