Small Town Hospitality: Accommodation in Cullinan

Cullinan is fast becoming my favourite spot for a quick getaway from city life. You can read my previous post on the town here. While it is close enough to Jozi and Pretoria for an easy day trip, I love to spend a weekend or a few days in town to be able to properly relax and explore. There are plenty of options for overnighting in Cullinan, and I am by no means the expert. But I would like to share my own experiences and some of the other places I have heard good things about.

117 on Oak

My newfound favourite may well be my first choice for future visits as well. 117 on Oak is a charming Bed and Breakfast on upper Oak Avenue. The main house, occupied by the hosts, Lize-Mari and Jacques Pistorius, is a hundred years old this year. Along with the property next door, it used to form part of the original Cullinan Diamond Inn. This building housed the ‘Diamond Spa and Bistro’ associated with the adjacent lodgings, but the property has since been subdivided. Lize-Mari and Jacques moved in about two years ago and gradually started fixing up the house and converting/upgrading out-buildings into three lovely self-contained units. The units vary in size, one has a small kitchenette, and the other two have coffee stations. Each one is eclectically decorated with antique furniture in a sort of ‘Vintage Countryside’ style.

All the units sit in a lovely garden, full of birdlife, and there is shared access to a braai area. The location is really convenient as the village centre, and the Cullinan Junction shops, are within 10 minutes’ walk. There is a Spar less than a block away for any groceries and essentials you might need. There is also wifi in all the units.

The hospitality of the hosts is really what you will want to keep coming back for, though. The rooms are immaculate and serviced daily. Lize-Mari comes round with a wonderful continental breakfast each morning, served in a basket, with home baked muffins or scones, fruit, muesli, and fresh coffee. Everything is always beautifully presented, and each day is a slightly different offering. I loved the little touches, like the sprigs of lavender picked from the garden, and the little Scottie dog stickers on the coffee sachets each morning (a tribute to the resident Scotties, Duncan and Mikayla). Lize-Mari and Jacques are always happy to chat and advise on places to see or eat around town.

Cullinan Inn

The Cullinan Inn celebrates its centenary this year, so it is one of the early buildings in the town. (This would have been the accommodation portion of the old Cullinan Diamond Inn, which included the spa and restaurant building that is now 117 on Oak.) Luxurious Victorian style guest rooms are located within the house. Breakfast is not included, but a coffee plunger and delicious rusks or biscuits are replenished each day when the room is serviced. There are no fridges in the rooms here, so, if you aren’t planning on eating out in the town’s great restaurants, you will need a cooler box. Rooms have a wonderful ball and claw bath and a selection of bath products are provided. It might be slightly disconcerting for couples that the bedroom and bathroom is essentially a single space, with only a loose concertina screen to separate the toilet. Being right next door to 117 on Oak, this one is also an easy walk to the village centre.

The Cullinan Premier Hotel & The Diamond Lodge

If you prefer a hotel experience the Cullinan Premier Hotel and the nearby Diamond Lodge come recommended (though I have not stayed at either). The Premier Hotel is the original hotel in the town, which I plan on writing a separate post about soon. The Diamond Lodge also has wedding and conferencing facilities. Both are a few steps from the Cullinan Junction Shops, and less than a ten minute walk from the Oak Avenue shops and restaurants.

The Cullinan Premier Hotel.
Cullinan Diamond Lodge. Luxury accommodation & Conferencing.

Gastehys JanHarmsgat

Janharm Vorster and his partner, Pieter Vosloo, seem to synonymous with contemporary Cullinan itself. They run several enterprises in the village, and, if there are any festivals or happenings, they are probably involved somewhere. JanHarmsgat Guesthouse is about 2kms from the Oak Avenue buzz, but it is alongside the Zau Spa, so relaxing treatments and massages are only a few steps away. This guesthouse has been featured in a number of home and decor magazines for its eclectic vintage and upcycled style. Though I haven’t been to this establishment, I have been a fan of their ‘Rust in White’ shop, and their ‘JanHarmsgat Agterplaas‘ venue, in the village for some time, and I believe they are very similar in style.

Photos taken from the Gastehys JanHarmsgat website gallery.

This is by no means the exhaustive list of places to stay, just the ones I have stayed in or have heard recommended. Do explore internet booking sites and AirBnB for other places in the area. You can also expand your explorations to the surrounding areas, like the Somabula Nature Reserve (their accommodation options include sleeping in ox wagons). I’d love to hear what places you have discovered to stay!

Cullinan Escape: A Victorian Village Getaway

It’s been ages since my last post. Life gets busy and other things take priority. One could argue that this year, with the Covid related lockdown, there was more time than ever for pursuits like writing. This may be true, but inspiration and motivation was sorely lacking. But, some down time and a change of scenery does the world of good.

