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photography

Inside the Buddhist Centre in Fietas

Meditating at the Buddhist Centre in Fietas

I’ve been in the U.S. for the past three weeks dealing with very frustrating South African visa problems. I’ve been ridiculously stressed. Then yesterday, in the middle of my most recent meltdown, I remembered my recent visit to the Lam Rim Buddhist Centre and instantly felt calmer. The Lam Rim Buddhist Centre is in Fietas (also known as Vrededorp) — a historically non-white suburb in Joburg that experienced forced removals and virtual destruction during apartheid. The building used to be an Afrikaans Dutch Reformed church. It’s not a place where one would expect to find an octagonal-shaped shrine to Buddha painted in every color of the rainbow. But there it is. This is a rough neighborhood and the centre backs up to an informal settlement. But it’s so peaceful there, inside and out. The garden is simple but pretty and there’s a little koppie, or hill, behind the building where the residents of the centre go to have tea. Marie-Lais and I visited on a Thursday evening and met Shayna, who lives at the centre, and Neil, who leads meditation classes there each Thursday at 7:00 p.m. I mostly took photos but tried to meditate a little between shots. I’d like […]

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Fish from Kafe Noir

November Restaurant of the Month: Kafe Noir

In the very heart of downtown Joburg, on a block no one would expect, is a magical corner of African style. Papy Nakuw, acclaimed Congolose-South-African founder of Urban Zulu, has his fashion design business there, as well as a hip backpackers and a hair salon. But this post is about the culinary magic at the corner of Anderson and Van Brandis Streets. The culinary magic of Kafe Noir. Papy, the King of Cool, at Kafe Noir. Kafe Noir is the restaurant attached to Urban Backpackers. It’s been there for a couple of years but up until recently it was more of a small coffee shop; Papy recently expanded the space and it’s now a full-on restaurant. The entrance to Kafe Noir.  Cool people hanging out in Kafe Noir. The menu at Kafe Noir looks quite basic at first — black type on white laminated paper, mostly sandwiches and burgers with a few South African dishes mixed in. But look again. Find the listing for carapau, a grilled Portuguese mackerel, and order it. Don’t ask questions, just do it. Grilled carapau with chips (fries) and salad. This fish, prepared by South African chef Bokang Legele and costing only a few dollars, is […]

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Elevate rooftop bar

Elevate at the Reef Hotel: Joburg’s Secret Rooftop Bar

I have long bemoaned the fact that although Joburg has tons of downtown rooftops with incredible views of the city skyline, hardly any of them are open to the public. The rooftop at the Parktonian Hotel, for example, is open only to hotel guests, and Randlords is only open for events The Elevate Rooftop Venue, at the top of the 16-floor Reef Hotel, used to be the same — available only for guests of the hotel or for various events at varying times. Not anymore though: Anyone can visit the Elevate bar between 3:00 p.m. and midnight, seven days a week. The view is spectacular. Looking out over Anderson Street, Gandhi Square and beyond from the Elevate rooftop bar. The Reef Hotel on Anderson Street. This hotel is also a bit of a best kept secret — one of very few nice, affordable, full-service hotels in the CBD, on a safe, quiet street. Sundowners on the Elevate Rooftop Elevate’s decor is a bit night-clubby for my taste — all black marble and faux leather furniture — and sometimes the music is a little loud. (I know, I am making myself sound 1000 years old.) But none of this matters. There’s […]

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Transwerke building in Hillbrow

Transwerke: Artists Bring a Crumbling Building to Life

In Hillbrow, at the corner of Joubert and Sam Hancock Streets, is a striking Art Deco building with a strange, ominous-sounding name: Transwerke. Transwerke, and the many buildings like it in Joburg, are a perfect illustration of this city’s strange, fascinating, maddening contradictions. Outside the building appears dilapidated and forlorn. It smells like pee. But Transwerke is also majestic, unlike any building I’ve seen before. It has graceful, oval-shaped balconies jutting out in all directions. Google doesn’t seem to know what “Transwerke” means and no one in the building could tell me either. Do you know?  An interior courtyard. Behind the building. Transwerke was designed in 1939 by acclaimed architect Gordon Leith. Back then it was the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital — a place where women gave birth and also a residence for midwives. The hospital sits just below the Old Fort Prison, now Constitution Hill. Under apartheid, the midwives living at Transwerke were sent to deliver babies in the women’s prison. The building closed in 1983 and Transwerke sat vacant. In September 2017, Transwerke received a “black plaque” from the Gauteng Heritage Action Group. Black plaques are meant to shame heritage building owners into stopping rampant decay in buildings […]

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View of Little Addis from Medical Arts building

