Rugby in Johannesburg
Attending a rugby match in SA is a must if you love sport, and I was lucky enough to catch England V South Africa which had an awesome vibe and some great moments. Having to decide between the UK national anthem and the SA one was a bit tough, so I stood for both but supported SA!
Check out www.sarugby.net and www.ellispark.co.za for tickets, you'll be glad you did...
Midrand's mindboggling massive new mosque
If you ever needed proof of South Africa's multicultural society, then surely this extraordinary building is it! Built in an Ottoman style reminiscent of Istanbul than Midrand, this amazing structure - located just off the highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria - was reaching completion at the time of writing (August 2011) and will become the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere.
The mosque is being funded by a Turkish businessman, Ali Katircioglu, and will comprise an entire Islamic complex, of which the jawdropping mosque, with its 24m dome and four 55m high minarets will form the centrepiece. The surrounding complex (garnished with its 24 smaller domes) will house a boarding school, conference centre, community hall, clinic and bazaar
Most visitors probably wouldn't associate South Africa with Muslim culture, but in fact Islam is the second most popular religion in South Africa after Christianity (well, third if you count those who declared themselves as having 'no religion' in the last census) and comprise a very visible 1.5% of the population. South African Muslims are usually Sunni and are drawn from the Cape Coloured community (the descendents of slaves imported from South East Asia) and a proportion of the Indian community.
If you'd like to take a look at this extraordinary structure but don't have your own transport, then the Gautrain passes directly by the mosque, which will give you a splendid view if you're travelling between Johannesburg to Pretoria. If you'd like to explore it in greater detail, then it is within walking distance of the Midrand Gautrain station - just be mindful of the usual cultural restrictions which apply to visiting mosques.
Let the kids play with scorpions at Kloofendal!
Because of the diversity of flora and fauna they support, ridges are a protected habitat in Johannesburg: although you could be forgiven for not knowing this, bearing in mind the number of dodgy planning applications that seem to be approved on them (no doubt 'facilitated' by the exchange of 'backhanders' between property developers and corrupt municipal officials).
Anyway, Melville Koppies and Kloofendal Nature Reserve, in the western suburbs of Johannesburg are two examples of where substantial sections of the Witwatersrand ridges have been preserved intact.
Kloofendal is a pretty little reserve which is close to the spot where gold was first discovered on the Witwatersrand by George Harrison in 1886 (see my earlier travel tip). The reserve contains a small defunct gold mine and old stamp mill, which can be visited on a guided walk (see website below for more details).
The Friends of Kloofendal are a very active group who organise guided walks with a nature theme every couple of weeks. Yesterday we took our kids on a scorpion hunt and spent a happy but exhausting couple of hours clambering up and down the ridges, clutching speciment jars in hand (these are provided by FroK) and collecting critters for the resident expert to identify.
The supervision is good and group size is limited, so there is virtually no risk of being bitten/stung by the beasties. The rock scorpions have extremely weak venom and are very docile, and my small son was enchanted to be able to hold a scorpion that pretty well stretched the length of his hand!
Other events include bird ringing, butterfly hunts and geological/mine tours - again, see website for detail on forthcoming events. Be warned that it gets hot up on the ridge, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen even in winter.
The cost of the walks is very reasonable - yesterday cost R120 in total for two adults and two children, and lasted about 2.5 hours. There is an amphitheatre, picnic facilities and public toilets close to the car park, so go with the makings of a lunch (see my tip on how to assemble an 'instant picnic' at Woolworths) and you have half a day's family entertainment for next to nothing!
Lunares, fiery flamenco (limited season)
Sexy, fiery and passionate Spanish traditional flamenco dance at The Fringe is a celebration of womanly glory.
One of the first 'real' pieces of music I ever learned to play on the piano was a Spanish dance. I worked hard on that piece. It was my recital piece and I executed it there, probably in every sense of the word 'executed'. When I got home, there on my bed was a Spanish dancer doll, slightly smaller than a Barbie doll. I wasn't much of a doll child, but with her dark skin and red dress she was the most beautiful doll in the world. She lived, together with my jewellery box with its delicate ballerina, on my bookcase. Life was good.
