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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Gimme Hope Jo'anna

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

I made it.


Before I tell you how good life is right now... I have to backtrack to the beginning of the day.

The taxi that picked me up at the Singel Hotel this morning had “Feed the World” playing on the radio.


I found myself singing along to “...and there won’t be snow in Africa for Christmas...”  I have a funny feeling that there will be a lot more of this irritating little song stuck in my head coming up in the next week or so...

The flight was touch and go.  I think I have Air Sickness Syndrome, and God dammit, I don’t like it or want it.  At the Amsterdam airport, I decided it might be a good idea to get a yogurt parfait.  Half way through it, I suddenly realized that perhaps the Fruits of the Forest congealed mix wasn’t exactly what I needed for my stomach and frame of mind to have a peaceful, drama-free flight.

As if it’s not bad enough that I have to wear compression socks to prevent hideous ankle stumps AND endure the agony of Sciatica & Restless Legs Syndrome...  It’s cruelty.  Sit by ME on the plane! I’m a pure delight :-)

My body is deteriorating.

One thing that might have saved my life is that I suddenly remembered at the last moment before boarding, that I desperately needed to have an aisle seat.  At 6:30AM, I had forgotten to put in the request.  In my defence, it was early AND almost everything at the Amsterdam airport is done in a self-serve manner.  Check in, baggage tag, passport scan, ticket issue...

Throwback #1:  When I was in Australia - 94/95 - I bunked with two girls, Ang & Sarah, in a fruit-picking hostel in Bundaberg.  I am still friends with both of them- which seems crazy to me 25 years after our working holiday in the tomato killing fields of Queensland, Australia.

Anyway - they used to wake me up in the mornings singing this song- “Gimme Hope, Joanna” by Eddy Grant.  I was on the top bunk and would look down at them singing away and doing their silly dance.  Funny, but I had never heard it before, and it quickly became one of my favourites.

Maybe because of the fun, catchy beat? Maybe because of the controversial anti-apartheid lyrics? Maybe because my name is prominent?

Probably the latter...

Throwback #2: When I was in Ecuador in 90/91, I used to tell my host mother that I wanted to go to Africa one day and she used to wail the warnings of cannibals potentially eating me.  She would literally BEG me not to go. Well, here I am...

Look at me go.

I feel that I can add that African continental danger to my list. Besides the plane being cold, everything went smoothly.  Cold is a hideous understatement.  It was freezing. Everyone was wrapped up in their blankets and coats. I managed to not be sick... so that offset the displeasure of the Baltic breeze... but not by much.

When we were about to land, a wave of warnings about Johannesburg airport did suddenly inundate my thoughts... and for a little while, I was doubting my decisions... but too late. Arrival. Check this timeline out...

  • Arrival at 10:00AM

  • Off the plane by 10:15AM

  • Through customs by 10:20AM - I got a quick glance and a stamp in my passport.

  • Quick trip to the powder room.

  • See that my flight’s luggage is at carrousel #8... so I walk over there.

  • My luggage is the SECOND one off the plane and on to the carrousel.

  • I walk out the Exit doors and in to the main terminal at 10:30AM.

  • My driver is standing there with a ‘Joanna McBride’ sign waiting for me.

  • We get to the vehicle, pay the parking fee and are on the road by 10:45AM.

  • Hotel arrival - 11:15AM.

I can NOT make this up!

Of course... this amazing luck is just setting me up for future flounders.  Can’t fool me. The kind taxi man had some problems with the Pay Parking machine and had to leave me alone momentarily to go downstairs to the office and pay in person.  While I was waiting, I suddenly heard loud rambunctious voices - and from what I could make out, whoever was behind the voices was causing havoc every step of their way and they were headed directly towards me. I braced myself to be robbed and possibly shot... Turns out that it was three extremely intoxicated men singing ‘Day O’ at the top of their lungs and making a very badly combined effort to ride the luggage buggy together.  As they rounded the corner of the hallway, making their way towards me, I watched them all fall over three times.  They didn’t miss a beat of the song though.

Once at my hotel, my gated palace, Villa Simone, I had unfortunately missed the in-house bar, as it closed at 10AM... but there is COMPLIMENTARY sherry in my room.  This place is a MANOR... and only $100!