Since things have started to open up a bit, and it being the time of year when I usually need a quick getaway to recharge for the last part of the year, I booked myself a village escape in what is fast becoming my favourite local retreat. Cullinan had been on my list of places to go long before I actually got there last year, but now it is my top destination for a weekend or a day trip. It is close enough to Joburg for it not to be a huge ‘trek’, but it definitely feels like you are a long way from the hustle and bustle of city life. On main roads, and traffic dependent, you can be there in 1 – 1.5hours from Jozi (much faster if you are in Pretoria). I generally prefer to avoid toll roads and take the country roads. It takes longer, but you get to see some lovely parts of the country, and you feel like you are out of the city much quicker (and you avoid those pesky etolls).

Jacaranda lined upper Oak Avenue.

Some history

Before Cullinan existed, the area was the farm, Elandsfontein, set out in 1859, and owned by Cornelius Jacobus Minnaar. The farm was split between family members over time, and later a portion was sold to the Prinsloo family. This is the portion of the farm that eventually became the beginnings of Cullinan.

Thomas Cullinan (later Sir) was prospecting in the region and became convinced that the Prinsloo farm was rich in diamonds, but he was unable to convince the owner to sell. To cut a long story short, the death of Prinsloo, and the outbreak of the South African War (previously called the Anglo Boer War), changed the circumstances and Thomas Cullinan was able to purchase the land. The Premier Diamond Mine was registered in 1902 and mining began the following year.

The real fortune came in 1905, with the discovery of the Cullinan Diamond, the largest uncut diamond in the world, parts of which are set in the British crown jewels, on display in the Tower of London.

Like Joburg, the town evolved from a temporary tented camp, to a shanty town, and then into a stone and brick Victorian settlement (strictly, the oldest buildings were constructed under Edwardian rule, but South Africa is always a little behind, and the style is quite Victorian in many ways). But, unlike the metropolis that is Johannesburg, Cullinan stopped there, and much of the old town is still almost as it was a hundred years ago.

Despite still being one of the biggest diamond producers in the world, Cullinan is a surprisingly slow paced, friendly village. The town’s economy relies on both the mine and tourism to keep going. Sadly, tourism has declined since the steam train trips stopped coming through a few years ago. But, people still come to do mine tours (above ground and below), and it is a popular day trip for people coming for a Sunday meal. There are also a number of wedding and function venues in the area. The early Sunday morning quiet is also usually punctuated by the rumble of biker clubs rolling into town, and the enormous machines (some of them, I am fairly sure, are bigger than my car) create quite the spectacle.

Most of the action revolves around the old village centre at the bottom of Oak Avenue. Here, the old stone houses have been converted into shops and restaurants. You can find all types of food and drink, and often there is live music in some of the restaurants on a Sunday. Shops range from bric-a-brac and antiques, to art and fashion, to jewellery and gem dealers (it is a diamond town after all). Despite being called Oak Avenue, and though there are many Oak trees, this time of year, the beautiful purple Jacarandas take centre stage.

The Cockpit Brewhouse is popular for beer, good food, and live music, especially on Sundays.

A short walk from there you can find the wonderfully eclectic ‘Cullinan Junction’ shops, and Station Diner, along the old railway. I managed to miss this spot on my first couple of visits. I think this might need it’s own post sometime.

For those who feel like a bit more adventure, there are also outdoor and team building activities around, including horse riding, quad biking, hiking, abseiling, and more. Adventure Zone offers various activities, and they have an office in Oak Avenue. Horse Riding Adventures is near Rayton, about 15 minutes drive from Cullinan, and offers Horse-Riding and Quad Biking, and sometimes communal braais included in package deals. It seems to be a slightly more rustic set-up than Adventure Zone, but often has really good specials, so worth a look.

Enjoy nearby wide open spaces from the back of a horse.

This gorgeous town needs more than just one post (just as it has needed more than just one visit!), so I am sure that I will be sharing more detail in coming weeks. So, watch this space! Or, better yet, make a date to go and explore for yourself. I would love to hear about your own discoveries and favourite spots.

The beautiful Jacarandas. They bloom in October/November, so this is a lovely time to visit.
‘I Love Cullinan’ is doing an amazing job at marketing the town. Be sure to follow them for updates and info on what is happening in the town

Credit for historical info to John Lincoln and his book ‘Stories from a Diamond Mine’, sponsored by Petra Diamond Mines. And thanks to my hosts at 117 on Oak for leaving a copy in my room.

Soweto on foot: A guided walk through local history.

We just commemorated ‘Youth Day’ in South Africa, and I realised that I never quite got around to publishing a post I wanted to write a year ago. So, here is a bit of a throw-back.

Last year AirBnB, the popular home-sharing accommodation platform, launched their ‘Experiences’ spin off in Johannesburg. The aim is to allow small, intimate groups to be hosted by a specialist in a specific field and experience an excursion, workshop, or tour in a particular city. I decided this was a great opportunity to be a tourist in my own city and see what was on offer.

