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Tswana dancers on Vilakazi Street in Soweto

Touring Soweto with a South African Blonde

Last week I did an all-day tour of Soweto with Eenblond Tours. “Eenblond” means “a blonde” in Afrikaans, which makes sense because that’s exactly what Gilda Swanepoel is. Gilda and I are kindred spirits — we’re the same age and our life stories have many parallels. Gilda spent lots of time traveling solo around southern Africa and used to write a travel blog. She loves getting to know Joburg’s people and cultures in a very intimate way. I’d been meaning to take one of her tours forever and she does lots of different ones, around Joburg and all over South Africa. But I was particularly keen to go to Soweto with Gilda. I’ve been to Soweto — which is technically part of Joburg but really its own place entirely — countless times (browse all of my Soweto posts here), but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go again. Soweto is so huge, so historic, and so diverse that no one visit is the same as another, even when you go back to the same places. My tour with Gilda was no exception. A Day in Soweto Gilda fetched me at my house and then we went to pick up […]

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Travel books at Maps 4 Africa

Maps 4 Africa: Navigating Africa Without Google

In today’s Google-powered world, it’s tempting to believe paper maps and guidebooks are obsolete. Who needs hard copies when every piece of information ever collected is contained inside our phones? I’m as guilty as the next person of operating this way. But as recently as a couple of months ago, I found myself stranded in the middle of Joburg’s northern suburbs when my mobile signal suddenly dropped and I didn’t have Google Maps to guide me to my next destination. And you can’t use the “Well, you live in Africa” excuse, either. The same thing happened last year in Manhattan. I still need maps — real maps — and real guidebooks when I travel. And even if I don’t need them, I want them. Luckily there’s a great place to buy them in Joburg. I discovered the Maps 4 Africa shop many years ago, then forgot about it, then discovered it again last year while looking for a Mozambique guide book for my trip to Maputo. You’d think Exclusive Books, the country’s most popular retail bookstore, would have a wide selection of guidebooks for Mozambique — a major tourist destination and one of South Africa’s closest neighbors. But nope — […]

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Looking up at the Carlton Hotel and Carlton Centre

Memories From Joburg’s Carlton Hotel

The Johannesburg central business district (locals call it the CBD) has experienced tumultuous change over the past 50 years. Nowhere is that change more visible than at the once glitzy, now abandoned Carlton Hotel. The Carlton opened at the height of apartheid in 1972, when black South Africans in Joburg still had to carry passbooks. The hotel was grand, by all accounts, albeit with ugly (in my opinion at least) brutalist architecture. The Carlton had 31 storeys, more than 600 rooms, a rooftop pool, and several fancy restaurants and shops. Only the richest South Africans could afford to stay there. Less than 30 years later, in 1998, the Carlton Hotel was closed and mothballed as the CBD collapsed around it. The Carlton has never re-opened. This hulking skyscraper has been sitting empty for more than two decades, and as far as I know there is no plan to revive it. (It’s not alone, either. The old Joburg Sun Hotel, a few blocks away, suffered the same fate.) The Carlton is closed to the public and it’s not easy (or advisable) to get inside. But thanks to a gutsy friend who shall remain nameless, I recently spent a few minutes snooping […]

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Cow advertisement for Global Cheese Company

This Is the East: Deliciously Greek Coffee Shop and Deli

Eighth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, about hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. This edition features the Deliciously Greek Coffee Shop and Deli, a cheese shop and Greek grocery store/deli in Elandsfontein. Just before Christmas, I went with some friends to stock up on Italian holiday treats at Cremalat. As we drove through the boom into the Greenhills Industrial Estate (yes, this is Joburg and restaurants/cafés are frequently hidden inside boomed-off industrial complexes), a man handed us a flier that read: Global Cheese CompanyCoffee Shop and DeliDeliciously GreekPrices that won’t CHEESE you off! After leaving Cremalat, we had to drive around the block to get out of the complex due to one-way traffic. Around the corner we spotted the source of the mysterious, cheesy flier. We already had more than enough cheese and other food to take home. But this place was too adorable-looking to pass up so we parked and went inside. A Deliciously Greek Jozi Oasis The inside of the deli was delightful and I immediately pulled out my camera, which drew the attention of the owner, Steven Neofitou. Steven, who was also quite delightful, told us he’d just opened eight days before. The shop was […]

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Ostrich sculptures in the Wilds

Looking Back at 2019. Looking Forward to 2020.

