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africa

Walking across the Melville Koppies during the monthly cross-koppie hike

Five Great Jozi Walks to Prepare for MTN Walk the Talk with 702

If you live in Joburg, you’ve heard of Walk the Talk — in fact you’ve probably walked it. But here’s a quick description for everyone else: MTN Walk the Talk with 702 (that’s the official name but I’ll call it Walk the Talk for short) is an annual Joburg tradition in which 50,000 (!) people get up early on the fourth Sunday morning in July and walk around Joburg. The main purpose of the walk is to bring people together, but participants can also work as teams to raise money for charitable causes. (Read more here.) This year will be the 18th annual Walk the Talk. Normally the Walk the Talk distance options are 5 kilometers, 8 kilometers, and 15 kilometers. But South Africa is celebrating 25 years of democracy in 2019 (the country held its first democratic elections in 1994, marking the end of apartheid), and in honor of that anniversary Walk the Talk is also hosting a 25-kilometer walk. I’ve never done Walk the Talk before I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) at one time. But I’m doing it. Why walk 8 kilometers when you can walk 25, right? Right. So I guess I […]

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Restored wall at Rand Steam Laundries shopping centre

The Dramatic Story of Rand Steam Laundries

Once upon a time, about 130 years ago, a group of Zulu men called the AmaWasha ran a business washing clothes beside a stream, on the outskirts of a ramshackle mining town called Johannesburg. The water in this stream was particularly good for clothes-washing. Soon a bustling laundry called Rand Steam mushroomed on the spot, displacing the AmaWasha. South Africans hotels shipped their linens from from as far away as Cape Town to be washed at Rand Steam. The laundry closed many decades later but the original buildings — some of the oldest industrial structures in Joburg — received protected heritage status from the city. The buildings remained until the early 2000s, when a company called Imperial Holdings — to the rage and dismay of heritage activists and other onlookers — illegally tore down the Rand Steam Laundries to build a car dealership. Enter the heroes of this story: the formidable Flo Bird and her colleagues at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, who organized a resistance, picketed the site, raised a ruckus with the city government, and ultimately blocked the car dealership from being built. There wasn’t much left of Rand Steam save a few discarded elements of the buildings and […]

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AFRIKOA Cafe in Rosebank Keyes Art Mile

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: AFRIKOA in Rosebank

This post, featuring AFRIKOA Café, is the eighth in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  I recently wrote a story about AFRIKOA Café — an African chocolate café, champagne bar, and coffee shop — for Lonely Planet Travel News. I want to mention it briefly here too because it’s something really new and different. AFRIKOA is in the Keyes Art Mile, that super cool art/design/foodie complex in Rosebank. AFRIKOA opened in February and is the now the coolest place there. Long story short: AFRIKOA is the only chocolate company in South Africa that sources its cocoa beans directly from African farmers (from one specific region in Tanzania) and produces/sells single-origin chocolate that never leaves the Continent. AFRIKOA chocolate is made in Cape Town but the café in Rosebank is its first brick-and-morter shop. The hot chocolate at AFRIKOA is incredible, as are the chocolate desserts, which were conceived by Belgian pastry chef Laettia Van Waeyenberge. AFRIKOA also serves African coffee, with beans sourced directly from a single coffee estate in Rwanda. In addition to the chocolate and coffee, AFRIKOA serves fancy French champagne by the bottle only. This is a bit of a departure from the whole […]

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Inside Urbanologi restaurant

Urbanologi: My Number One Date Night Restaurant

Many of you read my previous post about the interesting experiences I’ve had recently on Tinder and other dating apps, and my plan to start a business helping people improve their dating app profiles. In conjunction with that I’m starting a series of posts about my top recommendations for Jozi dates. First up: Urbanologi. I have mentioned Urbanologi briefly on this blog but never devoted a full post to it, which is inexcusable because it’s one of my favorite high-end restaurants in Joburg. In fact it might be my very favorite. And Urbanologi is definitely my number one Jozi date night recommendation for people who are adventurous — in both the places they go and the food they eat. Urbanologi is downtown, which always feels like a bit of an adventure (although the location in Joburg’s 1 Fox Precinct is totally safe), the restaurant’s decor is the perfect combination of edgy and classy, and the food is innovative, beautifully presented, and insanely flavorful. Urbanologi is also vegetarian-friendly. And did I mention the drinks? Urbanologi shares its space with Mad Giant Brewery, which makes some of the best craft beer in the city, and also offers a great selection of wine. […]