Quite the step up from Amsterdam’s smallest room. I’d say... AND my new favourite taxi driver, who thinks Canada is always full of snow, is coming back to get me at noon to return me to the airport, because I have not yet had enough flights in my life.

So I spent the night at The Villa Simone in Johannesburg, and after teetering back and forth between much needed sleep and awakeness, I am still here and awaiting my new taxi friend to whisk me back to the airport for yet, another flight.  14 hours in Johannesburg and off I go to Capetown at 2PM. I’m on my third lukewarm cappuccino...

Last night, as we entered, what I described as a gated palace, I was in awe of the grandiosity of this majestic manor.  The red carpet that led me to the reception.  The Greek pillars.  The Romanesque statues lining the driveway. I felt like nobility.Too bad I’ve been wearing the same outfit for 48 hours, I have plane head hair and I’m toting a backpack & a canvas messenger bag.

After I settled my bill, I was led up a few floors to my room. The last set of narrow, winding, carpeted stairs seemed reminiscent of Flowers in the Attic leading me up to a secret loft.  My room was aptly named the “Geisha” room.  It had a distinctly Japanese theme to it- Samurai katana swords, vases, lamps, pillars, lanterns, scrolls, mats, lighting, frames, etc...

I was up at 3AM with jet lag and of course, the internet had shut down, much to my dismay. In fact, it was out for 7 hours.  Nothing like a lack of wi-if to open up the power of observation, and observe I did.  In fact, there was quite a lot to take in, and I have a feeling that I haven’t even discovered the half of it.

Villa Simone boasts a distinctly different decorating theme to each lounge down each hallway, on each floor.  There are quite a few.

I noticed Chinese, Mongolian, Thai, Greek, Cowboy, Japanese... In addition to that, each room has a different name, which to me, only concludes that they each embody the theme of the name.Geisha - Japanese.Mykonos - a Greek Island. Marrakech - city in Morocco.Balmoral - the Queen’s residence in Scotland. Moulin Rouge - a nightclub in Paris.Matador - Spanish.New Orleans - American.

Wandering down the hallways, you come to realize that there is a very Buddhist theme - with various Catholic undertones... and the occasional Christmas tree thrown in to the mix.

Don’t get me wrong - as odd as it may be, the decor is actually fascinating.  The entire place is a maze of secret hallways & winding staircases... and just when you think you’ve exhausted your options, there is suddenly another themed balcony with a concealed entrance in to another corner of the world.

I feel like I’m in a parallel universe to that of the theme room hotel at West Edmonton Mall.

This place would be the perfect location for a murder mystery.  The Orient Express in a hotel.

The outdoor lawn is full of mismatched old patio furniture, more stone statues, palm trees and assorted flowers and foliage. All the tables are adorned with colourful, plastic table clothes - and almost set as though there might be an afternoon tea planned at any moment.

Just when I think that I have the entire palace sussed out, I seem to wander in to another wing and once again, I’m mesmerized by design.

The room I am sitting in right now is filled with red fuzzy furniture, carpeted pillows, glass statues, old sewing machines and colourful lamp posts.  A distinct 1920’s Gatsby meets semi-modern theme.  There is some kind of mind numbing station on the radio playing the latest pop songs, but sung in a “soft sounds of yesterday and today,” easy listening manner by unknown artists. Gone with the Wind’ is on the television.

Down another secluded hallway, and through a grandiose archway, I discovered a dark, sunken, borderline-medievalspeakeasy.  On one side is a bar graced with a style dating back to a cross between prohibition and the 1970’s.  A zillion old time radios lining the shelves.  One the other side is the stage... and once again, a very 1920’s-1930’s look.  The ceiling is full of old records.

Right in between the stage and the bar is an old pinball machine and directly beside that is a secret door hiding another winding staircase leading down in to the wine cellar.  The wine cellar has mirror-like windows that face directly on the dance floor.  It’s all very mysterious and eclectic

Did I mention the three pianos?  The trumpet style lights?  The poker table?  The roses  everywhere? The cigarette machine?  The vintage record player?  The vintage saddle? The hair dresser chairs at the front entrance?

Words can NOT do this hotel justice. Oh... and there is NOTHING African about this place.Nothing.

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