I don’t normally write year-end wrap-up posts. I’m usually long asleep by midnight on 31 December. I don’t make New Years resolutions or assign much importance to the end of a calendar year. But this isn’t just the end of a year — it’s the end of a decade. And boy, was it a doozie. Perhaps that’s why I feel compelled to summarize my transition from the 20-teens into the 20-twenties. I’ll have a lot more to say about my decade of life in South Africa as 2020 progresses. In the meantime, here are some highlights and lowlights of 2019 and thoughts looking forward to the coming year. 2019 Travel Highlights I had a comparatively low-key travel year. But I really enjoyed every trip I took, and my South African travels inspired the idea for my upcoming #10SouthAfricanTowns project. (More on that later.) These were my five favorite trips in 2019. 1) Maputo In March I spent five days in Maputo, Mozambique, wandering the city on foot and exploring museums, markets, restaurants, and architecture. Maputo is a highly underrated city, as I detailed in my post. 2) The Swartland and Hermanus In May I flew into Cape Town, headed northwest […]

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Our Jozi Works piece in Louis Both S-Bend mural

The Louis Botha S-Bend: Walking Through Joburg’s History

Along Louis Botha Avenue between Orange Grove and Yeoville there is a half-kilometer stretch of road previously known as “the death bend”. Louis Botha is one of Joburg’s main thoroughfares between north and south, connecting Alexandra Township and the city’s northeastern suburbs to downtown Joburg. The road is notoriously ruled by speeding minibus taxis. This particular stretch is a relatively steep downhill from south to north and has a few dangerous curves. The Louis Botha corridor is in the middle of a major redevelopment. The death bend was recently straightened out somewhat, and there is now a wide pedestrian sidewalk and a very high wall along the northwestern side the road. A few months ago, that wall was covered with a huge, vibrant graffiti mural illustrating the history of the Louis Botha corridor (previously the Old Pretoria Road). The graffiti project is called the S-bend mural and it’s the largest mural in Joburg, covering 3,000 square meters. The S-bend mural — “S-bend” is meant to be less negative than “death bend”, while still warning drivers of potential danger — was commissioned by the City of Johannesburg Department of Transport, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), and a JDA-supported art campaign #ArtMyJozi. […]

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The Melville Cat

From the Melville Cat: Happy Birthday to Me

From the Melville Cat: Good day. I must confess the title of this post is rather misleading. Today may very well be my birthday. Then again it may not. (Felines don’t bother remembering birth dates.) But the dear Ms. M, my original human caretaker, told Heather she believes I was born in or around December 2007. I am now at or near the age of 12: the equivalent of 64 years by human measurements. I am a venerable older gentleman and ready to enjoy my golden years. Hence I have chosen today, Friday the 13th of December, to celebrate myself and my accomplishments to date. Accomplishments of the Melville Cat December 2007 (or thereabout): I am born somewhere, to someone. I do not remember the circumstances of my birth or who my parents are. I have many siblings. February 2008 (or thereabout): Ms. M discovers me in a cage inside the dreadful veterinarian’s office, capering about with a brood of gray siblings. Ms. M can not resist my charms and brings me to her home on Melville’s 6th Avenue. I live a pleasant life with Ms. M, accompanied by a large family of humans, felines, and canines. August 2010: As […]

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The road on Route 62 in South Africa

My #10SouthAfricanTowns Project: I Need Your Support!

A couple of months ago I announced my plan to visit 10 small South African towns in 2020, in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of my blog. I will blog about my visits to the 10 South African towns throughout the year (along with my usual Joburg-centric content), and I also plan to publish a #10SouthAfricanTowns book in early 2021. I received about 75 different town suggestions, and after much consideration I’ve whittled the list down to ten. This map is subject to change. (In fact, I’ve changed two of the towns since this post was initially published on 6 December.) But for now, here are the ten towns I’ve chosen: In case you don’t feel like clicking on the map, here’s the list in no particular order: Bathurst, Eastern Cape Prince Albert, Western Cape Philippolis, Free State Kaapschehoop, Mpumalanga Kameel, North West Kakamas, Northern Cape Bredasdorp, Western Cape Val, Mpumalanga Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal Ohrigstad, Limpopo I chose the ten towns based on a few factors: 1) Each town was suggested by one of you, my wonderful readers; 2) I hadn’t visited any of these towns before; and 3) The towns cover all nine of South Africa’s provinces, except for Gauteng […]

