My Travelling Life

Going all Bear Grylls is just insanity, says actress Kate Normington

Unless you're training for the apocalypse, why wouldn't you choose the comfy bed - and other bits of travel wisdom from star Kate Normington

10 March 2019 - 00:00 By Elizabeth Sleith


The first childhood holiday I remember was when my mom drove my sister and me to Durban in an old Austin when I was a child. I thought it was incredibly exotic, as it felt like we'd gone to another universe, which I suppose towards the end of the '70s, it could have been! Especially Durban, the last colonial outpost.
The tuk-tuk vehicles were still in existence, and I remember being fascinated by them and finding them almost medieval even then, although at that age I wouldn't have been able to articulate the fact.
My first trip abroad was when we emigrated to Australia when I was about five because my mother's brother, who was living there, had MS and she wanted to see him while he was still alive.
That was the beginning of a real adventure but it was cut short with us returning to SA after the Labour government was ousted by the Liberals. My mother had worked for a Labour Union, and was blacklisted for her affiliations so it was safer for us to return home.
The most remote destination I've ever been to was one of the Maldives islands, called Kandolhudhoo. It's a tiny little island with a sharp drop-off reef, which I never felt safe about swimming around for fear of errant sharks, although none exist in the Maldives. There are tiny black-tip ones, although they are not so much sharks as they are fish that look like miniature sharks. They do no harm except for the crime of looking like sharks.
When choosing between roughing it or luxury when travelling, I am more of a comfort seeker, though I do like hiking. My bed is important, so after a long day of walking, it's nice to slip between cool, white sheets. If the choice was there, I'd always take a comfy bed. "Bear Gryllsing" it just feels like insanity, unless you're preparing for the apocalypse.
I recently stopped off at Lemoenfontein in the Karoo at its dryest time of year, and it took my breath away with its sparse beauty. It used to be a game lodge and has reincarnated itself over the years into its current guise, a cooling stone sanctuary. It's a place to calm and shelter after a dark night of the soul, which is sometimes what the trip to Cape Town can feel like.
My worst travel experience was an overnight flight back from London in a seat so cramped I felt like I was back in the womb. I sat in a foetal position with my legs tucked up in front of me, because it was the only way I could reasonably sit in such a constricted space. I can't remember the airline, which is just as well.
The oddest travel experience I've had actually happened to my husband. He travelled to Phuket 14 years ago and decided to spend one more night in a city close by, when the tsunami struck. His life was spared as a result.
My favourite city is Paris for romance and sheer beauty. The buildings and architecture thrill the heart with their variety and riotous splendour.
I didn't notice it growing up but, after a certain age, I really started to enjoy the architectural constructs of cities - their amusing and accidental foibles in construction and then the sheer bravery of other monoliths, such as the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. They're all miracle edifices really.
Once we demolished the Colosseum in Joburg we were doomed to mediocrity, though we did keep the town hall, so that's a small miracle.
My best piece of travel advice is to take medication for cuts, bruises and headaches, and don't take cream or shampoo in your hand luggage. It will always be confiscated.
When it comes to travelling, I hate the existential discomfort of waiting in travel lounges when you could be doing something useful, like your taxes. Travel takes effort and time, and you end up walking vast tracts of airport to catch connecting flights when you'd rather be sleeping. But you do see some sights and meet interesting people, even when you'd rather not.
Visiting Italy is always wonderful because of the food. The food and the people are what make the place unbelievably welcoming. The Italians always make you feel like you could be family. And that's when you hope they are not the Costa Nostra.
Some day, I'd like to go to one of the Scandinavian countries. Denmark or Finland. They feel like the last outposts of snowy exotica. Although Finland is not strictly Scandinavian. It, together with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, forms the Nordic countries, known in Finnish as Pohjoismaat.
• Normington stars as The Witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, on at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino, now until April 14.

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