Thursday 1st July

July! Wahoo! I woke up knowing I was now on the home straight towards getting back and seeing Meggy, Izzy and everyone else in apparently-sunny England. In the morning, Bellis and I had assigned ourselves the task of taking 2 of our 4 cars back to Thrifty (2 lovely Nissan Tiidas, a hatchback and a saloon), as we’d only booked them for the hectic group stage. This meant that we would now be left with 2 cars for the Lodge, although 1 of them would be in the south for the next week, taking Matt, Chris and Kleiny to Port Elizabeth and then Cape Town for the other 2 quarter final matches.

We dropped them off without any problems, except we forgot to include the parcel shelf in the hatchback, which we’d removed a couple of weeks earlier to give us more space. However, Marc had decided that his work in South Africa was done, with England going out, and had booked an earlier flight home, due to leave on Friday, so we promised the rental company that we’d bring it in with us when we drop him at the airport…problem sorted.

Bellis and I hopped on the new ‘Gautrain’ from the airport to Sandton, where we’d arranged to meet Valeria, Tim, Cath, Joe and Marc for a wander around the Nelson Mandela Square and the shopping centre there, before having a bite to eat and then heading back to Randburg. It was a quick 15 minute journey to the middle of Johannesburg to meet everyone, on a clean, quiet train…we were both very impressed, and after 4 flights of stairs, we emerged up on the street right outside the Michaelangelo Hotel, on Nelson Mandela Square…perfect!

Some kids were kicking a football around in the sqaure, in what little space there was around the edge of a massive tent that had been erected by Sony.

We wondered into a local restaurant and sat down for a drink and quick snack…everyone was eating the chocolate brownies, the temptation was too hard to resist…sorry diet! I went outside for a bit and gave Dad a call seeing as I hadn’t spoken to home for a couple of weeks, and I mentioned how I was stood at the foot of the Michaelangelo…the hotel he stayed in however many years ago it was when he was there. We walked round the shopping centre, passing signs banning the use of vuvuzelas…excellent!

We desperately tried to find something we wanted to buy, but didn’t have much luck…there wasn’t a massive amount of local stuff on sale, and the official licensed World Cup products were ridiculously expensive…R399 for a 2″ high replica World Cup trophy…£40! It was a book shop that provided us with the most attractive purchases, and I bought 2 different football coffee table books, each illustrated with a gallery of documentary-style photos from places all over Africa, as well as around the world…well worth it for £15 for the pair.

With Valeria getting ever-tetchy, we decided we needed to make a move, before she snapped and lost the plot with us. Into the car and away we went, back to the Lodge.

In the evening, we enjoyed a welcome break from the usual crap we’d been consuming, and visited a local seafood restaurant, called Ocean Basket. On the way there, we passed a Mediterranean place and a grill restaurant, gutted that we hadn’t ventured to this area for dinner before, and had often made do with the pub or that crap at Luigi’s. I had a feta salad to start, and enjoyed some salmon sushi dishes for my main course. The wasabi that accompanied my suhsi provided some entertainment, especially when we suggested Marc tries it, as he hadn’t done before. His face was a picture as the spice hit and shot up through his nose! After the meal, we moved just a few doors down to a traditional-style Irish pub, and enjoyed a few beers there, chatting to a barman who, although originally from South Africa, had been stationed with the military in Colchester for the last 19 years! Small world eh…someone in Johannesburg who knew a heavy night out at Liquid in Ipswich all too well!

Inevitably, we got chatting, and it turned out that the bar work was only a fill-in for him while he trained for his helicopter pilots’ license. Explaining what we all did, he said that he’d be more than happy to take a couple of us up over Soccer City, for free (as he’s unable to charge at the moment), for us to do our GVs after the tournament! Bingo! With his phone number in the bag (and an excellent free Hansa pint glass to add to my collection – complimentary, not stolen!), we headed home.

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