Johannesburg, South Africa

Day 1: from Amsterdam to Johannesburg

When I visited South Africa for the first time in 2012, I fell in love! The world in one country, as South Africa is known, gets under your skin and you will always want to go back to this immense, diverse and colourful country. It is the 5th of March, 2015 and around 7 am I arrive at Schiphol airport. Today I will return to South Africa to discover parts I have not been before. New impressive landscapes, flora & fauna and its beautiful population await me…

I will be in good company! Together with a group of travel agents I am going on a promotional tour with South Africa Tourism. We all competed in an online training program for travel professionals and we are the lucky winners! It is a group of 12 women, so it is going to be a noisy trip 😉 We meet at the check in of our KLM flight, which departs at 10 am. So, we have a bit of time to introduce ourselves before actually checking in. We also meet Marieke who is our host; she represents South African Tourism. She is a bright and enthusiastic lady and we are now a group of 13 women. After checking in our luggage, we slowly walk towards the departure gate. Schiphol Airport is great, lots of shops and places to eat and drink something and my favourite place is the Chocolate Bar.

We board our plane on time and I have booked myself a seat at the emergency exit. I have restless feet and legs and apart from being able to stretch them, I can stand up whenever I please. When I fly to a destination within Europe, I do not mind so much where I sit, but on a long-distance flight it is great to have a bit of comfort. We have the most beautiful flight to South Africa! The weather is crystal clear, I sit by the window and I enjoy the ever-changing landscapes from a great height. We fly over the Alps, cross the Mediterranean Sea and fly over deserts, plains, national parks and arrive in Johannesburg late at night.

At the airport we collect our luggage and meet Ananda and Nelson at the arrival hall. Ananda will be our guide during this trip, that makes the number of women 14 and Nelson is our driver. He takes us to our first overnight address, The Peech Hotel, which is a lovely boutique hotel in Melrose. The hotel is not far away from Rosebank, Melrose Arch and Sandton, so it has an ideal location. Upon arrival it is very late, but we are warmly welcomed with a delicious drink and some tasty snacks. It is a full moon tonight and it shines bright enough to see the beautiful garden behind the reception and breakfast area. We had a long day and have to get up early, so we are teamed up (my roommate is Inge), get our room keys and admire our beautiful rooms before we go to sleep.

Day 2: discovering Jo(hannes)burg

After a good night sleep, we get up early so we finally get to see where we are staying by daylight. The sun has just showed herself and all is still quiet at the hotel. The rooms are spread over the beautiful garden, which is full of pretty flowers and Inge and I walk around for a bit. The hotel is beautifully designed and gives a very comfortable feeling. There is a small pool as well with some sunbeds for a moment of relaxation. We are off to having a delicious breakfast before we leave the hotel. We will stay here for another night, so there is no need to pack our suitcases.

Today we will explore Johannesburg. The city has as many names as faces: Joburg, Jozi, Egoli or City of Gold. It is the bustling, financial and commercial centre of South Africa and therefore attracts people from all over the world. Johannesburg used to suffer a lot from an unsafe reputation, but in recent years it has grown into a bustling city known for its many boutiques, shopping centres, excellent restaurants and trendy nightlife.

We will discover Johannesburg by public transport. Nelson drops us off at the train station where we take the modern Gautrain train to city centre and from there we get on the Hop on – Hop off Bus (which is a great way of discovering any world city). The Double Decker Hop on – Hop off Bus makes it easy for us to see all the high lights of the city in a reasonably short time frame. We all go upstairs to be able to enjoy the sun and to see the city a bit better. We get earplugs and we listen to an audio guide as the bus drives off, but after a while I take them out and just enjoy the tour. I see a beautiful wall painting and manage to take a photograph just in time. I love street / wall art. The ones that are true pieces of art brighten up any city!

We get off the bus at the Apartheid Museum. When visiting Johannesburg, a visit to this museum should not be missed! Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (now known as Namibia). It lasted from 1948 until the early 1990’s. As a child I learned about Apartheid through the news on television and at school, but I was too young to understand it really. As a young adult it became clear to me what Apartheid was about. I am still interested to learn more, because social and economic effects of apartheid are still here today and that is why a visit to this museum is so important!

Now I can tell you what the museum is about, but the museum has a Now I can tell you what the museum is about, but the museum has a beautiful website! I can tell you that me and the other women in the group all very impressed and quiet when taking the tour through the museum! The museum is modern, spacious and the history of Apartheid is displayed in such a way that it touches you deep within. We first visit the permanent exhibition, which means as we walk, we are taking a trip through time that traces the country’s footsteps from the dark days of bondage to a place of healing. We learn about the Pillars of the Constitution, race classifications, the journeys, segregation, (life under) apartheid, the violence, homelands, black consciousness, political executions, compromises, Mandela’s release, elections… and more. You can easily spend a few hours here, there is so much to see and learn!

There is a separate exhibition dedicated to Nelson Mandela, which we also visit. Nelson Mandela (one of my heroes) has been the heart of every stage of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. He formulated a new approach in the 1940s, led the mass struggles of the 1950s, the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the early 1960s to imprisonment for 27 years! I remember the song Free Nelson Mandela from The Special A.K.A. coming out in 1984 and that song made me want to know who Nelson Mandela was and what he stood for! This exhibition is just as impressive as the permanent exhibition.

