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south africa

Bapsfontein Hotel neon sign

#Gauteng52, Week 28: Honky-Tonkin’ at the Bapsfontein Hotel

Welcome to Week 28 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Bapsfontein Hotel. This may surprise those who know only the current, city-girl version of me. But I am no stranger to honky-tonk. I’m American and I grew up more or less in the country, listening to my dad play Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, and Johnny Cash on the car stereo as he drove me to softball practice in his pickup truck. So when I started spotting pictures on Facebook of the Bapsfontein Hotel — a country-western bar about an hour northeast of Joburg with the greatest neon sign I’ve ever seen — I knew I had to go. The Bapsfontein Hotel’s old-school neon sign. The Story of the Bapsfontein Hotel I can’t dig up much history about Bapsfontein or the Bapsfontein Hotel. Everything I know was gleaned from snatched conversations with the new owners (yelled over the noise of the music) on the day I was there. Bapsfontein is a tiny town — too far from Joburg to be a city suburb, too close to be properly […]

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Rosto in Linden - outside at night

Quickie Restaurant Review: Rosto in Linden

Linden, a quirky Jozi suburb not far from Melville, has always been one of my favorite dining spots in town. The Cheese Shop is there, as is Hashi. There are at least five great Linden restaurants that I’ve eaten at but never gotten around to blogging about, and at least five more that I’ve heard great things about but haven’t eaten at yet. So when I received an invite to have dinner at Rosto, I jumped at the opportunity to expand my Linden repertoire. Rosto, which is right in the middle of Linden’s 7th Street restaurant row. Rosto is new — less than a year old — and specializes in Italian-inspired roasted chicken and street food. [Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci invented the automated spit-roaster more than 500 years ago? I didn’t, until my meal at Rosto.] This is a Quickie Restaurant Review so I’ll be quick. What I liked about Rosto: 1) The decor. The restaurant is bright and cheerful and there is enough light to read the menu at night. Inside Rosto. 2) The staff. The people working at Rosto are nice, responsive, and knowledgeable about the menu, which is important because the menu is extensive […]

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Face sculptures at Anton Smit Sculpture Park

#Gauteng52, Week 27: Anton Smit Sculpture Park

Welcome to Week 27 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Anton Smit Sculpture Park in Bronkhorstspruit. I drove slowly up the R25, careful not to miss the turn that would take us to the Anton Smit Sculpture Park. I crested a rise and realized I needn’t have worried. The turn is hard to miss. The road toward the Anton Smit Sculpture Park in Bronkhorstspruit. Anton Smit is a well known South African sculptor. I’ve seen his work all over the country, most recently at the Delaire Graff Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. But Smit’s largest collection is at his home in Bronkhorstspruit, about 90 minutes northeast of Joburg, where he has a sculpture park and a quirky restaurant/café. Giant faces, turned toward the setting sun, welcome us to the sculpture park. I’m struggling to find words to describe the Anton Smit Sculpture Park. Whimsical comes to mind, but I think surreal is better. There’s something about this mystical yet well-branded grassy hilltop, located inside a luxury housing development that doesn’t belong in the middle of South African nowhere, dotted with […]

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Cheetah family feeding

Five Cheetahs and an Aardvark

We tiptoed along as the sun lowered behind us. The wind howled. Tendai pointed ahead and we could just make out the body of a large animal with three small, spotted heads bobbing around it. The body, we would later learn, was a kudu carcass. The spotted heads belonged to a hoard of little cheetahs. Warning: Dead carcass imagery combined with extreme cheetah cuteness below. Three cheetah cubs — wait, make that four — hover around the kudu that their mother (lounging in the background) killed.  We crept to within about ten meters of the cubs and I raised my camera to my eye, shooting madly. There were four cubs total. Their mom, wearing a radio collar, reclined under a thorn bush. Tendai kept moving closer. Ray and I exchanged glances. Surely it can’t be safe for humans to walk within a few feet of a family of wild cheetahs eating a fresh kill? But Tendai beckoned and he seemed to know what he was doing. Soon we were close enough to hear the cubs purring as they tore into the kudu’s flesh. The cubs occasionally glanced our way between bites. The mom ignored us. Get ready for lots more cheetah pictures. Mom, whose name […]

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Retro Rabbit antique shop in Pretoria

