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culture

Mom on road trip in South Africa -- Route 62

The Ultimate Mother-Daughter South African Road Trip

As you may already know, my mother and I took an epic road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. I called it the #2SummersSARoadTrip. Our road trip route (roughly) between Cape Town and Joburg. I’d been wanting to do this for years: Take a full week to drive at a leisurely pace between South Africa’s two largest cities. (In case you’re curious, it takes about 15 hours to do this drive straight through.) There are many different routes to take but we chose a simple one, heading east from Cape Town through the Langeberg and Swartberg Mountains, northeast through the Karoo desert, then straight north through the grassy Free State back to Joburg. We spent two nights in the Robertson Wine Valley (one in McGregor and one in Ashton), one night in Oudtshoorn, two nights in Mountain Zebra National Park (outside Cradock), and drove the rest of the way home from there. As I mentioned previously, I hired a car for this trip through Around About Cars. Mom and our cute little white car, on Route 62 between Montagu and Barrydale. I can summarize this entire post in just seven words: South Africa is a fu*%ing beautiful country. The Naudesberg […]

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Oldest house in Johannesburg in Bezuidenhout Valley Park

The Oldest House in Johannesburg

A few weeks ago I visited the oldest existing house in Johannesburg. I’m a little confused as to exactly how old the house is. The house standing beside the oldest house was built in 1852. At least that’s what the historical plaque on the house says; this article by the City of Joburg says it was built in 1863. This second house (not the oldest one, but the one standing beside it) is referred to as the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. It was built by the Viljoen family and later taken over by the Bezuidenhout family when a Viljoen married a Bezuidenhout. The Bezuidenhout Farmhouse, built in 1852 (I think) and currently used as a Rotary Club office. Blue plaque on the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. But the actual oldest house, which the Viljoens presumably lived in before building the larger house next door, doesn’t have a plaque. Isabella Pingle, the heritage activist who showed the houses to my friend Marie-Lais and me, says it was built around 1850 — more than 35 years before Johannesburg itself became a city. The oldest house in Johannesburg, built sometime around 1850.  The most interesting thing about this house, to me at least, is that there are a bunch of regular people living […]

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Staff at NGC Blairgowrie

July Restaurant of the Month: NGC Blairgowrie

NGC is not what you’d expect to find at the busy intersection of Barkston and Conrad Drive in Blairgowrie. There’s a tire store across the road and a lawnmower repair shop next door, and it just doesn’t feel like the right place for a classy restaurant. And yet here it is, amidst the Joburg sprawl: a little bistro that could pass for a Paris pavement café. Outside NGC: The man in the photo is the chef, Gareth, who owns NGC with his wife Emma. In case you’re wondering, NGC stands for “Neighbour Goods Café”. I had lunch at NGC on a Saturday afternoon when I was really, really hungry and busy catching up with friends. So I don’t have many photos and this will be a short post. But I don’t want to delay writing it any longer. This is a restaurant not to be missed. Saturday Lunch at NGC In many ways the NGC menu is standard 2018-style bistro food, with a selection of “small plates” and larger main dishes and burgers. All very classy and what a lot of nice Joburg restaurants are doing. But NGC stands out because it’s particularly unpretentious, and because the food is So. […]

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Rovos Rail train outside Matjiesfontein

Living It Up on the World’s Most Luxurious Train

I took a ride on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos Rail, which bills itself as the world’s most luxurious train. I don’t consider myself a “luxury travel” writer. I generally blog about everyday places and things I happen to be doing anyway, or things I could at least conceivably afford to do if I wanted to. But every once in a while I receive an invitation to do something so luxurious and fantastic and magical that I simply can’t say no, because it would mean turning down the opportunity of a lifetime. Such was the case for my trip on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos describes itself as “the most luxurious train in the world” and I have every reason to believe this. I rode the train for two days and two nights, from Pretoria to Cape Town, and I can’t imagine how the trip could have been much more luxurious than it was. The old-school Rovos Rail cars on a brief stop outside Matjiesfontein, Western Cape. The best thing about my Rovos Rail experience was I could invite a plus-one. So I invited my mom and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. Convincing Mom to leave warm, sunny South […]

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Zietsies dining room at night