I was in high school and one of the girls who did Spanish dancing performed on the school stage. In class she was simply Michelle, a somewhat pudgy girl without much allure. On stage she was one of the most beautiful creatures on earth, swaying sensuously and rhythmically, bringing my doll to life. I fell in love with Spanish dancing.
For me every Spanish dancing show is a trip back into childhood happiness. Lunares is El Rincon Flamenco Dance Company's 2012 show. I went through to a rehearsal of the company on Tuesday evening. Joane Bobrow points out to me that the word “Lunares” means “spots” or “circles”, highlighting the visual element of flamenco dancing, the spotted materials which so often make up the costuming. Certainly even the practice costumes, for this is not a dress rehearsal, are stunningly beautiful. The richly embroidered Spanish shawl each dancer twists and winds around her has been on my “I want” list nearly forever and the fans are lovely.
The dancing is not the Fusion Flamenca of their 2010 production, but the beautiful traditional dance with all its colourful fire and passion. Together the all female ensemble, directed and choreographed by Mireille Lenferna and Joanne Bobrow, capture not only the essence and spirit of flamenco dancing, but all the joyful and tragic moments in the life of a woman, leaving one feeling intensely alive. Mireille Lenferna and I discuss the beauty of Spanish dance as it favours the more mature dancer, not that any of the women in the company have reached that point quite yet, the youngest being only twenty two while the two choreographers are both only in their late thirties. The ability to interpret pain and suffering as well as happiness and success is key to the richness of a dance tradition where dance is for every occasion, sometimes just for oneself, and at other times for a lover, for a husband, for a child or for the community.
Guest artist Alexandra Le Maitre, formerly of the Ritmo Spanish Dance Company joins the eight members of El Rincon Flamenco Dance Company on stage, as does the guitar duo, Mischief (Rudo van Staden and Andre Liebenberg as they undertake their journey through womanhood at The Fringe, Joburg Theatre from 24 to 27 May 2012. Tickets are available from the theatre and are R130.00 each.
- Arts and Culture
- Women's Travel
- Family Travel
James Kitching museum of mammal-like reptiles
This tiny, obscure and dog-eared museum in the Bernard Price Institute (BPI) of Paeleontology on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand ('Wits') is one that that most Johannesburgers - let alone tourists - don't know about! This is a crying shame, since it documents arguably South Africa's greatest claim to prehistoric fame.
Whereas South and East Africa bicker about which has made the most significant contribution to the understanding our our early hominid ancestors - hence our northern neighbour's grumpiness at South Africa promoting itself as the 'Cradle of Humankind' - there is absolutely no dispute about the fact that South Africa boasts by far the most complete fossil record of mammal-like reptiles anywhere in the world. This is mostly because much of inland South Africa was a continent at a time when most of the rest of the current continents were submerged, and these Karoo-age rocks have been subsequently preserved and exposed to yield this rich and unique fossil record. Mammal-like reptiles are (often large) vertebrates who represent an evolutionary 'cul de sac', after which God backtracked and went on to experiment with other prototypes (such as dinosaurs, mammals and hominids). Of their time, they were hugely successful and influential life forms, but sadly, they have been largely forgotten and overshadowed by their more glamorous dinosaurian successors.
Unsurprisingly, many of the more influential researchers in this field have been from Wits (including the monumentally influential James Kitching, after whom the museum is named, and the current head of the BPI, who is a third generation paleontologist), and it is this small band of dedicated eccentrics who have pulled this small but fascinating museum together with huge enthusiasm but next-to-no resources. So, forgive the amateurish posters, overlook the dingy decor, and instead concentrate on the amazing story that they have to tell. In addition to posters and fossils (some of which you can touch), there are about half a dozen life size fibreglass reconstructions of dicynodonts, listrosaurs and the like, and a couple of posters on some Southern African dinosaurs (such as Lesothosaurus).