I have visited Soweto  several times over the years for church events as a child, and for University projects more recently. This is probably fairly unusual for a white Joburger, even now. Despite this, I have just never quite got to seeing some of the more significant historical places. So, with Youth Day (June 16th) coming up, I decided that it seemed like a great opportunity to book a walking tour in Soweto.

I met my guide, Ntsiki, and the only other guests on that particular day, a couple from Chile, on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. Vilakazi Street is probably the most famous historical street in Soweto and, as a result, is also the most touristy and trendy place to hang out. This was also June 16th, the public holiday that commemorates the ‘Soweto Uprising‘ in 1976, so there were more events and activities than usual on the go and the place was crowded with locals and visitors alike.

Vilakazi Street is famous for having been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, namely Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first democratically elected President of South Africa after the abolition of Apartheid, and Archbishop Emeritas Desmond Mpilo Tutu. Mandela House, is now a museum, documenting the house, its context, and its famous residents. Tutu House is still owned by the family and is not open to the public but it received its blue heritage plaque in 2011. There is a metal sculpture entitled ‘The Nobel Laureates’ depicting two bulls’ heads on the pavement near Mandela House. It is to represent and honour these two great men who fought in the struggle for a free South Africa. It was created by artist, Mboya Morao, as a JDA (Johannesburg Development Agency) commission through the art production team, The Trinity Session.

Apart from the landmarks and museums, Vilakazi street is full of trendy bars and restaurants, and shops full of local designers’ creations. There is a proliferation of urban art installations. Some are historically significant memorials, others are brightly coloured street artists’ wall murals, and one comprises eight giant hand sculptures, each spelling out the letters V-I-L-A-K-A-Z-I. On Youth Day it was also full of music and dancing of all kinds. It had a really festive and celebratory atmosphere despite the tragic events that the day commemorates. It was wonderful to feel the energy that highlights the hope and excitement of a new generation.

We followed a footpath away from the busy streets until we reached a raised area where we could overlook some of the township. Ntsiki told us some of the history and story of the early days and development of Soweto. She told us of significant people and events and even a few anecdotes that she has learned from living a lifetime in the area and from interviewing many older community members. It was wonderful to hear the passion she has for her home as she spoke about community and the philosophy of ‘ubuntu’.

We stood outside the home of the recently deceased struggle veteran and former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela. This was a woman that seems to have been largely misrepresented by the media. I recall the scandals and news reports I had heard as a child and how I had formed a negative opinion of who she was. But, since her passing, so many stories from different sides had surfaced. I began to realise that she had been an incredibly strong woman and inspired so many women after her. It was evident in the respect shown around her former home, and especially by the beautiful mural painted in her honour. It seems as if it’s the preferred photo backdrop for hundreds of young women visitors.

Heading back up Vilakazi Street, we came to the spot where protesting school children first engaged with police in what was to become the bloody student uprising of June 1976. A life size wire sculpture of police, children, and a dog depicts the scene at the start of the first clash. We learned about the reasons, the context, some of the main players, and some of the remembered stories from survivors of the time. It was both sombre and fascinating.

From there we followed the route to the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. Our walking tour did not take us into the museum (that will have to be for another visit) but we walked around the memorial, a wall of columns and archways out of dry-packed slate, and a reflection pool. Though extremely busy on the anniversary day, it is still a beautiful memorial and place of contemplation. We heard more of Hector’s story, and the circumstances around his untimely death. We learned about the famous photograph and the photographer that took it. Hector wasn’t the only casualty of the uprising but his photograph, published worldwide at the time, became the iconic image of the events.

Apart from the historical information, Ntsiki made sure we also experienced as much local culture as we could. We got kotas from a street stall. These popular meals are similar to another South African favourite, the bunny chow. In this case the wedge of hollowed out bread, instead of being filled with curry, is packed with mince, cheese, fries, egg, or atchar. They were tasty and filling (and excellent value for money).

Then we all piled into a taxi to head to a different part of Soweto, White City. Now, you might be imagining that we flagged down a cab or hailed an Uber. No, not in Soweto! Ntsiki, being local and knowing the hand signals and routes of the local mini-bus taxis, helped us to pile into a communal mini-bus, taught us how the money is paid (everyone passes money forward, row by row, and change is returned in the same manner) and successfully got us all off at the right stop.

We rounded off our visit by distributing some childrens’ books to local kids as a way to celebrate the young on Youth Day. And then learned more about the schools and student leaders who started the uprising, ending up at the June 16 Memorial Acre. At the statue of Tsietsi Mashinini, we were told about his role as a leader in the student protests and that his eventual whereabouts and manner of death were still a matter of great speculation.