#Gauteng52, Week 26: Pretoria’s Quirky Antique Route 6

Welcome to Week 26 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Antique Route 6 in Pretoria. South Africa has a tumultuous past and a tumultuous present. The only thing that’s consistent here is change. South Africans tend to be constantly on the move, coming and going, accumulating and leaving behind trails of possessions that must be bought and sold, and bought and sold again. This state of flux leads to many interesting cultural phenomena, one of which is an abundance of antique shops. Antique shops are everywhere in South Africa but in certain places they concentrate together in clumps. Johannesburg’s Long Street is one example. Pretoria’s Antique Route 6 is another. The Retro Rabbit Antique Shop in Pretoria North. Antique Route 6 is a bunch of antique shops in Pretoria North, not far from the Hatfield Gautrain station, clustered mainly around Pierneef Street and Soutpansberg Road. The route has its own online map, at www.antiqueroute6pretoria.co.za. I have no idea why this route is called Antique Route 6. Are there another five antique routes somewhere? If anyone knows the answer I’d love […]

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Video Town in La Rochelle

#JoziWalks: Exploring Johannesburg’s Forgotten Frontiers

Last weekend the Johannesburg Development Agency sponsored 13 walking tours all over the city as part of an initiative called #JoziWalks. The weekend was meant to encourage Joburgers to get out of their cars and engage with urban communities in ways they might not do otherwise. Kids in the Soweto suburb of Noordgesig.  #JoziWalks was an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve been on many walking tours in Johannesburg but #JoziWalks offered tours in places I’d never been, and the tours were free. The only bad part was most of the tours happened concurrently and I had to make agonizing choices over which ones to participate in. I eventually settled on a Saturday morning tour of La Rochelle, a suburb in the south of Joburg known for its Portuguese culture, and a Sunday tour of Noordgesig, a suburb on the edge of Soweto that played a big role in the anti-apartheid struggle. #JoziWalks La Rochelle Our tour of La Rochelle was led by Judith Muindisi of Tsica Heritage Consultants and Calvin Montgomery of the Southern Suburbs Heritage Society. La Rochelle, just south of the city center, is best known for Parreirinha, Joburg’s most famous Portuguese restaurant. I myself had only been to […]

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Chef Martin holding a rainbow cake at Café Patisse

#Gauteng52, Week 25: Scrumptious Pastries at Café Patisse

Welcome to Week 25 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Café Patisse in Emmarentia. I’ve been hitting the bakeries hard in this #Gauteng52 series. Out of 25 posts so far (browse them all here), at least five are about bakeries or bakery-like dining establishments. I wasn’t planning to add another so soon. Then I tagged along on a visit to Café Patisse and changed my mind. A woman gazes through the window of Café Patisse’s new location on Komatie Street in Emmarentia. I don’t blame you, lady. Everything in there looks delicious. Here’s what she was gazing at. Café Patisse, which belongs to South African pastry chef Martin Ferreira, recently moved from the industrial neighborhood of Wynberg (near Sandton) to the inner suburb of Emmarentia. I had never heard of it before but according to Marie-Lais, who tipped me off about Café Patisse, Martin has had a pastry-loving cult following in Johannesburg for a while and is also a supplier for hotels and other restaurants. Martin is best known for his eclairs but he also produces spectacular cakes and other pastries. Inside […]

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Neck and neck at Turffontein Racecourse

#Gauteng52, Week 24: Turffontein Race Course

Welcome to Week 24 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Turffontein Racecourse in southern Johannesburg. My home town, Baltimore, is a horse-racing town. The Preakness, one of the three jewels in the Triple Crown, happens every year at Baltimore’s Pimlico Racecourse. Somehow I never went. I attended a few steeplechase-type races in rural Virginia, but never made it to a legit city racetrack while living in America. Finally, two weeks ago, I had a real day at the races at Joburg’s Turffontein Racecourse. Welcome to Turffontein, which means “turf fountain” in Afrikaans. Turffontein is ancient by Joburg standards — founded in 1887 (just a year after the city itself) by the Johannesburg Turf Club. I definitely felt the history there and loved the way the Joburg skyline looms behind the racetrack. A view of the city behind Smart Mart (#5), who was warming up before his race. I bet on Smart Mart because I liked his name. I learned three important things at Turffontein: 1) Photographing horse-racing is hard. 2) Betting on horse-racing (and winning) is even harder. 3) Riding a […]

