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travel

The Palace at Sun City

Adventures in North West Province: 24 Hours at Sun City

Last month I spent a weekend in Groot Marico, a whacky hippie town in North West Province. Soon after booking the Groot Marico trip, I received an invitation to spend the night at Sun City during the same week. I was really excited. I’d never been to Sun City — which is like a South African Vegas — and had been awaiting an opportunity for years. Since Groot Marico and Sun City are both in North West, I decided to extend my stay in Groot Marico for a day so I could go straight from there to Sun City. If you’ve been to both Groot Marico and Sun City, you’ll appreciate the humor in this arrangement. Groot Marico and Sun City are in the same province but they might as well exist in two different dimensions. “The Palace of the Lost City” at Sun City. I was invited to Sun City to participate in the festivities leading up to the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the biggest pro golf tournament in South Africa. I attended the Nedbank Golf Challenge Welcome Dinner, as well as an event called the Style Affair — a ladies’ morning in which women were invited to lounge around […]

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Groot Marico Visitors Centre

Adventures in North West Province: Whacky Groot Marico

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Groot Marico, on a writing retreat with three friends. Welkom (Welcome) to Groot Marico. Groot Marico, a funky town in North West Province, is best known for its association with Herman Charles Bosman. Bosman was an acclaimed South African author who lived in Groot Marico in the 1920s and wrote a few collections of short stories based on the town. A bust of Herman Charles Bosman at the Groot Marico Visitors’ Centre. I fully intended to read some Bosman short stories before writing this post. But alas, it hasn’t happened. Bosman, who was like the Edgar Allen Poe of South Africa, is all over Groot Marico. Everyone waxes lyrical about him and there was even a Bosman literary festival in Groot Marico the week before we were there. Yet I recently learned Bosman only lived in Groot Marico for a few months, when he worked as a village teacher there for one semester in 1926. Bosman’s time as a teacher in Groot Marico was cut short because he went home to Joburg for winter break and murdered his stepbrother. So instead of going back to Groot Marico, he went to Pretoria […]

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Colorful handbags at Via La Moda

#Gauteng52, Week 47: Joburg’s Best Handbags (and there’s a sale)

Welcome to Week 47 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Via La Moda, a workshop producing luxury handbags and other leather goods in Industria. I can’t believe I named this post “Joburg’s Best Handbags” because in America we call them purses, not handbags. But during my years in South Africa I’ve gradually adopted “handbag” over “purse” (much in the same way I’ve adopted “petrol” over “gas”), because it just sounds cooler and more sophisticated. And when it comes to handbags, no one is cooler or more sophisticated than Via La Moda. Finely crafted handbags (not purses), made of ostrich leather and python skin, await completion in the Via La Moda workshop. Before I get into this, I should mention Via La Moda is holding its big annual sale next week, from 30 November to 2 December. (Not on Black Friday, thank goodness. Black Friday is the devil.) I’m not a big shopper and usually don’t care about sales but I think this one is worth mentioning. These bags are exquisite and not cheap (like, really not cheap at all). If […]

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Reclaim the Wilds This Sunday

In April 2016 I published a blog post about the Wilds, a park near downtown Joburg. That post felt kind of controversial at the time because most Joburgers considered the Wilds to be a horribly dangerous place where no rational person would ever go. I visited the Wilds back then with my artist friend James Delaney, who lives next to the park and had recently started venturing in with his dog, Pablo. James discovered that despite its reputation, the Wilds really wasn’t dangerous after all. Not only was the Wilds not dangerous, James discovered, it was also one of the loveliest places in Johannesburg. James sits on a newly painted park bench in the Wilds. Pablo, King of the Wilds. Fast forward a year-and-a-half. James has made it his personal mission to transform the Wilds into a well used public space and he is succeeding. Over the last couple of years James has organized crews of volunteers to pull weeds, clear underbrush, and paint park benches. He hung bird feeders on the periphery of the park to attract attention, encouraged his friends to visit, and convinced the security guards in his apartment building to use the Wilds as a short […]

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Olatunji Sanusi, artist at August House