It turned out to be a popular spot that day, we got interviewed on camera by a YouTube channel film crew, and then bumped into an elderly lady who asked us what we actually knew about Tsietsi. She landed up being a struggle veteran herself and regaled us for ages with her own stories of that time. Definitely an added bonus!

It’s amazing how much you can learn about your own city and its history by playing tourist for a day. I definitely recommend it.

Spring Gardens of Jozi: exploring Roedean and Beechwood.

String duet at Beechwood

I’ve always loved Joburg in Spring. September is an explosion of natural colour with every park and garden overflowing with a proliferation of vibrant blooms. Wisteria, Bougainvillea, and other creepers cascade over walls or erupt over host trees like so many firework displays. Fruit trees blossom pink and white and throw confetti to the breeze. Bushes, trees, and shrubs all show off their individual hues. The warm air fills with the heady scents of Jasmine, Syringa, and Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow.

 

As the season progresses, the rainbow gives way to a single, dominant colour as the purple Jacarandas bloom in October and November. These trees are not indigenous to South Africa, they are native to South and Central America and started being imported from Brazil in the late 1800’s. They grew well and became a favourite tree for street edges in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Now, more than a hundred years later, they are synonymous with Gauteng Spring. Suburban streets become purple tunnels with arching branches overhead and fallen blooms creating a purple carpet below. The season also marks the arrival of long awaited rain storms and these trees truly look their best against a dark grey, stormy sky. If you can find a rooftop bar or a hilltop viewing spot, the city grid in lilac is spectacular!

 

Many of the city’s most beautiful gardens are largely hidden from public view, but in Spring a few are showcased by Gardens of the Golden City in aid of charity. Every year between September and November, a selection of some of the most magnificent gardens are open to the public for a small entrance fee in support of various charities. The gardens vary in size and style. Some are just lovely garden spaces, others include a small tea garden, and some, like the ones highlighted below, include markets, food stalls, champagne bars and live music, among other things. They are well worth the visit if you really want to experience Springtime at its best in Jozi.

Roedean School, a prestigious girls’ school in Parktown, Johannesburg, was founded in 1903 as the sister school to Roedean Brighton in England. The original buildings were designed by the Architect, Sir Herbert Baker. Around 1907 the surrounding veld and rock landscape began to be laid out as formal gardens. For over a hundred years these gardens have been expanded, tended, and loved by various carers and remain some of the most spectacular displays I’ve ever seen.

 

Every year the school hosts a market and open garden day called ‘A Blooming Affair’. Visitors are free to explore the incredible grounds, enjoying the formal gardens, majestic trees, koi ponds, the koppie walking track, and any number of pretty spots to relax in. This particular day also includes a huge market with everything from crafts and art to imported goods and exotic foods. There is also an extensive nursery market selling herbs, orchids, carnivorous plants, and everything in between. Visitors can explore, relax, or shop to the sounds of live music (mostly performed by the school’s talented music students) and while sipping an artisanal gin cocktail or a glass of bubbly.

 

 

Beechwood Gardens is the Hyde Park estate of Christopher and Susan Greig. The Greig family still runs Charles Greig Jewellers, now in its fifth generation of Greig Jewellers since Charles first moved from Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, to open a jewelers in Market Street in 1899. While Christopher continues in his Great-Grandfather’s footsteps, designing beautiful jewellery pieces, his mother, Italia, and brother, Donald, have become well established bronze sculptors. This, as well as the Grieg’s long relationship with the arts, led to the opening of the Charles Greig Gallery.

The Beechwood homestead was originally designed by Steffen Ahrends for Rudy Frankel of the Tiger Oats brand. The house is in the Romantic Flemish Country style and has a cedar shingle roof. The gardens were originally laid out in 1945 by Landscape Architect, Joane Pym. In the nearly two decades since the Greig’s acquired the property, they have lovingly restored, extended, and re-imagined the garden creating a living masterpiece.

 

Once inside the huge wooden gates, you will first see the sweeping driveway wrapping around a pristine lawn with an enormous oak tree in the centre, before passing under the porte cochère attached to the main house. I can imagine grand vintage cars, perhaps even carriages, carrying elaborately dressed guests to lavish soirées in this house in days gone by.

The garden is a wonderland of smaller ecosystems that can be explored via a network of pathways (including a wheelchair accessible route). You amble through woodlands, traverse bridges over streams and ponds. There are vast open lawns, secluded sitting areas, and concealed forest routes that open into spectacular view points. There is a series of ponds, full of fish and water-lilies. There are, of course, bronze sculptures scattered throughout, turning the entire space into an outdoor gallery. A colonnaded gazebo, covered in creepers and climbing roses, runs alongside a formal rose garden laid out around a central fountain.