If you view travel as an opportunity to experience things that are unique to a place or culture, then visiting this museum and gaining even a passing understanding of an era of prehistory that is pretty well unknown elsewhere should appeal to you. Whilst you're on campus, it's probably also worth taking in the infinitely better resourced Origins Centre, which focuses on the last 200,000 years of hominid history, although personally I find the mammal-like reptiles a whole lot more interesting ...
Don't even think of asking the security guards at the entrance to campus for directions to the museum, as it is so obscure that they won't have heard of it - rather ask for the BPI! You have to ring the bell for reception at the security gate to the BPI building and ask to be admitted to the museum. There is no entrance fee, and you wander around the museum (essentially two rooms) unaccompanied. Children are eagerly welcomed (my kids adore it - particularly the poor beast called Lunch who is being feasted on by a larger predator, nicknamed Fang), and visitors are so few and far between that any staff you encounter will probably be delighted to answer your questions. Since I wrote this tip, the BPI building has been renovated and I haven't visited since this work was completed - the museum is certainly still accessible, but I'm not sure whether it is still possible to visit the prep lab where the technicians are preparing fossils for research/display (still, it can do no harm asking).Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Family Travel
THE BEST CAR WASH IN JO'BURG !
I love these people. It is not just because they made me laugh and were so friendly. No. They clean the dirtiest car - ever. And it was a rental car! When I say dirty, I mean dirty. This had been a new car with very few miles on it. I had been driving it for over 20,000 and almost 2 months through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. It had been in the desert, stuck in sand, mountains and many urban areas as well. The dust and dirt inside and out were amazing. I really feared having to pay a huge amount of money to the rental company to have it cleaned. It already had damage from hitting a disease control fence at 120 miles an hour (Botswana).
They not only cleaned it, they cleaned it all the first time. At the normal price. Seals, the trunk (boot), under the seats. They cleaned it all to look like a new car again. Yes I did tip them! They even told me it would take a little more time as it was so dirty.
And I had no cleaning charges to pay when I took the car back to the rental agency.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Jolling at the Rand Club!
(work in progress)
Forgive the very poor quality photo of a very up market place (but we only had a cellphone to hand)!
It is no exaggeration when I say that I have wanted to visit the Rand Club forever. The last outpost of 'men only' corporate culture in Johannesburg, this bastion of testosterone was only officially - and reluctantly - opened to women in 1994, and even though women are now allowed to venture into this hallowed ground, the ghosts of the mysogynistic past still loom (some of whom are still living) ...
The opportunity that presented itself was a conference of mining history at which my husband was presenting. And what a setting! The double staircase with brass handrail (polished by generations of diligent domestic servants and - I suspect - adult male bottoms sliding down the balustrades as schoolboy-inspired pranks) reeks history and I am agog at the deals that must have been hatched at the members' bar (at which I am depicted, wielding a tankard denoted by a life member).
To be blunt, the food was crap ... think 'British boarding school', and you're right on the money! Even the keynote speaker (Bobby Godsell, my former boss at Anglogold, who's spent more time there than most) commented that the menu always consisted of [inexpertly cooked] Beef Wellington, and I suspect that the equally lacklustre smoked salmon starter and creme caramel for afters are also staples ... but then you don't go there for the grub!
Get your adrenalin fix on a foefie slide!
Sceptics would observe that Big Bad Johannesburg is already too much of an adrenalin rush for most sane people, but if you're a thrill junkie, spending a couple of hours playing on the foefie slides at Acrobranch is a wonderful way to get your action fix!
So what's a 'foefie slide'? They are called 'flying foxes' in Australia (and I believe 'ziplines' elsewhere in the world) - anyway, whatever you call them, they are aerial cables which you slide down by means of a pulley system whilst secured by a safety harness.
Acrobranch is located in a mature grove of blue gum trees and offers a range of foefie slides and suspended 'monkey bridges' geared for all ages. It caters for children of about 5 to adults. It is a brilliant (if somewhat pricey) place for children's parties and is also used for team building and other corporate events - an on site venue can be hired for such events.
On a practical note, it has excellent safety equipment and briefings, good site security and there is ample parking.
For more information, see the website below. Note that it is open all day over weekends and during school holidays, but only from 13:00 - 17:00 on weekdays during school terms.
