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travel

Culture section of National Museum of African American History

From Africa to America: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

I’ve just returned to Joburg after two weeks in the United States. I spent most of the trip trying to stay warm (this was my first dose of American East Coast winter since 2010), running errands, and spending time with family and close friends. I didn’t have much time for cultural pursuits, but I did achieve one major Washington D.C. tourism goal — a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (I’ll call it the African American Museum for short), located prominently on Constitution Avenue right beside the Washington Monument. The museum opened in September 2016. Read more about the museum’s award-winning architecture here. I feel it’s important for me to write a post about this museum, as it links the two halves of my life together in a couple of ways. First, the African American Museum was designed by acclaimed British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, who also designed the Hallmark House building in downtown Johannesburg. I stood in the same room with David at the Hallmark House media launch a few years ago but was too shy to talk to him. I regret that now, as I’d like […]

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Sunrise at O.R. Tambo, one of Joburg's two major airports

Joburg Airports: O.R. Tambo vs. Lanseria

Travelstart asked me to write a blog post about the cheap domestic flights it offers in South Africa. Of course I agreed — blogging assignments are easy when the thing you’re asked to blog about is actually useful. And every traveler in South Africa knows Travelstart is the best place to book domestic travel. The last time I booked a domestic flight — a round trip from Joburg to Cape Town — I used Travelstart. The process was seamless and the fare was, as promised, cheap. I just made one mistake: forgetting to pay attention to which airport I was flying from. I normally fly out of O.R. Tambo, Joburg’s main international airport. But I accidentally booked this flight out of Lanseria. On Travelstart, flights from Lanseria are clearly marked “HLA” and flights from O.R. Tambo are “JNB”. Somehow I missed this. I noticed my error a day or two before the trip and cursed my stupidity. It was a 6:30 a.m. flight and now I would have to drive myself all the way out to Lanseria at 4:30 in the morning. I didn’t even consider Ubering because I figured it would be too expensive. Because Lanseria is so far, I thought. […]

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Robert Sobukwe sculpture at Long March to Freedom National Historic Monument

The Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument

In Pretoria, just off the highway in a local park called Fountains Valley, is an army of life-sized bronze men and women walking toward freedom. This hidden bronze army, made up of heroes who fought in the South African struggle for democracy over the past four centuries, is the Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument. A bronze of Robert Sobukwe, made by artists Louis Olivier and Nkhensani Rihlampfu, on the Long March to Freedom. The woman to Sobukwe’s left is Helen Suzman.  I first encountered these sculptures in 2015, when about eight or ten of them went up in Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. I was disappointed when the sculptures later disappeared from Kliptown and someone told me they’d been moved to a field in Pretoria. That didn’t make sense. It took me a couple of years to get to the sculptures’ new home in Fountains Valley. Now that I’ve been there, and seen not ten sculptures but well over 100, all marching in the same direction — some with fists raised, one on horseback, one astride a bull, some carrying books or briefcases and others wielding rifles or spears — I get it. Walter and Albertina Sisulu, leading the charge. […]

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Papy at Urban Zulu

10 Really Cool Jozi Places I Didn’t Blog About in 2017

I blogged about a lot of Jozi places in 2017. But there are also a lot of places I visited but never managed to write up, for one reason or another. Lots of these places are really cool and I don’t want their photos to languish forever in my Lightroom catalog. Also, I want you to visit them. So here is a quick rundown of the 10 best places I never blogged about in 2017. Jozi Places I Should Have Blogged About in 2017 1) Urban Backpackers/Kafe Noir (Joburg CBD) Urban Backpackers is a youth hostel smack in the middle of the Joburg CBD, at 98 Anderson Street. The ground floor of Urban Backpackers is Kafe Noir, a funky coffeeshop. The rooftop is a bar and party venue. Chilling on the rooftop of Urban Backpackers after the Hi-Tec #WalkMyCity event. (Photo: Fiver Löcker) Urban Backpackers is owned by Papy Nakuw, a fashion designer who also owns the Urban Zulu clothing label. Papy is impossibly cool. His design workshop is just across the street. Papy at Urban Backpackers. I like the Urban Backpackers because it’s an unexpected place in an unexpected location. Kafe Noir and the rooftop are generally open to the public but […]