 

The route then winds into a network of seemingly unfinished, perhaps partly demolished brick structures. I often wonder about the history of that part of the property, and why the buildings were left in that state. But there is a certain charm about them and I can imagine them being a great setting for fashion photo shoots. On this particular weekend in the year, they become display areas for artworks and champagne bars. Head onward towards the tennis court, now transformed into a covered artisanal market, showcasing everything from handmade swimsuits and kimono wraps, to leather bags, agate jewellery, gourmet olives, and fudge.

Exiting the marquee, and heading back to where we started, having circled around the house, we pass through the geometrically laid out kitchen garden. The raised beds and pots are overflowing with fresh produce. Everything looks healthy and delicious! Not only is this a well tended garden, it is also well used. Susan Greig is passionate about food and cooking. She teaches classes in her food studio adjacent to this abundant food garden. She specialises in uncomplicated, wholesome meals made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

 

As part of the Open Garden season, Susan offers a wonderful al fresco lunch on the lawns of Beechwood. Guests with tickets for this option sit at garden tables under stretch tents and umbrellas, enjoying the live instrumental music while sipping sparkling wine from tall glasses. The cooking studio is bustling with chefs and assistants churning out platter after platter of delicious looking creations for the buffet table. I like to imagine that the scene is probably fairly close to the lavish garden parties thrown by the Randlords of early Johannesburg.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to the formal lunch, you can choose from an array of food trucks and stalls and enjoy your lunch at a table or in one of the wooden loungers scattered around the property. There really is nowhere without a lovely view to enjoy.

 

 

Victoria Yards: Urban Regeneration with the Community in mind.

It’s no secret that I love this city. Like many cities, Johannesburg has its challenges, one of them being urban decay in many of the older areas. As an Architect, I am usually all for regeneration and urban upliftment, however it often comes with some negative consequences. Victoria Yards, however, seems to be finding the balance between investment returns and social conscience and it makes a refreshing change.

Developers who are interested in investing in decaying urban areas will, of course, first consider the returns on their investments. That makes good business sense, but usually means that the new real estate offerings are aimed at higher income groups than those currently occupying the area. Modern lofts, trendy eateries, and artisan markets are usually a great improvement on degraded industrial buildings and overcrowded squats, however, this ‘gentrification’ comes at more than just a capital investment cost. The community that once lived or worked in the area usually forced out by the higher rentals and inflated living costs that come with such developments.

Victoria Yards is different. I recently had the opportunity to join a heritage walk put on by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation that explored this new development in an old area, and to catch the vision for its future. Brian Green, the developer responsible for Milpark’s 44 Stanley complex, along with his partners, saw something in the ramshackle collection of old industrial buildings that inspired them to invest time and money into the old Joburg suburb of Lorentzville, squeezed between Bertrams and Judith’s Paarl, east of the city centre.

20180210_150609

The complex of structures that form the Victoria Yards precinct includes an old industrial laundry building and various old workshops, factories, and warehouses. The Impi Brewing Company has a bar and restaurant that spills out into one of the  courtyards and is a great place to grab a pizza and a brew before exploring the site.

The project is a work in progress that will be upgraded over time. The first few studios and shops have started to be occupied by various artists and artisans, most of whom seem quite happy to share their space and engage with visitors. Coote and Wench was a favourite. It is a workshop and interiors outlet run by a husband wife team who create incredible homeware and decor from found or upcycled objects.

Other studios are occupied by photographers (you might catch a glimpse of Roger Ballen at work), artists (Blessing Ngobeni has taken a space here, among many others), and various other artisans. Smelt Glass Studio creates and displays incredible works of glass. Their vision is to make their kiln and equipment available for hire so that other artists can benefit from it, and they are more than happy to have visitors, spectators, or trainees wander in and check out what they are doing. It is that kind of community feeling that makes Victoria Yards feel different and inclusive.

Brian Green is incredibly inspiring to listen to. He has real vision. It is fascinating to watch him describe a scene that includes planting, water features, rest spots, and walkways when you are all gazing up at an alley-like chasm between two derelict brick structures. He really sees what can be, long before it is actually there. Although he describes himself as a tough landlord, and he is obviously a savvy businessman, he also considers how he can facilitate community development, skills training, upliftment, and sustainable urban farming.

Every space between buildings has been carefully planned out and planted with food gardens. Courtyards burst with fruit trees, walkways are lined with vegetable gardens, and meadows full of herbs and medicinal plants tie the space together. Currently, locals  can buy boxes of seasonal vegetables at low prices on a friday. The long term vision, as the gardens grow and production increases, might include food markets which provide healthy food as well as employment for people from the neighbourhood. Everything is organic and environmentally friendly, right down to the resident owls who keep the area rodent free.

A huge amount of funding has gone into cleaning up the Jukskei River. Although it daylights a short distance from Victoria Yards, it was already quite polluted by the time it reached the complex. A lot of time and effort has gone into cleaning up the portion alongside Victoria Yards, and there are longer term plans to build filter beds to make the water swimmable in future. This is another example of how a development is used to give back to an area rather than just leach of it.

