East London - Being in East London or eMonti is such a breath of fresh air. Listening over and over again to the greetings Molweni Bethuna, meaning good morning or good day as opposed to the usual Sawubona or Hola, common to Gautengers, is a reminder that this is a different world.
Finding myself in this Xhosa- speaking part of the Eastern Cape, as a guest of Southern Sun Hemingways, a Tsogo Sun group of hotels – is exciting.
Hemingways had recently been refurbished and this is an opportunity to experience the venue and see how it compares to other hotels and entertainment centres in other cities.
Having been born and raised in a big city, I have a fascination for small towns and enjoy observing the way the people live, talk, eat and behave.
East Londoners are wide awake – they’re not plaasjapies as we’d like to believe.
People around the city have a swagg as my children would say. From the clothes to the hairstyles, I would have sworn I was back in Jozi except for the chit chat used in banks, shops and the streets – a mixture of Xhosa and English.
Although the majority of the people living and working in East London can also speak English and Afrikaans to a degree, for me – being in this part of the world and listening in to Xhosa conversations, triggers fond memories of my history and brought me closer to my ancestral home – where some of my great-grandparents lived and died.
On crossing the double-decker bridge over the Buffalo River on the way from the East London Airport to the hotel, I realised how clean and calm this city is, not much of the usual Friday push and shove among its commuters.
Plus, the filth and the stench that is associated with some parts of bigger towns such as Joburg is absent.
East London is also very warm in June as to be expected because the Buffalo River the city is built around, has its links to the Indian Ocean.
As the bus from the airport makes its way up the street towards the hotel, I sort of expect to be alone in the hotel and prepare for a quiet weekend and the tranquillity and the benefits of solitude.
However, as things turned out, I was wrong.
The hotel is far from empty and boring. There are many guests coming in and out.
Its proximity to a shopping centre and a cinema ensure that there isn’t a dull moment.
The name of the hotel was inspired by the author Ernest Hemingway’s classic home turned museum named Key West in Florida – a double-storey structure with lots of windows that expose the green lush garden and trees surrounding it.
Hemingways has recently been refurbished and it is situated in an upmarket shopping centre, which offers a range of family entertainment including a cinema, restaurants, banqueting and conference facilities, a four-star hotel, and a casino.
The variety of shops have the latest fashions, electronic gadgets, jewellery and everything a family on holiday needs to make their stay comfortable.
A screw came loose in one of my spectacles, so I went into one of the shops selling sunglasses and asked for it to be fixed.
The woman behind the counter, replaced the screw at no cost and suggested I donate something to charity. That’s what I’m talking about when I say I love small towns.
Another plus for Gautengers like me is that the beach is only a short distance from the hotel, so if parents bring their children along, there’s lots to do for everyone.
The warm ambiance and open rooms with all the trappings of a modern big city hotel ensured I was comfortable and captivated.
For me, nothing beats having your own tea and kettle in your room.
The view that sticks in my mind and confirms why the hotel is a Hemingways happened in the mornings at breakfast when I sat facing one of the long windows.
In true Hemingways fashion, the long windows allowed a full view of the green trees and plants in the garden, and the morning rays of the sun shone through the dining room and turned it into a warm cosy place where I could have easily settled down and read a book.
The breakfast was just superb with fresh fruit and yoghurt on the menu plus freshly baked scones, jams and savouries. They also served good, rich coffee.
The only gripe I have was with room service.
On the Friday that I arrived, I ordered chicken curry on the menu. It turned out to be overcooked chicken floating in stew tasting more like tomato source than curry.
Then on Saturday night, I ordered grilled calamari with basmati rice. Instead I got served raw calamari with long grain rice. I queried the calamari, and I was given even more raw calamari that I didn’t even bother to eat. I learned a good lesson – good hotels, don’t necessarily run good restaurants.
Tsogo Sun’s chief marketing officer Rob Collins said the group was particularly proud of Hemingways’ well-earned position as a leading tourist attraction in the Eastern Cape, bringing much-needed revenue into the region.
“We have no doubt that the large-scale upgrade of the property will contribute further to the enrichment of entertainment offerings in the Buffalo City municipality,” he said.
The hotel is also one of South Africa’s most distinctive casinos, said Collins.
“The style, architecture and aesthetics that make the casino distinctly Hemingways have not been tampered with.
“We’ve upgraded and added new features to keep the property in line with our group’s high standards and to enhance our guests’ experiences with us.
“Our vision to provide the greatest possible variety of quality hospitality, leisure, gaming and entertainment experiences at every one of our destinations means that we’re committed to ongoing upgrades and changes throughout our properties.”
Says Graham Wood, managing director of Tsogo Sun hotels: “The expansion and improvements to the award-winning hotel have been dramatic, and will add substantially to guests’ comfort levels and enjoyment of the hotel.
“East London is a beautiful part of South Africa and we are proud to enhance its attraction and add value to the region with one of our truly classy four-star hotels.”
More about Hemingway
Built on 11 hectares, the Southern Sun Hemingways is bounded by the N2, Two Rivers Drive and Western Avenue, offering easy access to and from main roads, highways and the airport, as well as various tourist attractions in the area.
The four-star hotel expansion and upgrade included two new wings with an extra 41 luxury rooms and executive suites, bringing the number of rooms to 108; a new hotel restaurant, swimming pool and gym as well as an additional 107 secure undercover parking bays.
In addition, Venue@Hemingways, a multi-purpose conferencing and event venue, with a pre-function reception area and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems has also been constructed adjacent to the hotel. This venue was completed at the end of last year and is being used for conference and banquet functions, music concerts, entertainment, comedy shows and lifestyle events such as expos, food and wine fairs, fashion shows, and product launches.
Venue@Hemingways can accommodate from 10 to 750 people in different seating configurations including schoolroom style, banqueting, cinema-style, and U-shape seating. The venue also offers clients and visitors the added convenience of entertainment, restaurants, and the casino within the centre, as well as a link to the adjacent mall. - Sunday Independent