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Gauteng52 map

#Gauteng52: The Year in Review

Around this time last year, I got an idea. In 2017, I would publish one blog post per week about a place in Joburg where I’d never been before. I mentioned the idea to a friend, who suggested I expand the project to all of Gauteng Province rather than just Joburg. And just like that, #Gauteng52 was born. The nifty map I made of all my #Gauteng52 destinations. You can zoom in and click on the numbers to see the post I wrote about each place. Some of my friends wondered why I would create such a significant challenge for myself for no particular reason. Others said there was no way I could find 52 interesting places I’d never been to before. I knew that wouldn’t be a problem, but in hindsight I’m also not sure why I decided to do this. I’m so glad I did though, for a few reasons. First, #Gauteng52 gave me a sense of purpose during a year that turned out to be one of the toughest of my life. There were a few weeks when I was in total despair, and #Gauteng52 was the only thing pushing me to get out of bed and […]

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Heather with bagels

#Gauteng52, Week 52: Bagels and More From Feigel’s

Welcome to Week 52 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 — the final week! — I visit Feigel’s Kosher Delicatessen, with locations in Glenhazel and Lyndhurst. For the last couple of weeks I’d been wracking my brain, trying to think of somewhere special to go for the 52nd week of my #Gauteng52 challenge. I wanted it to be a place in Joburg with an interesting story and some kind of personal significance for me. In a post last week I mentioned the tasty bagel I had for breakfast at the Immigrant, and lamented that bagels are hard to find in Joburg. A reader named Colleen commented and tipped me off to Feigel’s Kosher Delicatessen. The old-school Feigel’s sign outside the shop in Glenhazel. I immediately knew Feigel’s would be my final #Gauteng52 post. Feigel’s sells bagels, of course, and the bagels are delicious. But there’s a lot more to the story. Here’s the short version: Feigel was a Lithuanian girl who moved to South Africa in the 1920s. Years later in 1968, Feigel and her two children, Patsy and Jos, rented a shop on […]

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BCUC at the Orbit

A December Staycation in Braamfontein

For the longest time I have been meaning to blog about the Orbit, a jazz club in Braamfontein, and Once in Joburg, a posh hostel — aka “poshtel” — across the street from the Orbit. I’d been holding off on doing so because I wanted to experience the two places together as a downtown Jozi staycation. I finally did that last week, spending the night at Once in Joburg and enjoying an evening at the Orbit watching my favorite Jozi band, BCUC. My staycation was organized by I Am Joburg, a new collective providing curated tourism experiences in Joburg. The lobby at Once in Joburg. My friend Michelle and I checked into Once in Joburg, which is a cross between a backpackers and a hip budget hotel. I’d visited Once a couple of times before but hadn’t stayed overnight until last week. One Night at Once in Joburg I love the vibe of this place — it’s always busy and the staff are welcoming and fun, offering a range of social activities and tours for guests. Once is right in the center of Braamfontein, within a block or two of half a dozen restaurants, several bars, a fabulous bookstore and, of […]

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Duck at Marievale Bird Sanctuary

#Gauteng52, Week 50: Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Welcome to Week 50 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 the Marievale Bird Sanctuary. I don’t have my own set of binoculars yet. But perhaps it’s time to admit I’m a birder. A common moorhen cuts through the water in Marievale Bird Sanctuary. I started getting interested in birds during a recent trip to the Kruger National Park, and even wrote a whole blog post on birds in the Kruger. Then a couple of weeks ago I went to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, the most popular birding spot in Gauteng. I mainly went because birders have been raving to me about it for years and I thought it would be a nice thing to cover for #Gauteng52. But I must confess I loved it and can’t wait to go back. The South African highveld is not known for its wetlands. But this is mining country, and in the 1930s the mining industry started pumping water from underground and created a manmade watery wonderland. (Please excuse this infantile description of what I’m sure is a highly complex scientific phenomenon. If there […]

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Dumplings served at Chez Fong

A Theatrical Dinner Chez Fong

I recently cracked an invite to dine Chez Fong. Fong, otherwise known as Su-yen, chopping up a storm before the other guests arrive. Fong, aka Su-yen Thornhill, is part South African, part Chinese (via Hong Kong), part chef, part comedian, part yoga guru, and part Energizer Bunny. She runs a restaurant that’s not a restaurant (don’t you dare call it a pop-up), in a dining room attached to her sprawling Houghton home, where she whips up eight courses (maybe ten, if the mood strikes her) of pan-Asian taste bud excitement every Wednesday evening. Some dishes re-occur; others surface once and are never seen again. Spicy soy sauce in progress. Dinner Chez Fong is like a lucky packet of flavors, or a Forest Gump box of (savory) chocolates in which you never know whatchyer gonna get. It’s guaranteed to be delicious though. And you’re firmly guaranteed to laugh a lot. People laughing Chez Fong. Su-yen messaged me on a Tuesday, inviting me to attend her dinner the next night. There wasn’t a seat for me, she said, but I was welcome to come hang out in the kitchen and sample the food as it came out. I accepted without hesitation. People […]

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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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