The Jukskei River
A much cleaner river now than before the development started.

I loved exploring the rabbit warren of buildings and courtyards. It was fascinating hearing bits of information about the artists and other tenants, and about the garden manager who is creating a marvelous example of an urban farm. But my favourite part was being able to ‘see’ the vision for the expansion and development of the area, and hear how the existing community is being considered and included on so many levels.

It is a space in progress, but I am definitely looking forward to returning regularly to see how it grows.


16 Viljoen Street, Lorentzville. Secure, covered parking is available within the complex. Opening hours for different spaces may vary. Open 7 days a week, with varying amounts of activity. Check out their facebook page for more info on happenings and events.
There is so much going on in this space that it is impossible to capture all the angles. I loved this piece about some of the artisans in the space.

 

 

Coffee with Conscience

I’ve often heard of ‘Coffee Cupping’ events but, until recently, I had never attended one. I had naively assumed that it would be something similar to wine tasting but with a row of flat whites lined up to sniff and sip. I was wrong. The tasting process itself is a little different, but it was a fascinating way to learn about this complex beverage that many of us take for granted as being an easily available energy boost.

This particular experience was hosted by Thirdspace, a coffee shop and roastery  that operates as a worksharing environment in Fourways, Johannesburg. They have a double volume space in a small retail centre in this ever increasing hub north of the city. The interior is a comfortable balance between industrial loft-style rough brick and steel, and contemporary, minimalist furniture. Room divider shelving units cleverly break up the space to allow tables to become desks or meeting tables. There are plenty of power points, wifi, and even a boardroom available for more formal business meetings. It is a wonderful example of a space designed with the current coffice (coffee shop/office) culture in mind.

20180210_105210

20180210_090841.jpg

20180210_090852.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this particular Saturday morning, we had gathered to learn more about coffee and the processes involved in growing, preparing, and roasting the beans. Thirdspace sources, roasts and brews top of the range speciality coffees, all of which are guaranteed to be fair trade. They have recently partnered with an NGO called Love Justice who work tirelessly to prevent human trafficking. A new speciality coffee blend has been offered at cost so that all the profits from the sale of this coffee will go into intercepting potential victims before they are trafficked. You can find out more about what they do here.

Our host and guide through the experience was Ben Jenkins, a young Englishman who found his way to South Africa via Burundi. He has years of experience in the coffee industry, first working in a coffee shop to pay for his studies (and his coffee habit), and then learning as much as he could about coffee and its production. Burundi was where he really came face to face with the plight of the average coffee farmer. Despite it being a multi-billion dollar industry, very little of the revenue finds its way into the pockets of the farmers growing the beans. It’s a global issue which coffee drinkers should be aware of. Consider spending the extra to buy ethically sourced, fair trade beans.

The actual cupping process is apparently the same method that is used to rate the quality of coffee worldwide. Our group obviously didn’t have the training and experience, or the finely honed nose and palate of the professionals. We also didn’t have clipboards and rating sheets but we were all eager to compare coffees from different regions and preparation methods.

The different roasted beans are freshly ground but left dry. The procession then moved along the rows, agitating the grinds and inhaling the aroma. It’s amazing the variation in scent you can pick up when you are comparing a number of coffees like this! Then, hot water is poured onto the ground beans and left for four minutes. The floating grinds are gently stirred so that they settle and the foam on the top is removed with spoons. The coffee is then ready for the tasters to slurp soup spoons of coffee, making sure that the hot liquid touches all the taste buds. While this is probably not the way most people would like to enjoy their coffee, it certainly is a fascinating way to really experience and compare the flavours and I would highly recommend the experience.

 

Coffee Quickies:

  1. Coffee is reputed to have been discovered in Ethiopia around 800AD when goat herds noticed that their goats behaved strangely after eating the berries.
  2. Arabica coffee is generally grown  in high altitude regions that have extreme temperature variations. Robusta grows in more low lying areas. It is generally easier to cultivate. Arabica is used more often in top quality coffees. 
  3. Caffeine is actually a natural pesticide to protect plants. Robusta coffee usually has a higher caffeine content than Arabica due to there being more insect activity in the lower lying regions in which it grows.
  4. The berries that contain the beans start to ferment as soon as they are harvested. This means that the process of washing and preparing the beans needs to happen as close to the tree as possible. The bean also has a relatively short shelf life after it has been roasted. This means that the washing usually happens in the country of production and the roasting happens in the consumer country.
  5. Due to there seldom being roasteries near farms (see no. 4), the farmers who grow the coffee have often never tasted the drink itself.
  6. Coffee beans are most commonly prepared in one of two ways, either ‘washed’ or ‘natural’. This is mostly to do with how long the berry pulp is left on the bean. Beans prepared by the ‘natural’ method often have a slightly fruity flavour.
  7. Due to various historical factors, the stock market coffee price is usually below the actual cost of production. This is why the farmers often lose out.
  8. A large proportion of coffee farmers in Africa are women.
  9. While Brazil now produces the largest portion of the world’s coffee, African coffees are often ranked among the best. (source)
  10. Coffee is usually rated by experts and given a rating based on a 100 point scale. High end, speciality coffees usually come from beans with a rating of 90 or above.