#Gauteng52, Week 46: Open Studios at August House

Welcome to Week 46 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit August House, a collection of artists’ studios and residences in downtown Johannesburg. August House is a building full of artists. I went last Sunday during one of the Open Studio events the building holds a few times a year. I ran into an artist friend who has a studio there (it seems nearly every artist I know either lives in August House, has studio space in August House, and/or is affiliated with August House in some way) and he was shocked when I told him it was my first time visiting. I now realize why. August House, a 1940s-era Art Deco building on End Street. The building housed light industry before it became an artists’ residence. Although I had never heard of August House until a year or two ago, the building has been an icon of the Joburg art world since artists began living and working there in 2006. There’s been lots of intrigue surrounding the building since then, with rumors of it being sold to property developers for low-cost […]

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Jacob Zuma arrest memorial

Adventures in North West Province: The Jacob Zuma Site of Arrest

Last week I had some adventures in North West Province (one of South Africa’s lesser known provinces). It was a fascinating trip on many levels. I can’t possibly recount all my North West adventures in a single post, so I’m starting with the adventure that I think will garner the most excitement among my South African readers: a visit to the President Jacob Zuma Site of Arrest. Site of Arrest. I’ll preface this narrative by saying I generally avoid blogging about South African politics, especially President Zuma. The last time I blogged about Zuma, during “The Spear” controversy at the Goodman Gallery, the post garnered quite a bit of strenuous debate. I’m really not looking to get into any political debates this time. But I just happened to find myself at the brand-new Zuma Site of Arrest and the experience was too good not to blog about. For those of you who don’t know Jacob Zuma: He is the third president of South Africa, currently serving the ninth year of his ten-year, two-term presidency. I’m not going out on a limb when I say Zuma is…controversial. In many ways Jacob Zuma is the Donald Trump of South Africa. I’m sure […]

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Church in Cullinan

#Gauteng52, Week 44: 9 Things to Do in Quirky Cullinan

Welcome to Week 44 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Cullinan, a historic diamond-mining town northeast of Pretoria. Cullinan is a classic day trip destination. It’s a quaint little town about an hour-and-a-half from Joburg (significantly less from Pretoria) with just about enough to see and do in a day — maybe two days for hardcore history buffs. Marie-Lais and I were there from about 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and experienced quite a lot. Train tracks in Cullinan. Diamonds are Cullinan’s claim to fame: Sir Thomas Cullinan discovered diamonds there in 1898 and later founded the Premier Diamond Mine. In 1905, Frederick George Stanley Wells found the 3100-carat Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond in the world. The Cullinan Diamond went on to become part of the British Crown Jewels. I’m not particularly interested in diamonds, nor is Marie-Lais. So we didn’t do the diamond mine tour, which I think is the main thing most tourists go to Cullinan for. I was, however, interested to learn that the diamond mines in Cullinan are still active and all the land in the […]

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donuts at Kramerville Bakery

A Secret Bakery in Kramerville

UPDATE (February 2018): The bad news is, Kramerville Bakery has closed (sad face). The good news is, Eloise and Alex are opening a new restaurant in Illovo, scheduled to open next month. Follow their Facebook page for more information. The Kramerville Bakery is hard to explain. As is Kramerville itself. Despite the small-town-sounding name, Kramerville is a street full of furniture showrooms and interior design warehouses in an industrial area just off the M1 highway north of Sandton. A few years ago, a ragtag bunch of restaurants, coffeeshops, and bars started popping up amongst the showrooms and warehouses. These food and drink venues are usually hidden above, behind, or inside the showrooms and warehouses, and hence accessible only to people in the know. The Kramerville Bakery is the newest of these secret venues. The entrance to the Kramerville Bakery. Note the stacks of plumbing pipe outside the door. To find the Kramerville Bakery you must drive to the end of Desmond Street (Kramerville’s main drag), make a right onto Archimedes Street, then turn right into an unmarked parking lot and drive to the end. There you will find a plumbing supply warehouse, no sign of a bakery. Park your car, walk […]

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Fortiscue Help of African Flavour Books