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Art Africa shop in Parkview

Five Places to Buy Local Gifts in Joburg

“Buy local” has become a popular retail catch phrase lately. But I have always loved buying locally made gifts, especially gifts in the realm of African arts and crafts. December seems like the best time to add this category to my Jozi Top Fives series. These five shops are where I like to go before my annual trips to America, when I buy presents to take to my family and friends back home. But these spots are also great for local holiday shopping. In this post I’m using a broad interpretation of the term “buy local”, as some of these places sell gifts from all over the African continent. 1) Art Africa in Parkview Art Africa is my go-to spot for buying South African and pan-African gifts. The shop is in a convenient spot on Parkview’s Tyrone Avenue and it has all the usual South African crafts — beaded and wooden sculptures, baskets, textiles, embroidery, etc. — all particularly high-quality and carefully curated. Think the Rosebank African Craft Market but much smaller, less cacophonous, and less overwhelming. Art Africa is at 62 Tyrone Avenue, Parkview. 2) Krag Drag (the Strong One) in 27 Boxes, Melville I blogged about Krag Drag […]

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The Bank of Lisbon Building implodes

Bank of Lisbon: The Implosion of a Jozi SkyScraper

Yesterday morning I watched the Bank of Lisbon Building, a 31-storey tower in downtown Joburg, fold inward on itself and collapse to the ground in a cloud of dust. I photographed the implosion from just under three blocks away, on the eighth floor of Corner House — one of Joburg’s oldest and most iconic buildings — while peering through the porthole-shaped window of a turret with a giant jacuzzi tub in it. Before I get to the exciting demolition pictures, let me back up a bit. The Sad Story of the Bank of Lisbon Building The Bank of Lisbon was built in 1967 in a Late Modernist/Brutalist style of architecture. Based on the name, I assume the building once housed the offices of a bank from Lisbon. Most recently it was home to three Gauteng provincial government offices. In September 2018, amidst tenant complaints about potential safety issues in the building, the Bank of Lisbon caught fire on the 23rd floor. The blaze burned for three days before the fire department managed to extinguish it (water supply issues reportedly hindered efforts to put out the fire), and three Joburg firefighters lost their lives. The building’s shell remained standing after the […]

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The Shot Hole Borer Beetle: A Deadly Threat to Joburg’s Trees

I struggled to decide how to title this post, as the title above feels like an understatement. While the polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB) beetle is first and foremost a killer of trees, this insect could also kill our city. And PSHB is not only a threat to Joburg. It’s infesting trees all over South Africa and could eventually spread to the rest of the African continent. I’m not an expert on the shot hole borer and I know very little about trees, other than how freaking awesome they are. There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information about PSHB floating around and I’ll undoubtedly get things wrong here. But I’m distressed by how few people seem to be aware of this grave threat. I’d like to use this blog to change that. So please bear with me (bore with me?) as I try to lay out the basics on what the shot hole borer is, what it’s doing to our trees, and what we can do to fight it. What is the Shot Hole Borer? The shot hole borer, also known as PSHB (the P stands for polyphagous, which means the beetle can feed on multiple types of trees), […]

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Green chile cheeseburger

Green Chile Cheeseburgers (and Other Wonderful Things in New Mexico)

I lived 45 years without knowing there was such a thing as a green chile cheeseburger. Then I went to New Mexico and my world changed. A quick word on spelling. In most of America, this spicy pepper is a “chili” with one L. In British English, it’s a “chilli” with two Ls. Due to Spanish influence in the southwestern United States, the spelling in that part of the world is “chile” — one L, one I, one E. (Learn more on Confusing, I know. For the purposes of this post I’m going to use the southwestern American (i.e. Spanish) spelling of “chile” because that’s how it appears everywhere in New Mexico. The New Mexico Green Chile Now, some more information on the pepper itself. New Mexico chiles are not like jalapeños or habaneros or any other hot chiles I’ve eaten before. New Mexico chiles are bigger and just plain better, with a half-spicy, half-tangy flavor that I could easily eat in every meal for the rest of my life. When New Mexico chiles are harvested earlier, they’re green, and when they’re harvested later, they’re red. The red and green chiles have slightly different flavors, and New Mexican diners […]

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