If you would like to attend a coffee cupping event, Thirdspace and Love Justice will be hosting one every second Saturday of the month. If you are not a Jozi local, look out for them at your nearest speciality coffee shop.

If you would like to order this particular coffee blend and contribute towards the fight against human trafficking, you can place your order here.

 

 

 

A Sunday stroll around Zoo Lake.

Jozi is often known primarily as a concrete jungle. People usually think of the buildings, roads and traffic before they conjure up images of open green spaces, but the city is dotted with parks of various shapes and sizes. Zoo Lake (and the surrounding land) is one of the larger city parks and is located in the suburbs to the north of the city centre. Along with the adjacent area now occupied by the Johannesburg Zoo, this land was presented to the city by Wernher Beit and Co. in 1904. It was to be called Hermann Eckstein Park, after one of the company’s partners, a mining magnate in early Johannesburg.

20180204_124224

The first weekend of every month sees the portion of the lawns along Jan Smuts avenue transformed into an outdoor art gallery. The Artists Under The Sun collective exhibits paintings, drawings, sculpture, and other crafts. It’s a great place to shop for that perfect piece of art for your wall, or just to meander through the park, possibly with an ice-cream in hand.

20180204_123449

This particular Sunday, after starting my visit with a meander among the paintings, I strolled towards the lake itself. The background traffic buzz was gradually replaced by the sounds of ball games on the lawns, running water, and geese. The warm air carried scents of Eucalyptus and cooking meat.

The space is generally very well maintained. There are plenty of benches to rest and appreciate the view. Big groups of people gather under trees and share picnics, the more energetic types play ballgames on the lawns. Braais (barbecues, for those not local) are only allowed in designated areas. Other facilities include basketball courts and kids’ play areas.

20180204_123953

20180204_131157

The lakeside itself is where most of the activity happens. A footpath encircles the lake and it is usually well used by walkers, joggers, and cyclists. The lawns give way to bare sand here, scavenged by hundreds of water fowl. White and Egyptian geese seem to be everywhere. They mostly mind their own business and I suggest you do the same…angry geese can nip hard.

Over 2000 birds roost in safety on an island in the middle of the lake and forage on its banks. You can hire a row boat and spend some time out on the water, getting a close-up view of the island and the big fountain which was first commissioned in 1937.

20180204_124759

20180204_125121

20180204_125050

Moyo’s African restaurant is usually busy, especially on weekends. If you don’t feel like packing a picnic lunch, try out their great menu. It’s a sprawling, quirky eatery with handcrafted decor and furniture and a diverse menu of African cuisine. If you have ever wondered what mopani worms taste like, or felt like a crocodile pie, this is the place for you. It’s not all ‘fear factor’ food, though. There is something for everyone, and they have a large cocktail menu too.

On weekends there is usually live music and quite a crowd. If you don’t feel like a sit-down meal, you can also grab a tasty and budget friendly boerewors roll outside at the Moyo’s weekend stand.

20180204_125232

 

 

 

Access to the park is free. You can park along the streets or in a number of parking areas around the park’s periphery. Moyo’s has a designated parking lot. You’ll probably need to give a tip to the unofficial car guards around the area.
Address: Corner Jan Smuts Avenue and Westwold Street, Saxonwold.

 

Joburg, an introduction to a city of contrasts.

Johannesburg, South Africa. A bustling metropolis, a melting pot of cultures. The city is often affectionately called ‘Joburg’, or ‘Jozi’, or referred to as ‘Egoli’, translated as ‘Place of Gold. She is a relatively young city by world standards. When gold was first discovered in the area in 1886 prospectors flocked to the region to stake a claim. A tented camp quickly sprung up, soon becoming a shanty town of tin structures. It was assumed that the gold would run out, like many other deposits had, but Johannesburg was more resilient. Gold ran deep in the geology of the region, and technologies improved do that mine shafts could be sunk deep into the earth. The city grew quickly. Tin sheds were replaced with brick structures. By the 1920s and 1930s Johannesburg was competing on the world stage with modern technology and state of the art building techniques. Design and Architecture was keeping up with the international styles and the city flourished.

This place is my home. No matter how many places I have lived and called home, I will always have a special love for this city. It is often misunderstood, ignored on tourist trails, or feared. But there is so much to explore here. I chose the main picture for this post as, though it isn’t a glamorous image, it highlights the contrasts of this place; the old double storey shops against the angular mirrored facade of a city office block. There is so much like that around.