#Gauteng52, Week 43: African Flavour Books

Welcome to Week 43 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit African Flavour Books, with locations in Vanderbijlpark and Braamfontein. Word of new local bookstores travels fast in Johannesburg. I started hearing about African Flavour Books, which sells primarily African literature with a hint of African-American mixed in, the moment they opened their shop in Braamfontein. I visited the new Braamfontein shop for the first time a couple of weeks ago and scored a copy of Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland for the rock-bottom sale price of R80. (That’s about $5.75 for a brand-new paperback!) The shop is bright and cheerful, with a fantastic selection of books and an adorable section for kids to sit and read. I fell in love instantly. The new African Flavour shop in Braamfontein, right across from the Once in Joburg Hotel. Books. More books. Cute kids reading books. You get the idea. The Story of African Flavour Books As I was making my purchase I fell into conversation with Fortiscue (aka Fort) Helepi, the owner, and learned that while the Braamfontein shop just opened, African Flavour itself is […]

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Gin and tonic from Cedar Square Night Market

A Visit to Fourways and Some Thoughts on Markets

Joburgers love markets. I’m not talking about farmers markets or flea markets. In Joburg, the term “market” usually refers to a gathering of eclectic food and craft vendors where people go to eat, drink, shop for specialty products, and to see and be seen. The markets always happen either on weekend days or weekday nights, either weekly or monthly. These markets are popping up all over the city, and they are very trendy, and for a long time I was judgey about them. I had this idea that all the offerings at all the markets are basically the same, and I couldn’t see the point of going to a market when I can just eat in an actual restaurant or shop in an actual store. So when I was invited to attend the Stall Night Market at Cedar Square Shopping Centre and write a blog post about it, I hesitated. A night market in the parking lot of a shopping mall, in Fourways? (I’m also judgey about Fourways, exurban land of massive malls and housing complexes.) I wasn’t so sure. The night market at Cedar Square. Then I told myself to stop being a diva and open my mind. So […]

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Salmon sushi at La Marina

#Gauteng52, Week 41: Fresh Fish at La Marina Foods

Welcome to Week 41 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit La Marina Foods, a fish and specialty food supplier in Modderfontein. Marie-Lais and I drove into a bland office park in Modderfontein. We blew right past La Marina Foods the first time, asked directions twice, and eventually made our way to an imposing metal gate. Is this place really open to the public? I thought. It looks very warehouse-like from the outside. But the security guard opened up for us. We parked, stepped inside, and found ourselves in a culinary wonderland. The La Marina deli. La Marina is first and foremost a food supplier — mostly seafood — supplying restaurants and hotels all over Joburg and South Africa. If you live in Joburg you’ve probably driven past many La Marina delivery trucks without noticing. But La Marina also has a retail shop and deli, again mostly seafood, but also selling cheese, meat, and exotic packaged foods from all over the world. The food at La Marina made me really, really happy. Kirsten Jooste, owner of La Marina, in front of the […]

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Martin and Ania of Impressed

#Gauteng52, Week 40: imPRESSed Craft Bindery and Letterpress

Welcome to Week 40 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit imPRESSed Craft Bindery and Letterpress in Birdhaven. Strangely, this will be the second #Gauteng52 post I’ve written about a letterpress printing studio in Joburg. But with the exception that both places use very old printers, imPRESSed in Birdhaven couldn’t be more different from Print-A-Line in Malvern. Martin and Ania Ciolcosz, owners of imPRESSed. I’ve been struggling to write this post because I don’t know how to coherently explain the wide variety of interesting activities that go on at imPRESSed. Martin and Ania are Polish-born South Africans who quit their day jobs to become printers, book-binders, and collectors. They built a special brick studio on their property where they collect antique letterpress printers and printing/bookbinding tools. They print cards and invitations and stationery, restore and collect old books, craft handmade journals and notebooks, and conduct courses and demonstrations on letterpress printing. I think the pictures explain things better than I can. Inside the imPRESSed studio. Martin and Ania have collected some extremely old printers — the machine on the far right was made […]

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