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Food and Travel: Reaching for the sky!

I’VE been heavily distracted many times since leaving Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) on November 18 and, perhaps consequently, a few of these traveller’s tales may have lost something in continuity!

I’d by no means ended yarning about the actual cruise from Durban to Mozambique’s Portuguese Island on board the luxuriously appointed, spotless and sparkling MSC Sinfonia, when –– blink, blink –– we moved away from the shimmering heat of the Tropic of Capricorn at sea-level and were in the Highlands of Scotland and shivering as temperatures plummeted as low as minus 21 degrees south of Celsius.
My son’s impressive Master’s ceremony at Aberdeen University was the principal critical event of a roughly seven week year-end leave of absence (and sanity break!) from Zimbabwe.  I had to be in the Granite City for it and in good time. Everything else was secondary, or would keep.
Having, personally, merely scraped through a First at the School of Hard Knocks, followed by a University of Life Masters, I couldn’t have been other than impressed by a ceremony unchanged since 1360: still conducted largely in Latin and containing a generous slab of religion, served with a dash of humour.
These traditional elements of the ceremony have now apparently been dropped at many dumbed-down UK seats-of-learning.
But it was the dreadful weather which (badly) impressed.
If it hadn’t been for a sixth-sense-inspired 11th-hour drastic change of travel plans I’d have almost certainly missed my Thomas Cook Airlines charter to Hurghada, Egypt, (ironically almost exactly half-way back to Zim!) where I’ve just left stunning beaches and fish-rich coral reefs after snorkelling and will be so doing, basking in wintry (by Red Sea standards: 29C-ish) sunshine, for 14 days, before returning to Oxfordshire for Christmas; on to Scotland for Hogmanay, before returning home via Dubai and Jo’burg.
Hopefully by then I’ll be fully decompressed, de-stressed and capable of relating a story in the right order!
My apologies to Bob from Denmark, who –– reading between the lines –– was with Rhodesia Railways after service in the Royal Navy and had queries on MSC cruises. Sadly, using two e-mail addresses and a very new “netbook” mini-lap-top, featuring a Word system previously unknown to me; often not in the most conducive surroundings, with some networks which make Zimbabwe’s service providers look like Rolls-Royce Ltd, personified, his e-mail was misfiled.
I’ve passed on the gist to MSC, and as Bob’s planned cruise is after his son’s South Africa wedding at year-end, I’m sure there’ll be time to sort things out.
I’m turning the clock back to the beginning of the trek! 
Having recently heard little but bad-mouthing about South African Airways, especially their food, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality, quantity and smooth service on the lunchtime SAA flight from Harare to OR Tambo.
I’m not totally convinced of the need to serve a hot meal on a 110 minute hop and the girl sitting next to me clearly wished they hadn’t, because for most of the flight, food, drink and duty-free trolleys, manned by not the world’s tiniest cabin staff, severely blocked egress to the toilets.
As many folk, whose opinions I respect, had for many months moaned consistently about SAA’s scoff, I can only assume there’s been a change of policy. Their lunch was similar if not slightly superior, to food served on AirZim on the same route.
Neither airlines’ food is in the same league as the delightful dinner provided between Jo’burg and Dubai a few days later, on Emirates, nor the breakfast that same airline handed out soon after leaving the UAE for Heathrow.  (And note good quality stainless steel flatware –– serrated-edged steak knife even — handed out in Tourist Class!)
A young Indian-looking guy, with Australian passport and accent, sitting two from me complained vigorously and viciously he wasn’t served an ordered “special” meal. It took maybe four minutes for the Arab-owned carrier to produce a wonderful-looking Hindu vegetarian curry with such a mouth-watering aroma I was tempted to try to swap my chicken a la king for one.
(The late Major John Griffiths, a Zimbo character of note with no claim to Jewishness other than dark Welsh looks, always ordered Kosher food when flying…to be served first that way.)
He’s still recalled at the Baobab Hotel, Hwange as the man who ordered table d’hôtel supper in reverse order! Having worked on the launching of the open-cast operation for many months, he was bored with the hotel’s predictable tariff and start led fellow diners, staff and management by beginning with coffee and mints and proceeding backwards, via ice-cream and choc sauce, roast beef, fish course and soup, when everyone else started with minestrone or cream of celery and went on to fish cocktail or gudgeons of Kariba bream!
Outrageous “Griffo” would be delighted that one exploit of many during his sojourn in this country is still discussed maybe two decades later!
It seemed to me that Thomas Cook Airlines have a different caterer than the one they used up to my last flight with them, 11 months earlier and there was much improvement.
Scoff on TCA is optional at booking time, but I’ve never before seen anyone actually refuse it on flights over about five hours’ duration. An elderly, curmudgeonly couple sitting each side of the aisle close to me had clearly declined.
Carrying aboard WH Smith egg-and-cress and ham-and-cheese sandwiches, washed down with Starbucks tea in plastic cups, their facial expressions and body language clearly stated they wished they hadn’t. The usual choice (except on Air India!) of a beef or chicken dish looked positively ambrosial compared with plastic-wrapped “sarnies” which wouldn’t have been much (if any) cheaper.



Dusty Miller

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