A feast of Bulawayo – 1999

A Feast of Bulawayo

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city isn’t just a stop over point for somewhere perceived as being slightly more interesting. It is a place full of interesting crafts, undiscovered places and fantastic restaurants.

So what is so great about Bulawayo I hear you cynics say? We ourselves may have thought the same thing until Val Bell from the Bulawayo Publicity Association asked us to come and experience the city she adores and works very hard at promoting. We visited craft centres and coffee shops, castles and churches and all in all decided that she was right and we were wrong and we couldn’t possibly see everything in the short time we could spare.

Bulawayo is ‘The City of Kings’, which in Ndebele, means ‘Place of Slaughter’. King Lobengula and his ancestors lived in the area in the late eighteenth century but things didn’t really start developing in a Western sense until 1898 when the Cape to Cairo railway first snaked its way into the area. Over a short period of time Bulawayo began to spread and exquisitely designed buildings appeared along Main Street as the town grew. Some of the buildings have since disappeared but many are preserved in their original state, giving Bulawayo a character all of its own. Today the city’s atmosphere is similar to those lazy, small idyllic towns where nothing too strenuous happens and rushing is an unknown quantity (OK, we live in Harare and Bulawayo really is a much more pleasant place to be).

Accommodation choices in the city are vast and varies from castles to camping, with everything in-between. The Tudor-style Churchill Hotel is still popular, as is the beautifully set up and Italian owned Gardia Lodge. Banff Lodge,Guest’ House with its ’New Orleans’ décor provides friendly service and great food. Next door is the Travellers Rest which is a great B&B ‘home away from home’ and Alex goes out of her way to be friendly and helpful. Craig and Lesley Hunt will welcome you at Southern Comfort Lodge. This lodge, 7 minutes from the city centre, has a peaceful setting and overlooks a small dam. (Unfortunately whilst we were there the peaceful atmosphere was shattered by screams from our photographer who was ambushed in the bushes by a rather grumpy Spurwing Goose. Needless to say the editor thought it was hilarious !) We also stayed at Jacana Lodge (see article page 13), ate at Nesbitt Castle & The Selbome. (All the places mentioned here we highly recommend.)

Right in the middle of the city and running parallel to City Hall, there is a craft market with a large selection of souvenirs and flower sellers. This however, is not the only place for curios and a trip to the Mzilikazi Art & Craft Centre is a must, although leave the cheque book at home, otherwise you will end up with as many hand crafted goodies as we did.

The craft centre is in the township of the same name and is funded by the council. Pupils come to learn various skills from pottery, fine art and sculpture to textile design and batiks. A walk around the various studios leaves one feeling completely inadequate and wanting to rush out and get your own potters wheel (well Ed thinks so anyway). The artist receives two-thirds of the cost of sales while the rest is returned to ‘the centre to buy materials and to pay for teachers and the upkeep of the buildings.

Mthwakazi Crafts shop on Samuel Parirenyatwa Street has a selection of Mzilikazi crafts as well in tricately designed Ndeble beadwork from the Buhaluse project. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t buy something from here. Everyone does in the end.

The Museum of Naiural History situated in Centenary Park is definitely worth a visit. They have a great section for budding ornithologists and last time I was there, the exhibition on bushmen paintings was brilliant. The railway museum is always a favourite especially for those 80kg boys who still sneak magazines of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ into the toilet.

Bulawayo has an exceptional art gallery situated in the historical l900’s building, Douslin House. The gallery also has a craft shop, a good library and in the courtyard (if you manage to make it past the famous waffle coffee shop) there are a series of rooms where budding artists practice tried and tested crafts. Another danger to the pocket.

The one thing that I return to, time and time again (I’m a sad individual I know), is Cetenary Park with its wel1 Maintained gardens and 1awns. Even though I pretend to be a budding gardener, the real reason I come here isn’t to look at the gardens, the ducks, the weavers, and other birds in the pond area. It isn’t even to regress to childhood to sit on the little train that chugs around the gardens and duck pond. It is to play the crazy golf. I love it. You may have to wait a while to get a club, but once there, the entertainment is endless. It’s made even better by the fact that the designers and builders didn’t make one single green flat and that the jacaranda roots protruding up through the pavement adds to the higgledy-piggledy way that the ball careers around the course. Hours of amusement for all concerned!

Lastly is what I like best, and what is, I’m convinced, one of the main reasons for leaving home – food!

Admittedly during King Lobengula’s reign there may have been a few feuds and battles, but nowadays the only thing that will leave you knocked out are the copious amounts of delectable food that one finds almost everywhere in this characterful town. A well travelled and very knowledgeable friend of mine (on the subject of food that is) once stated that you could easily spend a month in Bulawayo and eat a fantastic meal in a different restaurant every night. (I’d like to point out that if anyone has the urge to devise an itinerary based on ‘Bulawayo’s Eating Establishment’s’ I would be more than happy to volunteer as the guinea pig.)

Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, or any of those great snack or tea stops in between, Bulawayo has a variety of taste sensations to tempt the palate. Here it is possible to get a pot of the good old traditional ‘pick you up’ and a sticky fattening cake at any time of day (much to Ed’s delight). Haefeli’s boasts a mountainous array of various calorie-loaded goodies. Do not, however, visit here with a full stomach as the patisserie is so divine that spontaneous combustion is certainly possible. Milano’s, run by Mr Vacos (of Jacana Ledge fame), is an authentic European coffee shop and ‘Sisters ’ in the old Haddan and Sly is still going strong. Douslin House (art gallery) also has Ester ’s Restaurant, which has from experience some excellent chocolate cake and waffles.

For something more filling, the choice is endless. Olav’s Restaurant at the Selborne Hotel (which is lucky enough to be based in one of those great historic buildings) is attractively furnished and has a wide and varied selection of delicious dishes, beautifully served with fresh herbs and delightful sauces. The Coach House Restaurant at Nesbitt Castle provides Cordon Bleu dinners, light lunches and delectable cream teas in the main restaurant or on the beautiful landscaped gardens. Old Buffalo Bills now boasts new decor with outside tables and produces great food. The Cape to Cairo has always been a favourite and then there’s La Gondola, Morgan’s Restaurant, Eastern Flavours, Hong Kong Restaurant, Its Fishy etc, etc. The list is endless.

Bulawayo has something for everybody and I haven’t even started on the bars, pubs, cinemas nightclubs, or the Matopos yet. Do yourself a favour, go and have a look. Trust us we are journalists you know!

Four days for us wasn’t enough and ye: Val, we will be back.

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