Sample SAB's finest produce at World of Beer!
I am a great beer enthusiast: I am actually allergic to wine, much to my husband's glee, as he claims that this qualifies me as a 'cheap date' (I am also allergic to coffee, but being of Irish extraction, this is hardly a handicap, as I am an absolute teapot)! However, to my great shame, I only managed to visit Johannesburg's World of Beer yesterday!
The centre is run as a 'loss leader' by South African Breweries (SAB) - now SABMiller - to showcase their product. Established as Castle Breweries in 1885, SAB have expanded into are a major player in the international beer industry and have developed off their original South African base to acquire brands such as Miller, Grolsch, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell. Local brands include Castle Lager, Hansa, Lion, Carling Black Label, and their soft drinks division also produces Coca Cola under licence. At the time of writing (November 2010), SABMiller was the world's largest brewing company by volume, but as the beer industry is very fluid (if you'll excuse the pun), this title seems to switch backwards and forwards between brewing conglomerates like a baton in a relay race, depending on who's acquired whom in the past few weeks!
The exhibit takes the visitor through the history of beer brewing and also shows the various stages of beer production from cultivating the ingredients - they actually have hops and barley growing in a greenhouse - to dispensing the amber nectar. There is also a section devoted to the role of beer in South African culture, including the opportunity to taste traditional sorghum beer (not as bad as I had thought it would be) and excellent reconstructions of Johannesburg during the gold rush of the 1890s (including a staggering map of the number of pubs in the CBD at the time to slake the thirst, celebrate the good fortune and/or drown the sorrows of the miners) and a shebeen in the 1960s. There is excellent use of audio visual material, and the tour is suitable for children as well as adults.
The centre also includes a pub called the Tap Room (surprise!): the bar menu posted on the website features a range of traditional South African food, obviously washed down with some more SAB produce, which makes it an excellent choice of venue for a pub lunch! Counterintuitively the bar doesn't sell beer: you are issued with two vouchers when you buy your ticket, and these can be exchanged for any of the beers or other SAB products (including non-alcoholic drinks).
World of Beer gets about 50,000 tourists annually and is great value, as the admission cost includes the opportunity to do some market research on their produce! At the time of writing, the admission price was R35 (about $US5) including the 90 minute tour and two free beers (plus a small glass in the reconstruction of a turn-of-the-century Johannesburg bar) - bargain!
Tours take place every hour and last for 90 minutes, with the last tour starting at 17:00 - we took the 16:00 tour, which I would recommend, as by the time you finish the tour, you can retire to the terrace by the bar to enjoy your sundowners as you gaze out over Newtown towards the M1 highway in the middle distance and empathise with the commuters sitting in the rush hour traffic jam!
Note that World of Beer is not open on a Sunday: this is pretty confusing, at the rest of Newtown's tourist attractions (the Workers' Museum, MuseumAfrica and the Sci Bono centre) do open on a Sunday, so be warned if you were hoping to combine them.
Dancing with the stars at the SA Ballet Theatre
The South African Ballet Theatre is located in a little enclave of culture in Braamfontein, opposite the school for the Performing Arts and adjacent to the Civic (Nelson Mandela) Theatre.
I find the structure beautiful, with its barrel vaulted glass roof and floor-to-ceiling windows facing south, through which you can see the dancers at practice. The adjacent terraced garden is also a pleasant public space that provides a welcome oasis from the otherwise gritty concrete tower blocks of Braamfontein.
If you are something of a twinkletoes or simply looking for something unusual to do during your time in Johannesburg, then it is possible to take a class with the professional dancers of The South African Ballet Theatre in their studios. Participants do not need previous ballet experience and simply need to be attired in comfortable clothing and ballet shoes or socks (see the website below for more details).
A pleasant park in the heart of Braamfontein
The CBD of Johannesburg is not renowned for its restful public spaces, so it was an absolute pleasure to note that the little park just to the south of the Civic (Nelson Mandela) Theatre has continued to be so well maintained.
