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photography

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. Outside Mallies Spice Works on Carr Street in Newtown. 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. 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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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. What I saw when I first walked into Somerset House, sometime in 2015. The Fox Street entrance is behind me. The building’s staircase is somewhere behind those metal grates. 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 […]

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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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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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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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