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Looking up at Ponte City

That Time I Climbed Ponte

Let me tell you about that time I ran to the top of Ponte City. Every few months Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours co-host the Ponte Challenge, which invites people to gather at the bottom of Ponte City at a very early hour and run or walk 54 storeys to the top. Last month I finally made the event and I (mostly) ran to the top. It really wasn’t that bad. Running Up Ponte City Here’s how it worked. I arrived at Ponte just before 7:00 on a Sunday morning, parked in the garage, and went up to the Dlala Nje headquarters on the ground floor to register for the race. The race costs R150, or about $10. (Dlala Nje is a Ponte-based nonprofit organization that runs tours of the surrounding area and community activities for kids.) I should mention, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that Ponte City is 100% safe. Yes, it was once a notoriously crime-ridden building but that was 20 years ago. Today Ponte is legally occupied and a joy to visit. Search my blog for other posts about Ponte — I have several. There were 30 or 40 of us there, laughing nervously and wondering […]

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Chili sauce vendor in Maputo at the Mercado Central

15 Quirky Things to Do in Maputo

I spent six days in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Two friends joined me for the last two days but the rest of the time I was alone. Other than booking my flight and accommodation and buying a guide book — the Bradt Travel Guide for Mozambique, which has a short and rather disappointing chapter on Maputo but was helpful nonetheless — I made zero plans before going. Once there, I continued making zero plans and just wandered around looking at things. I realized Maputo is one of the most underrated travel destinations in Southern Africa (perhaps surpassed only by Johannesburg), especially for people who like cities. Maputo is cosmopolitan, with incredible food, history, architecture, art, and culture. There aren’t many cities like that in this sparsely populated corner of the world. Here are the top 15 quirky places/things I discovered in Maputo. This list is by no means comprehensive. Read to the end for a few tips about visiting the city. My Favorite Things in Maputo 1) Architecture Quirky architecture is everywhere in Maputo. 2) Museu De História Natural de Maputo (Museum of Natural History) This is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited. The building is stately […]

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Alexandra Township cycling group in front of the Alexandra Heritage Centre

Not Cycling Through Alexandra Township

I recently found myself not cycling on a cycle ride through Alexandra Township. I was supposed to cycle, but there weren’t enough bikes and it was blazing hot and when someone suggested I ride in the Jeep that was escorting the riders and take photos through the open top, I gladly accepted. The bike ride was hosted by Art Affair, a tiny art gallery and studio in Alex’s East Bank that also serves as an events venue/community gathering place. Artist and cycling enthusiast Mxolisi Mbonjwa owns the gallery and organized the ride together with Bicycle Stokvel. I’ve visited and blogged about Alex many times. (You can browse all of my Alex posts here.) I don’t want to belabor this point. But if you live in Joburg and have never been to Alex, please go. Alex is a five-minute drive from Sandton but many Joburgers are afraid to even drive past it due to Alex’s reputation for poverty and crime. In fact, Alex is quite easy and safe to visit as long as you go with someone who knows their way around. And it’s one of the most important parts of Joburg historically, being the first township in Joburg and the […]

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Inside the Artivist in Braamfontein

Artivist: Braamfontein’s Must-Visit Art Bar

In Braamfontein there is a tiny, tree-lined street called Reserve Street. It’s more of an alley really, in a block created by Jorissen and De Korte Streets to the north/south and Melle and Biccard Streets to the east/west. Beams cross over the street, draped in vegetation, creating the illusion of a mini-forest in the middle of this noisy city neighborhood. On this alley/street is a place called Artivist. Happy Hour at Artivist I call Artivist an “art bar”, but it’s really a restaurant/bar/art gallery/music venue. I went early on a Thursday evening and found a nice smattering of guests, a friendly and talented bartender, tasty African snacks, and a thought-provoking exhibition by Zimbabwean artist Kudzani Chiurai. There’s a balcony above the bar with space for more art, and a secret music venue below — called the “Untitled Basement” — hosting regular jazz performances and other hip musical events. (Artivist’s owners, DJ Kenzhero and Bradley Williams, are current and former DJs.) Since the legendary Orbit Jazz Club is now closed (sob), I’m so happy there is another Braamfontein music venue to fill that void. Braamfontein is inhabited by thousands of university students, but William the bartender says Artivist is geared toward […]