It is a small park with lots of well looked after grass to sit on and this lovely whimsical fence whcih I have long admired. If you're in the area, then this would be a nice place to stop for a picnic or just a rest - just take the usual precautions of not flashing valuables and you'll be fine.
There is also a pleasant little landscaped terrace on the western side of the theatre, leading up to the South African Ballet Theatre, and the outdoor seating section of the News Cafe in the theatre complex also looks out over this park.
This is within 5 minutes walking distance of the Miner's Memorial (to the south) and the Eland sculpture (to the west).
Unfortunately I cannot be so positive about the surrounding architecture, since Braamfontein is a monument to the Great South African obsession with concrete that blighted the country's CBDs in the 60s and 70s. Indeed the neighbouring municipality building is so utterly monstrous that is almost compelling in its awfulness. However, it is sad to concede that its terrible aesthetics pale into insignificance when compared to the abysmal standard of service contained within. Not having to deal with municipal incompetence over issues as simple as billing or accounts transfer is one reason why you should be very grateful for being a tourist rather than a local!
Celebrate Johnny Clegg's 30th anniversary!
If you're in Jo'burg on 6 November 210, then you have the wonderful opportunity to help a South African musical legend celebrate his 30th anniversary in the business. The open air concerts at Emmarentia are huge fun, safe and very family-friendly, and as a die-hard Johnny Clegg fan of over 20 years standing, I certainly won't be missing the opportunity!
The following is adapted from the concert flyer:
"Johnny Clegg is celebrating his 30th anniversary in the music industry with a once-off concert at Emmarentia Dam on 6th November 2010. The original Juluka band will be reunited for this show only, performing the hit songs of Juluka, Savuka and Johnny Clegg spanning his 30 year career.
"During the three decades he’s been making anthemic hits, Johnny has proved himself to be an outstanding musical ambassador for his country.
"By combining African music structures with Celtic folk music and international rock sounds, Johnny pioneered a new and unique sound, establishing himself as South Africa’s biggest musical export. From Europe to the States, from Australia to Potchefstroom, audiences in sold out venues have danced to “Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World”, “Crocodile Love”, “I Call Your Name”, “Take My Heart Away”, and “African Sky Blue”.
"Johnny Clegg is known for his energetic stage performances and this is a show not to be missed. Johnny Clegg 30th Anniversary: The Concert at Emmarentia Dam on 6th November 2010. Gates open at 4pm for picnicking on the concert lawns and the show starts at 6pm. (please note that chairs, alcohol, bottles, cans, glass, recording equipment are NOT permitted).
"Tickets from R220 to R450; with children under 12 years paying 50% of these prices (ID may be requested) -all ticket prices excl Computicket service fee. Tickets available from Computicket - www.computicket.com / call centre 083 915 8000."
See you there: I'll be the middle aged matron dancing her heart out in front of the stage, although I suspect that there may be rather a lot of us who'll match that description!
Postscript: Johnny was as amazing as ever - if you ever get a chance to see him live, don't pass it up! The Emmarentia concerts are also superb (lovely environment, great sound and very good facilities) as well as being very family-friendly. See my other travel tip (or Computicket) to find out what's coming up.
Camp it up at the pantomime!
One of the absolute highlights of Christmas in Johannesburg (and for my money, it's far and away the best time of year here) is the annual pantomime at the Nelson Mandela (previously the Civic) Theatre.
The pantomime is a veritable family institution that appeals to all generations. Pantomime is an art form that is virtually impossible to explain to people who haven't been exposed to British/colonial culture - including my German husband - and, whether you end up loving it or loathing it, it is well worth the experience! It is best described as a camp, bawdy, satirical musical based (usually very) loosely on a children's fairy tale that appeals to kids on one level and their parents on another. Smutty humour and double entendres abound - usually about topical issues such as politics, celebrities and other holy cows (the more controversial, the better!). There is always a Dame (a man dressed unconvincingly as a woman) and unlike most other theatrical performance, audience interaction is encouraged (a standard excerpt involves the audience baying, "He's behind you ...", and interactions such as "Oh no he didn't!" ... "Oh yes he did!"). The costumes and sets are over the top, the music is loud and upbeat - frankly there's nothing like a panto, and you should grab the opportunity to see one if you get the chance!