A Beautiful Place to Eat and Sleep in Auckland Park

People are always asking me for recommendations on places to stay in Joburg, and I never know what to say because in Joburg I tend to sleep in my own house. But here’s a place I can recommend for sure: Zietsies Guest House, which is technically in Auckland Park but I call it Brixton. View from the porch at Zietsies. I’d been hearing about Zietsies over the years and had done a one or two pickup/drop-offs of friends who stayed there. Technically Zietsies is in the suburb of Auckland Park, but it’s on Brixton Ridge just across from the Sentech Tower. I heard Zietsies had an amazing view of Melville and the northern suburbs, and that while it’s primarily a guesthouse you can also have dinner there upon prior arrangement. Then a few weeks ago I met Elzabé, Zietsies’ owner, while having coffee at Breezeblock, and she invited me for dinner. I asked if I could bring my mom and nice-guy-Kevin along and she said yes. Two weeks later we were there. Dinner at Zietsies I feel that my photos do a very poor job of conveying the atmosphere at Zietsies, especially at night. But just imagine a house perched […]

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blowtorched cocktail at Mooteebar in Melville

Avant-garde Cocktails at Melville’s Mooteebar

My mom came to South Africa and we spent two weeks traveling around the country doing fabulous things and it was amazing and I didn’t blog the whole time she was here. I think this is the first time in eight years that I’ve gone two weeks without posting, and now I have a huge backlog and I feel totally overwhelmed and I’m finding it hard to start. So before I dive into all the mother-daughter activities here is a quick post about Mooteebar. Outside Mooteebar on a very cold evening in Melville. You might recognize the building as the former home of Café Mexicho, Melville’s now-defunct mediocre Mexican dive.  Mooteebar needs a place in this blog because: a) It’s in Melville; and b) It’s the most unique and innovative bar in Johannesburg. If you are remotely interested cocktails, no matter where you live in this city, you need to give Mooteebar a try. You will either love it or you will hate it — there are few in-betweens when it comes to opinions on this place. But Mooteebar is worth a trip either way. Cocktails at Mooteebar Inside Mooteebar. The bar also has a lovely outdoor courtyard and roof deck, but […]

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Bread from Croydon Bakery

This Is the East: Croydon Bakery

Welcome to an occasional blog series called “This Is the East”, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. First up: the Croydon Bakery. Some background: A few weeks ago, a nice guy named Kevin presented me with a takeaway container of peri peri chicken livers from O’ Peri Peri in Edenvale. I had been expecting a small portion — maybe four or five livers — with some sauce and a few chips (fries) on the side. Instead I received: 1) A plastic tub the size of an unabridged dictionary containing the livers of at least a dozen chickens swimming in half a gallon of sauce; 2) A large bag of “slap chips” (South African term for soggy french fries — oddly delicious) too big for me to hold in one hand; and 3) two large rolls combining to the size of a small baguette. All for R70 (about $5). I stared at the pile of food. “How will I eat even HALF of this?!” I cried. Kevin cocked his head, spread his hands wide, and said: “This is the East.” If you’re from Joburg then you know what he meant. If not, let me explain. “The East” is the East Rand, aka Ekurhuleni, […]

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Jackal in Dinokeng

A Quick Visit to the Dinokeng Game Reserve

I recently went to the Dinokeng Game Reserve for a quick, one-night media visit. Dinokeng opened officially in 2011 — pieced together from a bunch of private farms — and is the only free-roaming Big 5 game reserve in Gauteng province. (The Big 5 are lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino.) Sunset in Dinokeng Game Reserve. The most remarkable thing about Dinokeng — which means “place of rivers” in Tswana — is how close it is to Gauteng’s main city centers. It’s less than 90 minutes from central Joburg and less than 30 minutes (even as few as 15-20) from Pretoria. People are always asking me to suggest quick weekend getaways from Joburg; Dinokeng is one. One Night in Dinokeng Chris Pieterse, our guide for the Dinokeng media visit, owns the Chameleon Bush Lodge. My colleague Marie-Lais and I loved our night at the Chameleon and found ourselves wishing we could stay longer. Fun branding for the Chameleon Bush Lodge. Marie-Lais’ room — each has a different color scheme, mimicking the changing colors of a chameleon. Dinokeng is still new and doesn’t yet have the established feel of a park like the Kruger or even the Pilanesberg. While we had quite […]

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Hot air ballooning at Bill Harrops

