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Learn How to Blog From a Reluctant Blogger

I’m teaching another blog class. It’s happening on 13 October at Bridge Books in Maboneng. The class is limited to 10 aspiring bloggers and there are six spots left (as of today, 19 September). You should sign up. A couple of months ago I confessed that for the first time in eight years, I was struggling to blog. I had hoped that feeling would have gone away by now but it hasn’t. The feeling is weird and disconcerting. Perhaps this post isn’t the best place to focus on my current lack of blogging motivation. But then again, maybe it is. This is reality, baby. Blogging is a wonderful form of creative expression but it ain’t no walk in the park. I like to talk about reality in my blog classes. In these classes, we don’t focus much on making money or building massive social media followings. Instead we focus on ideas. We focus on the best reasons to blog and how to create a blog that’s honest and compelling and emotionally fulfilling for the person who writes it. We talk about how writing a blog can change your life, as it has mine. We share with each other, eat some nice […]

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Haus Schwarzenberg courtyard in Berlin

Berlin Is the Johannesburg of Europe

I spent three days in Berlin, which is not enough time to get to know a place and make dramatic pronouncements like, “Berlin is the Johannesburg of Europe.” Potsdamer Platz, Berlin. But I’m saying it anyway because that’s how I felt when I was there. Berlin/Joburg Of course there are the obvious differences. Berlin is in Europe and Joburg is in Africa. Berlin is wealthier and cleaner and has far less poverty than Joburg. Berlin certainly has less crime and is safer to walk in at night. Berlin has superior public transportation to Joburg. Berlin is gloriously flat, making it an excellent city for cycling, and doesn’t have any mine dumps. Unlike Joburg, I hear Berlin has horrible weather in winter. And yet there are so many similarities. Street art by Various & Gold on the former border of East and West Berlin. The concrete wasteland behind that fence was once a parking lot for cars passing between East and West Germany. Street art in a concrete wasteland…very Joburgian, no? Both cities are full of immigrants. A Turkish restaurant where I ate my first dinner in Berlin. I could just as easily have been eating in Istanbul. Both cities feel chaotic in […]

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Inside Betrand in Maboneng

My Favorite Jozi Coffeeshops: Bertrand in Maboneng

This post, featuring Bertrand in Maboneng, is the fifth in an occasional series about my favorite new coffeeshops in Joburg.  Yesterday morning I was hurrying down Fox Street in Maboneng. I was in a rush but needed coffee and food. In the corner of my eye, I glimpsed wooden tables on the pavement that I hadn’t seen before. I looked up and there was Bertrand. I’d seen a few pictures of Bertrand on social media but hadn’t yet discovered its whereabouts. Here it was. The waitress tried to show me around but I only had ten minutes and sustenance was paramount. Hardly glancing at the menu, I ordered a croissant and a flat white in a take-away cup. I sat down at a sunny table near the coffee bar, drummed my fingers for a moment, then grabbed my camera. Ten-minute time limit aside, I couldn’t leave this little wonderland without documenting it. Opened for coffee. Inside Bertrand. Comfortable-looking couches I didn’t have time to sit on. The back of Bertrand. There are hundreds of charming knick-knacks inside Bertrand. I’m not sure what this one is or why my eye settled on it.  As I shot my pictures, a charming man in sneakers […]

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Boat going under a bridge in a Netherlands canal

Seeing the Netherlands by Boat

During my recent European trip, I spent four days floating down the canals of the northern Netherlands on an 18-meter barge named Hendrika. I know lots of you are eager to hear about this nautical portion of my trip — how I did it and what it was like. Life on the canals. The Netherlands by Boat: How I Did It I am really lucky to have friends, Fiver and Stuart, who own a boat and live on it for five or six months a year, floating up and down canals in whichever European country they choose for the summer. (Fiver and Stuart live in Joburg for the remaining six or seven months a year.) Fiver and Stuart were in the Netherlands this summer, so I visited them between stops in Berlin and Amsterdam. We arranged to meet in Leeuwarden, a quaint Dutch town in the northern province of Friesland, which is a seven-hour train ride (with a couple of changes) from Berlin. Hendrika tied up on a canal in Leeuwarden. Hendrika, a Dutch-made boat, was built in 1907 and still maintains her original fittings. We didn’t know exactly where we’d be at the end of the four days — […]

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Heather over a canal in Amsterdam

Solo Traveling, Never Alone

A few months ago I received an invitation to my friends’ wedding in Vienna. I’d never been to Vienna before so I decided to go. While I’m at it, I thought, I should really go to Berlin. I’d never been there either and I had an open invitation from an old friend. And while I’m at it, I thought, I should visit Fiver and Stuart on their boat. They live on a boat every summer and float around somewhere in Europe. This summer they would be floating through the Netherlands. I’d never been to the Netherlands before (can you see the pattern here?) so I decided I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. And once I’m in the Netherlands, I thought, I have to go to Amsterdam. Because (you guessed it) I’d never been to Amsterdam and that’s just unacceptable. Thus I embarked on the #2SummersEuropeanTrip, a solo traveling journey in which I was never alone. At a vineyard just outside Vienna, dressed up for Ruth and Michael’s wedding. (Photo: Jeremy Yung) Cycling through Berlin. (Photo: Jeroen Van Marle) Driving a century-old boat named Hendrika down a canal in the northern Netherlands. (Photo: Fiver Löcker) A typical scene in Amsterdam. (Photo: Fiver […]

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Wooden Newtown heads in downtown Joburg

The Newtown Heads Are Back in Action

As I float down a canal in the Netherlands, I thought I’d write a quick post about the Newtown heads. If you live in Joburg you know the heads I’m talking about — the hundreds of wooden sculptures lining Mary Fitzgerald Square and several streets in the downtown neighborhood of Newtown. Newtown heads in the center of Mary Fitzgerald Square. The heads, all 500-something of them, were originally erected in 2001. But over the years quite a few of them were stolen/vandalized/cracked or eroded due to weather. Joburg city enthusiasts mourned the heads’ demise. Here’s what all the heads looked like until recently. The head in the foreground is badly weathered and the head in the background is gone completely. The decoration on the concrete plinths is part of a separate project by artist Food Baby Soul.  In 2018, as part of the Newtown Now! festival in July, artist Americo Guambe — who spearheaded the creation of the original Newtown heads — received funding from the Joburg City government and the Johannesburg Development Agency to do a major head renovation. Nearly 100 of the heads have been replaced and/or refurbished, and they look positively glorious. The New Newtown Heads Feast your […]

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Somerset House, Fox Street entrance

JoburgPlaces and the Restoration of Somerset House

About three years ago, I was roaming around downtown Joburg on a drizzly Sunday afternoon with some photographer friends. As we walked along Fox Street near the corner of Rissik Street, just behind Gandhi Square, we noticed an open doorway and walked inside. I didn’t know it then but this doorway led to Somerset House. I had no idea what I was looking at but I could tell this building was special. My eyes went immediately to the dazzling black-and-white checkered floor and the bright green tiles along the walls. I looked up; the building was three stories tall and the two stories above were painted in various shades of red and blue, with ornate wood and iron railings lining the balconies overlooking the atrium. I now know the vaulted ceiling is made of glass, but the ceiling was covered in metal sheeting back then so I couldn’t see it. One end of the building was closed off so I didn’t know Somerset House was actually an arcade, with one side opening onto Fox Street and the other onto historic Gandhi Square. We didn’t stay in the building for long. We weren’t really supposed to be there, and my friends […]

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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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