We leave the museum, hop back on the bus and around noon we meet an English-speaking guide who takes us on a walking tour through the centre of Johannesburg. It is lunch time and our guide takes us to The Sheds, where we will have lunch. The Sheds is a food market in a large shed (the name probably gave that away already) in the oldest part of Johannesburg. It is spacious and there is a wide variety of food. We get there just before it gets busy. OMG… what are we going to choose, it all looks delicious! Inge and I decide to go for a local meal (with a local beer of course) and it tastes pretty good.

After lunch we continue our walking tour through the city. The sun is still shining bright and it makes the city look a happy place. I love guided tours, especially done by locals. You get to hear and see things you normally would not. We walk past various historic sites, government buildings and we see beautiful wall / street art. Our guide shows us the restaurant where Nelson and Winnie had their first date and we stop at the ANC headquarters. During this walking tour we see Nelson Mandela everywhere: his portrait is on various walls and he has statues throughout the city. His presence is everywhere.

Johannesburg is not what I expected and I mean that in the most positive sense of the word. Most tourists leave Johannesburg airport after arrival to go on their round trips, but this city is definitely worth a visit. At the end of the afternoon a little rain shower surprises us, but it was time to go back to the hotel anyway. Nelson comes to pick us up and we drive back to The Peech hotel to freshen up and get dressed for dinner.

In the evening we go to Moyo in Melrose Arch for a unique African dining experience! We are welcomed by beautifully dressed ladies who serve us delicious food (and in abundance) and wine. We listen to live African music and our faces are beautifully painted by the pretty ladies. Melrose Arch is a hip & trendy hot spot and a melting pot of all kinds of restaurants and bars. It is Friday night, so it is pleasantly busy. Once we are back in the hotel, we fall asleep quickly and that South African sun and wine must have had something to do with that.

Day 3: from Johannesburg to Magaliesburg

We wake up after a good night sleep and go for breakfast. The hotel is such a relaxing place; it feels very comfortable. At breakfast we chat away about how we enjoyed ourselves yesterday. We check out of our rooms and leave the hotel. We will also leave Johannesburg today, but not before we do a bit more sight-seeing!

This morning we visit Constitution Hill. It takes Nelson about 15 minutes before we reach it. Constitution Hill is a living museum which tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. This site is a former prison and a military fort that bears testament to South Africa’s very turbulent past. The former fort shows, among other things, the fate of people who suffered in the years between the Boer War and the end of the Apartheid regime. Not a pretty story I can tell you. The complex today houses the Constitutional Court where the soul of the new constitution is guarded and defended. The wing where the Constitutional Court is located was completely renovated in the 90’s and converted into a light and open building where modern architecture and African traditions come together.

A local guide shows us around and tells impressive but also horrifying and sad stories about how the prisoners were treated and humiliated. Our tour consists of a visit to the old fort where during the Apartheid years the prison for white men was located as well as the women’s prison and the notorious prison blocks 4 and 5 where black men had to await their trial. Mahatma Gandhi, as well as Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe have been imprisoned here. Big names! I am emotional and so is the rest of the group. Maybe because of the stories our guide tells us, but you can feel a sad atmosphere in this place and you cannot help but imagine how it must have been for the prisoners. But I am glad we came here; it is such an important part of history, that must never be forgotten!

Before we leave, we have a look in the Constitutional Court. On March 21, 2004, which is Human Rights Day and 10 years after South Africa became a democracy, the Constitutional Court was inaugurated at Constitution Hill. The following day Constitution Hill opened to the public as a museum focusing on heritage, education and tourism. Click here to visit its website!

At the end of the morning we get back on the bus and Nelson drives us through Braamfontein. This neighbourhood is an artists’ and student’s neighbourhood. Here you find De Wits University, the Johannesburg city theatre, galleries, old-fashioned bars and trendy markets and Kitchener’s Carvery Bar, which is located on the corner of Juta Street and De Beer Street (opposite Post). This old building with “wooden lace” is a nice pub and on Friday and Saturday it is quite busy, also because they often have live performances.

It is lunch time and we stop at the Neighbourgoods Market on 73 Juta Street, open since 2011. Every Saturday an old parking garage opposite Lamunu is transformed into a paradise for lovers of good food and drinks. Well… that’s us!!! We walk inside and I immediately love it here. Well… I love food (a lot) and there is plenty of it here, so I am happy!

It is busy and the place is just vibrant and very much alive. As a visitor you can take what you purchase back home or eat it immediately, while sitting at one of the long tables. On the top floor there is a large roof terrace where you can also enjoy being outside! The range of food and drinks is so big that we cannot choose. We order a little bit of various food stalls and have to look for a place to sit on the terrace. But it is really full, so we sit inside, but all doors are open, so a breeze comes in. The place is buzzing with both locals and tourists and the atmosphere is just amazing!

What a great lunch and what a location! After lunch we stand outside at the entrance of Neighbourgoods and wait for Nelson to come and pick us up. There is a band playing Bob Marley songs (always good to listen to) and the drummer and guitar player look like they could have been members of The Wailers. Thankfully Nelson needed a bit of time to get through traffic on this busy Saturday, so we could listen for a little while.

Nelson has arrived and we get back on the bus. Before I get in, I see the other (slightly more famous) Nelson on the wall of a building across the road. I really enjoyed the city of Johannesburg and his presence everywhere makes it feel like he is keeping an eye on the city and its people.

We leave Johannesburg and drive to Magaliesburg. That part of the trip I will safe for a next blog, which I will publish soon! If you want to, you can sign up below with your email address to get a notification when a new blog is being published.

Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

March 7, 2015