Tips for Visiting Joburg’s Little Addis

I recently visited “Little Addis”, the Ethiopian neighborhood in downtown Joburg. Little Addis is a block of old office buildings on Rahima Moosa Street (formerly Jeppe Street) between Troye and Delvers Streets, where there are a ton of Ethiopian shops and restaurants. I hadn’t been to Little Addis for a while (read about my trips there in 2013 and 2011). During this visit I was reminded of: a) how fascinating the neighborhood is; and b) how daunting it can be to get there. It’s chaotic and confusing and a little scary, especially because I went with one other woman and not with a big group, like before. But it’s totally worth the trouble, especially if you like Ethiopian food and a bit of adventure. So I thought I’d compile some tips. Looking down on Rahima Moosa Street (many people still call it Jeppe Street) in Little Addis. Note the sign on the left for “GetaMadiba Trading Centre”. Madiba was Nelson Mandela’s nickname and is also a slang term for the South African 100-rand note. View of the Ethiopian shops from the Bersufakad restaurant on the first floor balcony of the Medical Arts Building, a.k.a the Majesty Building. How to Visit Little […]

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Car cruising on Rock Raceway in Brakpan

This Is the East: Rock Raceway in Brakpan

Second in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. Have you ever gone to a place where you feel like an alien, even though you’re surrounded by fellow human beings? This is how Ang and I felt at the Rock Raceway. We journeyed out to the Rock, which is in the East Rand town of Brakpan, to watch the SA National Hot Rod Championships. Ang was attending the race as part of a journalism project and I tagged along to take photos. Neither of us are “car people” and we’d never attended an auto-racing event before. I’ve done a lot of unusual things around Joburg but this felt more unusual than average. Brakpan feels like a remote, foreign place to me. It’s far from downtown Joburg in an area my boyfriend (who comes from the East Rand) calls “Deep East”. A sign welcomes fans to the Rock Raceway. The raceway is located on a barren, scrubby piece of land with nothing much around it. Nearly everyone attending the event was Afrikaans; I hardly heard a word of English, which made me feel like more of a foreigner than usual. Cars cruising around […]

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Outside Mallies Spice Works

Mallies Spice Works: The Place to Buy Spices in Joburg

Sometimes I buy spices, thinking the fragrant, colorful little packets might motivate me to cook something. Unfortunately that rarely happens and the spices get old and sticky and I wind up throwing them away unused. For this reason I rarely shop for spices anymore, even though South Africa — with its cacophonous mix of eastern and western cultures and cuisines — is a great place to do so. But if I did shop for spices, I would do so at Mallies Spice Works. I went to Mallies with Marie-Lais to take photos for a column in the Citizen newspaper. I’d heard there was a famous spice factory in Newtown but I never would have found it without Google Maps; Mallies is in an unassuming location, close to the highway and a notorious squatter camp. As we parked outside, I felt suspicious that we were in the right place. But as often happens in Joburg, we walked inside and discovered an alternate universe. Outside Mallies Spice Works on Carr Street in Newtown. Mallies’ crazy interior. Spices Galore at Mallies We went to Mallies in the middle of the day on a Tuesday and it was packed with both customers and employees. Everyone […]

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Belgian waffle in Amsterdam

My 15 Favorite Photos of Amsterdam

I spent three days in Amsterdam in August as part of my #2SummersEuropeanTrip. I have so many pretty pictures of the visit and if I don’t share them now I may never do it. So without further delay, here they are. My Amsterdam photos organized themselves into a series of seven categories. Amsterdam Photo Category #1: Buildings Amsterdam has crazy architecture — lots of super tall, skinny, very old row-houses, some of which lean at seemingly precarious angles. Amsterdam row-houses at night. I think this is a museum of some sort. Note how it lists to the right. The Museum of Our Lord in the Attic — an entire Catholic Church hiding inside one of Amsterdam’s tall, ancient row-houses. Highy recommended. Photo Category #2: Cyclists Bicycles are the main mode of transport in Amsterdam. I took many photos like this. Photo Category #3: Food and Drink Amsterdam isn’t known as a foodie city, but I beg to differ. Fresh herring with raw onions and pickles. You can buy this at little stands all over the city. I did not expect to like it but I did. A Surinamese restaurant on the east side of Amsterdam, where I bought a takeaway […]

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Outside Tilt Coffee in Melville

My Favorite Jozi Coffeeshops: Tilt Coffee in Melville

This post, featuring Tilt Coffee, is the sixth in an occasional series about my favorite new coffeeshops in Joburg.  I’ve lived in Melville for eight years and everyone knows I believe Melville is the best place to live in Johannesburg. Melville has pretty much everything and it’s all within walking distance: restaurants of every genre, bars, a grocery store, a park, a doctor’s office, a hardware store, art galleries, bakeries, hair salons, etc. But until recently Melville was missing one important thing: A coffeeshop. Tilt Coffee has just filled that gap. Tilt Coffee on 4th Avenue in Melville. A Melville Coffeeshop (not a shop selling coffee) Other Melvillians might argue this point, as Melville has always had lots of shops selling coffee. But a shop selling coffee is not necessarily a coffeeshop — at least not to me. When I say “coffeeshop”, I’m talking about a place that prioritizes coffee above all other offerings. I’m talking about a place where you can sit down and order if you want, but which also has a counter you can easily walk up to for a takeaway coffee without bumping into half a dozen busy servers. I’m talking about a place with a handsome barista, serving […]

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Blog course banner

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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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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