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johannesburg

Mishack Rapalalani in his studio

Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge: An Art-Lover’s Paradise

I love Limpopo and I also love African craft art. So when I went to Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge — a lodge outside Louis Trichardt in far northern Limpopo that promotes the work of Venda and Tsonga artists — I was in heaven. Madi a Thavha started 15 years ago when Dutch immigrants Marcelle Bosch and Aart van Soest decided they wanted to open a lodge in northern Limpopo. There was very little tourism development in this area and Marcelle and Aart had a particular interest in this region’s artists and artisans — sculptors, potters, beaders, textile-makers, etc. — as the Venda and Tsonga cultures have very strong and unique artistic traditions. (Read more about the art from this region in my 2016 post about the Ribola Art Route.) Marcelle and Aart bought an old farm, about 10 kilometers west of the town of Louis Trichardt, and set about turning it into a lodge. They named the lodge Madi a Thavha, which means “water from the mountain” in Venda, because the farm’s water comes from natural springs that flow down the mountain. Today, this lodge is basically paradise. I don’t think my photos properly convey the sense of tranquillity […]

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Trixie the Melville Kitten in a tree

From the Melville Cat: The Midget Fluff Ball Menace Turns One

From the Melville Cat: Forgive me friends, as it has been many months since my last update. I’ve been busy. For a while I was spending most of my time outdoors in an effort to escape the insufferable badgering of the Trixie, the Midget Fluff Ball Menace. She has grown larger and her harassment progressively more tiresome. I was away so often, Heather frequently worried about me. This was by design, of course. In one instance I stayed away for two days and two nights, and when I returned Heather was just about to publish a blog post announcing my disappearance. She welcomed me with tears in her eyes, held me tightly, and fed me a full packet of moist kibble. Mission accomplished. Then winter came, temperatures dropped, and I grew bored with sleeping outdoors. I decided to swallow my pride and start sleeping in Heather’s bed again, despite the Menace’s constant presence there. Fortunately the Menace has enough respect to remain at the foot of the bed and yield to me my rightful place beside Heather. The Fluff Ball’s Birthday Heather asked me to write a post this week because the Midget Fluff Ball Menace is now one year […]

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20 Pictures From Walk the Talk 2019

I’d never really considered signing up for MTN Walk the Talk with 702. Even though I knew this is one of the most iconic events in Johannesburg with 55,000 participants, and even though lots of people told me it’s great, and even though the walk starts and ends around the corner from where I live, and even though I’m awakened at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday (every single year) by the noise from Walk the Talk anyway, it somehow never occurred to me to participate myself. I didn’t get it, to be honest. I mean, Walk the Talk doesn’t involve running or cycling (not that I do much of those things either) or any real sport. It’s walking. Who wants to get out of bed at 6:00 a.m. in the middle of winter on a Sunday to just…walk around? But this year Walk the Talk invited me to be part of a public awareness campaign (see my previous post on the topic) and to participate in the walk. It was a special year for Walk the Talk: Since South Africa is celebrating 25 years of democracy in 2019, there was a 25-kilometer route in addition to the usual 15-, 8-, […]

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Owner Christophe at Ophelia in Emmarentia

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: Ophelia in Emmarentia

This post, featuring Ophelia Café, is the ninth in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  Making a great coffee shop is about more than just serving great coffee. In the global indie coffee culture of 2019, coffee shops must also have style. They must be bright and Instagrammable, in a cool but unlikely location, with pretty tableware and light fixtures. The food must be good. The servers must be attentive and friendly, preferably with tattoos and cool but effortless-looking hairstyles. The furniture must be attractive and comfortable but not too comfortable, as customers need to stay awake as they type away at their MacBooks. Ophelia Café in Emmarentia checks all these boxes. Ophelia opened a couple of months ago in this funny, retro little shopping center/apartment cluster at the corner of 5th Avenue and Thomas Bowler Street (just behind the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens) in Emmarentia. I go past this center all the time — it’s a four-minute drive from Melville — and have been waiting for years for something cool to open there. (The fantastic Craft Beer Library, which used to be up the road in Linden, is now at the back of this same center.) I had […]

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The Rand Club, Reinvented

I last blogged about the Rand Club — one of the oldest, most historic, most colonial buildings in Joburg, founded by Cecil John Rhodes — more than six years ago. I just reread that post — titled The Rand Club: It’s Old — and (as with many of my old blog posts) felt a little ashamed of it. Although it’s informative and historically accurate, I was subtly making fun of my visit to the Rand Club that night. I implied the club was stodgy and uptight and said I’d probably never consider becoming a member myself. Last week I went past the Rand Club to deliver a copy of my book to one of its members. What I initially intended to be a 10-minute stop turned into an entire afternoon; I literally could not bring myself to leave. I realized a lot has changed at this place over the past six years and it’s definitely time for a new blog post. The Rand Club is still old and it always will be. (I won’t repeat the whole checkered history here — see my previous post for that.) But it’s also changing with the times. And after a brief closure in […]