One of the best ways to get an overview of the city is on the popular open top City Sightseeing bus. It provides a good value for money way to get around the whole city. The recorded commentary is available in several languages. Though it won’t necessarily give you any in-depth insights, it is a great was to understand the basics of the city. Even as a local I have played at being a tourist in my own city and really enjoyed the experience. Pick up locations are convenient and you can get on and off wherever you like.

Johannesburg City Hall Entrance
City Hall’s Entrance.

By far the best way to experience the city is on foot. This allows you to engage with your surroundings a lot more and you will catch far more detail than navigating the city in a vehicle. Like every city, there are areas that may be less safe to walk. First time visitors may like to take advantage of one of the many walking tours available. If you feel a bit more confident exploring on your own or in a group, try and research the areas and decide in advance what you would like to see. Take a look at my tips and tricks at the end of this post as well.

 

 

 

Jozi is full of contrasts and contradictions. The architectural fabric of the city is varied and the people that inhabit it are even more interesting. Even though the city is now no longer solely dependent on mining, it is still an economic hub that thousands of people flock to daily. There are nationalities represented here from all over the world. Pockets of different cultures exist all over the city, so you can explore cultures and foods from all over Africa, or even India and other regions.

The Markham's Building
The Markham’s Building

The city centre started to empty and decline in the 1980s as businesses moved to nodes outside of the original CBD and people opted for homes in the sprawling suburbs. This often left abandoned structures, left to become cheap accommodation or even squats. Some parts of town are still fairly run-down. Other areas have seen restored or new buildings being invested in by businesses or developers. Still other areas have become hipster hotspots as industrial buildings are converted into studios, markets, and artisanal eateries. It is an ever evolving city and there is always something new to discover.

 

 

If you are taking advantage of the bus tours, I recommend starting at Park Station in town for the main route. There is ample secure parking and a Sightseeing tour office on site. If you are coming in from the South of the City, the Gold Reef City stop will offer the same convenience. Tickets are cheaper if you buy them online in advance. You can find details, maps, and tickets here.

I suggest you look at the areas that you would most like to explore on foot and decide in advance where you will get on and off. The city is too big to see everything in a day. The Carlton Centre viewing deck is definitely worth the small charge to go up in the lift. This gives you 360 degree view of the city.  There are various bus route options available. If you only have a day, stick to the CBD tour. If you have two or three days, consider adding the loop through the suburbs or the extension tour to Soweto.

I highly recommend checking out Joburg Places. Their website provides a lot of ideas and insights into the city. They also offer great tours and often have activities and activations around the city.

I hope you will consider a visit to Jozi. It’s impossible to explain this colourful city in one post. So, over time, I hope to share my own explorations with you. I’d love to hear your stories or comments. So feel free to get in touch.

Facade screenDSCF1033

Mel’s city travel tips and tricks

These are just a few tips and tricks for urban explorations, things I have learned from traveling in various parts of the world. They are not necessarily in any particular order.

  1. Plan ahead! Before you set out to explore a new place, make sure you have a general idea of where you are going, how to get there, and what the area is like.
  2. Keep your belongings safe in a backpack or a bag with a cross body strap. Keep zips and buckles closed and locked if possible. Don’t keep valuables like phones or wallets in easily accessible pockets.
  3. Dress appropriately. Leave flashy valuables at home, wear comfortable shoes, consider local customs and cultures. Joburg is fairly casual and just about anything goes in terms of dress. But, should you be visiting religious sites or areas, covering knees and shoulders is a good idea. If you are carrying a camera, try and keep neck straps on and a firm hold on it when in crowded street. Opportunistic thieves are at work in most cities, not just in South Africa.
  4. Walk with purpose. Always walk as if you know exactly where you are going, even if you are completely lost. Try and only pull out maps and guide books when you are in more private setting. This will attract less unwanted attention.
  5. Get lost safely. I love just getting lost in a new city. I find I discover more and immerse myself in the culture more quickly than if I stick to tourist spots. But do it safely. Find a landmark near to your hotel or drop off point. When you are lost and needing to find your way back, ask locals to direct you to ‘the big square’, ‘the Eland statue’, or ‘the xyz bar’. This will allow you to find your way back confidently without giving out personal information about where you are staying.
  6. Wear sunscreen and a hat. Never underestimate the African sun.
  7. Smile and greet people on the street. African cities tend to be a lot more interactive than some other places. People appreciate a greeting as you pass. It also ensures you are more aware of your surroundings and who is around you. Interact with people but be careful not to divulge personal information or to go anywhere with anyone you don’t know.
  8. Use reputable taxi services. When using ride shares like Uber or Taxify, make sure you check licence plates and driver information before getting into cars.