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Photo of Mother Theresa at Langwan Cleaners

Langwan Cleaners and the Mother Teresa of Albert Street

In March 2017 I receive a Facebook message. “Do make a turn at my mom’s store, corner Albert and Mooi Street, called Langwan Cleaners. Will make a good story. “My mom, a single mother now 70 years old, has been running a ‘general dealer’ for the past 40 something years. Her business has evolved over the years but she is truly a kind of Mother Teresa of the area. Two years later in February 2019, in a comment to a comment on another post, I receive a gentle reminder. “Reminder to visit my mom😘. 99 Albert Street.” 99 Albert Street. I write it down. Three weeks later I return to that note in my day planner. 99 Albert Street. By this time I’ve forgotten the name of the person who sent me the message or where she sent it from. I know it’s an Indian name and begins with an S. 99 Albert Street. A laundry? Owned by a woman. Someone’s mom. I can’t remember but I know it’s time to go. In a WhatsApp message to Fiver, I write: “Any chance you’d like to go with me on a mysterious mission?” Fiver is always game for mysterious missions. A […]

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Loof Coffee in Norwood

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: Loof Coffee in Norwood

This post, featuring Loof Coffee, is the seventh in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  Many years ago I wrote a blog post called Norwood: Almost as Awesome as Melville. I continue to stand by my proclamation that Norwood is the second-coolest Joburg suburb. But that old post has become woefully out of date. So I recently took a walk up and down Grant Avenue with Brett McDougall, Norwood’s informal ambassador, to refresh my Norwood knowledge. We started our tour at Loof Coffee. Breakfast at Loof Coffee Loof Coffee has everything a great coffee shop should have: bright and cheerful atmosphere, friendly service, tables full of locals, dogs, delicious coffee beans roasted in Joburg, and nice food. I loved everything about it. Basically Loof is perfect. If I lived in Norwood I’d probably go there every day. What’s a Loof? I actually met Loof Coffee’s owner during my breakfast but I forgot to ask him how Loof Coffee got its name. I googled the word just now and found some interesting definitions. From Merriam-Webster: “chiefly Scottish: the palm of the hand” From Urban Dictionary: “Fool backwards. You say loof because it sounds a lot better than fool. But, it basically means the same; […]

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Finishing process at the Workhorse Bronze Foundry

Casting Bronze in the Heart of the City

I’m stating the obvious here, but making art is hard. Writing words, shooting photographs, painting paintings, printing prints…It’s all freaking difficult. But sculpting sculptures — especially sculptures made from white-hot molten metal that turns into rock-hard bronze — at least logistically speaking, might be the trickiest of all art forms. I never thought about how bronze sculptures get made, just as I never think about how iPhones or microwaves or railroad bridges or pencils get made. They’re just amazing things created by people way smarter than me, put on this earth for my consumption. Then I visited the Workhorse Bronze Foundry and gained a whole new appreciation for the creation of this type of art. I went to Workhorse last week as part of the Long March to Freedom art walk. Several of the Long March to Freedom sculptures were made there, and it was cool to follow the path of these historic bronze figures that I’ve now visited several times in different locations. More generally though, it was cool to visit the place where so many of South Africa’s great sculptors make their art. The Workhorse Bronze Foundry The first interesting thing about the Workhorse Foundry is its location, […]

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Joburg cycling tour with Kennedy

Cycle Joburg With Kennedy

Over the past couple of months I’ve participated in two Joburg tours with Kennedy Tembo of Micro-adventure Tours. Kennedy offers all kinds of innovative, outdoorsy tours in Joburg and surrounding areas — from Gauteng all the way to the Drakensberg. I am so excited to try them all. I was planning to write about both the tours I’ve done with Kennedy in this post, but actually there is too much to say so I’m taking them one at a time. First up: Kennedy’s coffee and cycling tour through downtown Joburg. I’ve explored downtown Joburg countless times by car, on foot, on a bus, and even on a skateboard. I’ve done cycling tours in Soweto, Alexandra, and Diepsloot. But I’d never done a cycling tour though the middle of the city before, much less a cycling tour focused on coffee. Cycling Downtown Joburg I know what you might be thinking: Riding a bicycle through the frenetic Joburg central business district (what locals call the CBD) is only for cyclists with a death wish. Trust me though — it works. First of all, Kennedy is a great cycling guide. He is calm (in fact he has nerves of steel), navigates the streets […]

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