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Swazi Werner with his books at the Zebra Inn

Remembering Swazi Werner of the Zebra Inn

I just published a blog post and I don’t normally do multiple posts in a day. But I just heard the news about Swazi Werner, owner of the Zebra Inn, who died last night. Swazi in his basement library in 2014. My hard-drinking days are long gone and I generally hate going to bars. But the Zebra Inn, which you can read about in this article I wrote for Sawubona a couple of years ago, is an exception to that rule. The Zebra Inn is the most iconic bar in Joburg and I’ve always loved going there. Swazi was Joburg’s most iconic bar owner. Last night there was an armed robbery at the Zebra Inn. I know very few details. But Swazi and his friend Johann Botha, a prominent journalist and television presenter, were shot and killed. There are a few short articles floating around about the murders, but the ones I’ve seen so far have only made a fleeting mention of “the owner” of the bar without identifying Swazi. Perhaps this is because Swazi wasn’t his real name. Swazi once explained to me that his first name is Werner (he was originally from Austria), but he used to live in Swaziland and […]

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Cooking chicken at Food Junxion

#Gauteng52, Week 23: Food Junxion

Welcome to Week 23 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Food Junxion, a take-away restaurant in downtown Johannesburg. While visiting Master Mansions last week, I noticed a delicious smell emanating from a street-level restaurant in the building next door. There was a man in the window of the restaurant, cooking chicken over a coal-fired grill, painting the chicken bright red using a thick brush. The restaurant’s name was Food Junxion. On a whim, Gail and I decided to eat lunch there. Grilling bright red chicken. I’m sure Food Junxion has a great story, but I don’t know it. It didn’t occur to me until later that I might want to blog about Food Junxion — at the time my mind was swimming with romantic stories of hat factories and secret Hindu temples. So I didn’t ask any questions or take a ton of photos during our meal. But here’s what I can tell you: 1) Food Junxion is cheap: R30 ($2.30) for a platter of chicken, roti (Indian bread), chips (fries), and salad (a small pile of iceberg lettuce). Next time I’ll skip the salad and substitute […]

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Outside Master Mansions

A Magical Visit to Master Mansions

A couple of weeks ago I attended the book launch for Master Mansions. Master Mansions is the eighth in a ten-book series called “Wake Up, This is Joburg”: written by Tanya Zack, photographed by Mark Lewis, and published by Fourthwall Books. My precious copy of Master Mansions. Just a side note about the “Wake Up This is Joburg” books: If you attend the launch of one of the books, then buy the book and impatiently rip it out of the plastic right away, please do not do so while eating canapés. You’ll risk putting greasy fingerprints on the delicate, un-laminated cover of the book. (I photoshopped my fingerprint out of the picture above.) The “Wake Up This is Joburg” series is fantastic. I learned about it late, after the first five books had already sold out, so I only have numbers six, seven, and eight. (Nine and ten haven’t been released yet.) The narrative in these books — which are more like fancy pamphlets, covered with thick, matte paper and bound with staples — is exceptional and the photography is inspiring. The short stories are required reading for anyone who appreciates Joburg’s beautiful oddity. At the book launch my friend Gail approached Harshad Bhikha Master, one […]

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Love Wine in Stellenbosch

I Drank Stellenbosch

My last Stellenblog post was about all the non-drinking things to do in Stellenbosch. I wrote that post for a couple of reasons: 1) I thought it would be useful for non-drinkers visiting Stellenbosch; and 2) I figured it would ease my conscience to write a post about non-drinking Stellenbosch activities before writing this post, which will be all about the delicious wine and other alcohol I drank in Stellenbosch. A beautiful wall of wine at Love Wine Studio in downtown Stellenbosch. A glass of white from Lanzerac. I don’t have a sophisticated wine palette; I’m one of those “I like this/I don’t like that” kind of wine people. (Usually I like it.) But there’s one thing I do know: South African wine is damn good and affordable. If you like wine and want to take a wine-oriented vacation, there is no better place in the world to go than Stellenbosch. Things I Learned About Wine in Stellenbosch I drank a lot of different wine in Stellenbosch, and as I said my palette isn’t sophisticated. I won’t wax on for hours about the different varietals I tasted and what their bouquets were. But there are a couple of trends I’d […]

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