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Ba-Pita: A New (Old) Restaurant in Melville

Ba-Pita opened at the end of last year in Melville, at the top of 7th Street where the old Golf Tea Room used to be. A few weeks after it opened, a great article on Ba-Pita’s interesting origin story appeared on New Frame. I shared the article on my Facebook page and it got so much traffic that it somehow felt redundant to write a post of my own. Now that a few months have passed, I can’t let another day go by before getting Ba-Pita onto my blog. I went there for lunch again today — the food tastes so damn good and the vibe of the restaurant is so damn nice. So here’s an abridged version. (Read the New Frame article above for more detail.) To cut a 30-year-long story short: Ba-Pita opened in 1986 in Yeoville, which — as I’ve been told — had a similar kind of hippy-ish/hipster-ish vibe to what Melville has today. The Middle-Eastern-style restaurant became a legendary eating and drinking hangout for Yeoville’s bohemians. Times changed, the city changed, and Ba-Pita closed its Yeoville doors in the late 1990s. In 2018, the eatery re-opened in Melville under the same ownership. Lunch at Ba-Pita […]

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Inside Mandela House, a museum on Vilakazi Street in Soweto

A Visit to Mandela House on Vilakazi Street

Sometimes in my quest to discover all of Joburg’s hidden places, I miss out on the un-hidden ones. Such is the case with Mandela House, the Mandela family’s former home on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. It’s probably one of the top five tourist sites in Johannesburg and not only had I never blogged about the house before this, I’d never even visited. Nelson Mandela and his family lived on Vilakazi Street between the 1940s and the 1990s. The house is now a museum run by the Soweto Heritage Trust. It’s a small, one-story red brick house and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, other than the fancy fence around the property and the many photos and plaques covering the walls inside. Vilakazi Street is hugely popular with foreign tourists and student groups and it’s always choked with buses and souvenir salesmen. I’d also heard (although I can’t actually remember from who) that the house isn’t all that interesting. I guess that’s why I didn’t go for so long. But I finally wandered in earlier this month and realized I’d been completely wrong. The beauty of this house lies in its simplicity and I think it’s a stunning tourist destination. I […]

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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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Fussy Vegan restaurant in Blairgowrie

The Hidden Vegan Restaurant in a Blairgowrie Petrol Station

I’m not a vegetarian and definitely not a vegan. While I totally recognize the benefits of a plant-based diet, both for myself and the planet, I love the occasional burger just a little too much to make that leap. (Don’t even get me started on cheese.) That said, I do limit my meat consumption at home and I often order vegetarian dishes in restaurants. And I empathize with the plight of vegetarians and vegans in South Africa, a country full of rabid meat-eaters. So when I heard — twice in the same week — about a mysterious takeaway restaurant called the Fussy Vegan hidden at a Caltex garage in Blairgowrie, I headed right over. An Unfussy Lunch From the Fussy Vegan I love everything about the Fussy Vegan. I love the name, which is evocative and easy to remember. I love that the Fussy Vegan is hidden in plain sight, sandwiched between a petrol station convenience store and a car wash. I love the branding and the friendly staff and the interesting selection of products, almost all locally sourced. Most importantly, I love the taste of the food. I showed up around 12:30 on a Thursday afternoon and the shop […]

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Gin cocktail from Tonic

Five Fantastic Jozi Cocktail Bars

There’s a cocktail revolution happening in Joburg. New cocktail bars seem to be opening on a monthly basis in this town. By “cocktail bar”, I do not mean a smokey pickup joint with a disco ball serving florescent cosmos made by a bartender with slicked-back hair and a shiny shirt. (For some reason this was my cocktail bar stereotype until recently.) I’m talking about classy, cool, thoughtfully designed establishments run by people who are as much artists and chefs as they are bartenders. There’s not a shiny shirt to be found, and the cocktails these bartenders concoct are not of the two-for-one variety. Each drink is a carefully crafted work of art meant to be savoured slowly, like a French meal. Don’t expect to order more than one or two. So, in a continuation of my long-running Jozi Top Fives series, here are my five classy Jozi cocktail bar picks. 1) Mix Mix, in Rosebank’s Keyes Art Mile, is the bar I visited most recently so I’ll write about it first. Mix is inside Mesh, which is a fancy members-only club during the day but open to the public on evenings and weekends. Confusing, I know, but don’t let this […]

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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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