The pantomime at the Civic (directed by the legendary Janice Honeyman) is always a lavish affair, and well worth catching if you're in town. This year, an added bonus is that the part of the Dame is played by Marc Lottering, a coloured comedian who is one of South Africa's best loved stand up comics.
The season runs 12 November 2010 - 2 January 2011, with previews in the previous week, and ticket prices range from R191 to R278.
The Nelson Mandela Theatre is located in unfashionable Braamfontein, at the northern end of the Johannesburg CBD. The location is unfortunate, given the reluctance of most Jo'burgers to venture into the CBD, particularly after dark, but it happily appears that people are slowly being tempted to return. There is limited underground parking beneath the theatre complex, and the security for overflow parking (underneath the Jo'burg municipality) is pretty good. There is also an excellent branch of the News Cafe franchise in the foyer, which is the ideal place for a pre-dinner meal.
Although I wouldn't usually recommend that tourists venture into the CBD at night, the security is excellent, and it would be a real pity to let this put you off. If you still don't feel safe at the prospect but would still like to experience this unique form of theatre, then why not consider one of the matinees?
Update (December 2011): This year's pantomime is Cinderella and has received rave reviews : we are only booked for the last day of the run - 30 December - so unfortunately I can't provide a personal review!
Also note that the Civic Theatre is about the only live entertainment venue in Johannesburg that no longer accepts bookings through Computicket: you rather need to book through the somewhat temperemental website below.
Under African skies: The Planetarium
I have been meaning to visit the Planetarium at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) for eons, and despite having worked on the same campus for five years, I am shamefaced to admit that I only got around to it last weekend!
I took my kids (and various other people's) to see the children-oriented show on space travel that runs at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. It was fun, and a jolly way to pass an hour or so, especially when the weather outside is less than pleasant. This is billed as being suitable for 5-8 year olds, but the world has clearly moved on since the show was devised (looking at the clothing and hairstyles, I'm guessing late 70s/early 80s), and with kids having become more sophisticated in the interim, I'd say that the target age range is probably now closer to 3-6. Indeed, the whole show has a sort of 'time warp' cultural quality about it, as though you've been transported back to the halcyon childhoods of children in the white suburbs under apartheid.
An indication of the lack of funding is the fact that in the introductory talk, there is a lot of emphasis put on Pluto's de-planetisation |(it is now classed as a 'dwarf'rather than a full blown planet). Yet the show makes repeated reference to Pluto as a planet: clearly the money is not available to update the presentation.
The Planetarium also offers a range of more adult-focused shows, which are apparently very good. A friend of mine was given a series of 'star spotting' lectures as a gift and he loved it: apparently he has been showing off his prowess on trips into the bush ever since!
If you're going to be on the Wits campus, it's worth considering incorporating a trip to the planetarium with a visit to the state-of-the-art Origins Centre and the dog eared but fascinating James Kitching museum of mammal-like reptiles (which is an absolute winner with kids): just be aware that the latter is only open on weekdays.
Welcome to Cosmos Country!
If you visit the South African Highveld (including Johannesburg and Pretoria) in the autumn - February to April - chances are that your most vivid memory of the landscape will be the drifts of pink and white flowers that line the roads! Welcome to Cosmos Country!
I first visited South Africa at this time of year, and I remember being astounded by the fact that the road verges sported more pink than you usually encounter in a little girl's bedroom! It came as even more of a surprise to discover that cosmos is actually not an indigenous flower, and were actually 'accidentally' introduced to South Africa from Mexico at the turn of the 20th century in bales of horse fodder that were shipped in to supply British troops during the Boer War.
The most accessible place to view cosmos in bloom is Delta Park in the northern suburbs.
Because cosmos in bloom makes for such a beautiful spectacle, it is much beloved by amateur artists. If you visit the (free) 'Artists Under the Sun' art exhibition, which takes place at Zoo Lake the first weekend of every month, then you will run the risk of being overwhelmed by the fondant colours of the cosmos-inspired art executed by local artists of varying degrees of proficiency!
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