Hot Air Ballooning Over South Africa

I have a terrible cold, my second in a month. (How is this even possible?) The last thing I felt like doing this morning was waking up at 4:30 a.m. and driving more than an hour through the cold winter darkness. I did that anyway though, because one can’t pass up a chance to go hot air ballooning through the Magaliesburg Mountains at sunrise. This week the South African National Hot Air Balloon Championships are happening at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris in Skeerpoort, near Magaliesburg. I was invited as part of a media contingent to photograph part of the competition — from the vantage point of our own media balloon. Balloons prepare for the air at the start of this morning’s competition. I took a Bill Harrop’s balloon safari once before and blogged about it. I won’t repeat myself now, other than to reiterate that taking a balloon ride over the Magaliesburg is one of the coolest tourism experiences in this area. It’s worth the price — around R2000-R2500, or $150-$185, depending on the package. Anyway, today I just want to show you this morning’s pictures. Up in the Air at Bill Harrop’s Waiting for the balloons to inflate […]

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Johanna and Sunday in their food truck

A Tour of Johannesburg Food Trucks

Lonely Planet recently asked me to do some research about Jozi food trucks for a book about food trucks in different cities around the world. Dream assignment! Once I started investigating the Joburg food truck scene, I realized they’re everywhere and there are all different kinds. There are the hipster food trucks, brightly painted with clever branding and usually selling some kind of ethnic food with a twist. There are the basic South African food trucks — which are technically trailers, not trucks — usually plain white, selling down-home South African staples at rock-bottom prices. Then there are the trucks that fall somewhere in between. A collection of what I call “hipster food trucks” at the Hoods in Sandton. Tselane’s Kitchen, a traditional South African food trailer in Midrand. This post is by no means comprehensive. But here is a selection of delicious Jozi food trucks I’ve come across in my recent travels. Note some of these trucks move around so you might not find them in the same places I did. Hangry Chef: South African/Indian cuisine (Joburg CBD and elsewhere) I discovered the Hangry Chef, which at the time was called the Chilli Chef, in the parking lot next […]

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Andrew, owner of Sumting Fresh

June Restaurant of the Month: Sumting Fresh

I can describe Sumting Fresh in one (not so) simple word: South-African-Asian-American-fried-chicken-street-food. Sumting Fresh, on Grant Avenue in Norwood. Inside Sumting Fresh. Really though, Sumting Fresh is hard to explain. It was once a food trailer in Midrand, then became a food truck, then a full-on food party bus feeding thousands of festival-goers, then a brick-and-morter restaurant in Norwood. (Also, the food bus is still going strong today.) Sumting Fresh serves creative and sophisticated cuisine in a casual, fun, almost-fast-food environment. Sumting Fresh doesn’t fit into any particular genre. It’s just delicious. What is Sumting Fresh? The magic of Sumting Fresh can be summed up through its signature dish, Gujon Chicken. Here’s the Gujon Chicken description from the Sumting Fresh menu: “crumbed deep fried chicken strips / asian slaw / aioli / sweet chilli / parmesan / fries / watermelon”. It’s a crazy combination of ingredients served in a big, cheese-covered, deep-fried pile that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with at first. But I was enchanted by the first bite. I didn’t stop eating until I was way too full, even though I hadn’t even come close to the bottom of the dish yet. I asked co-owner/chef Andrew Leeuw — […]

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Downtown Joburg from 120 End Street

On Top of Joburg at 120 End Street

Nothing beats watching the sunset from a Joburg rooftop. Looking down at the crazy evening traffic from the roof of 120 End Street. On Sunday evening, Mark Straw from the Joburg Photowalkers organized a rooftop mission for all of the photographers who contributed their pictures to the recent #JoziWalks weekend. We drove together to 120 End Street, a 26-story residential building in the middle of the CBD, and spent the evening taking pictures there. 120 End Street (center) shot a few months ago from the roof of August House. I’ve always been curious about the view from the top of this building.  On the roof at 120 End. Another Take on the Joburg Skyline I’ve said this a million times before, but Joburg’s skyline is its best asset and I never get sick of looking at it from various angles and heights. Every rooftop provides its own unique interpretation of the city. 120 End Street has a particularly interesting view of Hillbrow and the most chaotic section of the city centre, between Ellis Park and the Noord Street taxi rank. Someone on Instagram asked me which street is in the middle of this frame. I’m pretty sure it’s De Villiers […]

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