Category Archives: Johannesburg

When it comes to food, we aren’t shy

With the exception of our second trip to Rustenburg – the day where:

  • we couldn’t get any food at the stadium after standing in line for 40 minutes 
  • we didn’t return from our epic bus trip until 3:30 am and Lauren was forced to eat the pasta that had been sitting, unrefrigerated, in our room for 30 hours

I think that we ate quite well on our trip to South Africa.   

Food, as much as I like it, was not the main focus of our trip.  While we ate well, I wouldn’t claim to have frequented any restaurant that were particularly unique or off of the beaten track. 

I didn’t do any research on restaurants prior to our arrival and, unfortunately, we were somewhat limited to those three popular areas where we often spent our evenings.  But that’s okay: we ate, we ate well and it wasn’t like the point of our trip was to sample all of the variety of fine dining that South Africa had to offer. 

Truly fine dining while watching soccer on television doesn’t mix anyway.

Nelson Mandela Square

  • Pappas on the Square (dinner)
  • Ghirardellis (dinner)
  • Trumps International Grillhouse (dinner)
  • Caffe Della Salute (lunch)

Rosebank

  • Ocean Basket (lunch)
  • Europa (lunch)
  • Bulldogs Pub and Grub (dinner)
  • Nino’s (dinner)
  • Vanilla (for gelato)

Melrose Arch

Last day in Jozi

Sadly, our trip to Johannesburg wrapped up on Monday.  When we were planning our trip, two weeks seemed like such a luxuriously long time to spend on vacation!  But, I swear, we blinked and it was time to go home. 

After we returned to the hotel following the Argentina/Mexico match on Sunday night, we finished a good portion of our packing.  I had a lot more to pack than Lauren, who had been rather disciplined about packing away her souvenirs and dirty clothes over the course of our stay, instead of waiting until the last day. 

I’ve learned my lesson.

Following breakfast and showers and the last of our packing, Lauren and I caught a cab into Rosebank for one final shopping expedition.  There were a few special items left on our list that we wanted to pick up and we wanted to squeeze in one last meal before we left South Africa.

The shopping trip, I am pleased to report, went swimmingly.  We knocked everything off of our list in record time and even found a few spare minutes to browse the mall.  …and buy a few other things that weren’t on our list as a result. 

To be fair, even though it wasn’t on the list, I totally needed the official World Cup album.  And now my life is complete. 

The most interesting part of our shopping trip came when we visited the biltong store.  Biltong is, essentially, South Africa’s version of beef jerky.  People go wild for it.  Everyone told us about how good it was, how much better it tasted than American beef jerky.  So, of course we had to try it.  I had actually bought a bag at Soccer City when we were there for the Germany/Ghana match and, well, I wasn’t crazy about it.  And Lauren was even less crazy about it. 

But would Dad like it?  Yes.  And that is how we ended up at the biltong store: in our quest to buy our dad a uniquely South African gift.

The biltong store was set up a little bit like a bulk food store.  Bins of biltong of all different varieties: ostrich biltong, springbok biltong, beef biltong.  All shredded up and ready for the taking (once you put on the proper rubber gloves, of course).  So we grab a few handfuls of biltong and shove it into a bag. 

And then I get the great idea of buying one of the ginormous slabs of beef that is just hanging off of a shelf like it’s a pair of socks.  Why not?  Anything in the name of an authentic South African delicacy for our daddy! 

We have our slab of beef shredded and then the staff vacuum sealed up all of the biltong so that we could bring it into the country.  All right in the middle of a shopping mall.  Completely natural!  We were getting so good at being South African.  It was a shame that we had to leave.

We had seafood for our final meal in South Africa at a restaurant called Ocean Basket.  Ocean Basket has all of these platter meals on the menu, which consist of several types of seafood in enormous quantities.  We split the Princess Platter, which had princess prawns, fish, some salty fried cheese concoction, calamari, fries, …and maybe something else?

When we ordered the meal, we asked the waiter if it would be enough for us to share.  “Oh, it depends, he said.  Did you eat breakfast?” 

Yes, we had breakfast.  And, no, neither of us could have even made a dent in a Princess Platter even if we hadn’t.

Something crazy happened, you guys.  We couldn’t eat it all.  Me and Lauren!  I am not even kidding.  The world may stop spinning.

So, with very full bellies and an armful of shopping bags, we took our final cab ride back to our hotel.  We squeezed our goodies into our suitcases, turned on the Netherlands/Slovakia Round of 16 match and waited for our beloved shuttle driver, Thierry, to take us to the airport. 

And then Lauren fell asleep on our bed, which I unsuccessfully tried to prevent her from doing.  We were about to embark on 22 hours of travel and that’s a really good place to catch up on your sleep, right?!

Of course, she slept way better on the plane than I did. 

That’s what I get for interfering with someone’s nap.

Johannesburg and Soweto

So, 7:15 am.  It came very early.

Sunday was our last chance to squeeze in a tour of Soweto.  Going on just a few hours of sleep was far from ideal, but the only other option was to skip the tour entirely.  Please!  There would be ample time to catch up on sleep during the 16 hour plane ride home. 

Our tour was a combined tour of Johannesburg and Soweto.  We were the last pickup of the six in our tour group; as soon as we got in the van, the tour guide began his spiel. 

The guide was quite knowledgeable and he had obviously given this tour dozens upon dozens of times before.  Had I not been able to see that his eyes were on the road as we proceeded through Johannesburg and into Soweto, I would have thought that he was reading off of a script.  Needless to say, it was a bit robotic, but undoubtedly informative.

The best part about the tour guide’s speech was that he regularly referred to us as “good people.”  It was so unnatural that it was humorous.  “And next, good people, we will be driving through the most dangerous part of Johannesburg, Hillbrow.”  “We are now turning onto Vilakazi Street, good people, the only street to have housed two Nobel Peace Prize recipients.”

The tour started with the drive through Johannesburg.  Despite having been there for nearly two weeks, we actually hasn’t spent much time within the city limits of Johannesburg other than when we were attending matches.  The tour of Johannesburg was brief but it was certainly worth it: we saw where Nelson Mandela currently lives, we visited Constitution Hill, we drove through Hillbrow, which our driver described as once being “South Africa’s Hollywood” but is now one of the most dangerous areas of Johannesburg.  We saw St. John’s College, the most prestigious boys’ school in South Africa.  We saw abandoned buildings and stunning statues. 

Following the Johannesburg tour, we made the short drive into Soweto.  Soweto’s origin was as a black township during the apartheid era.  It’s a fascinating place.  It wasn’t about going to see the slums, or to gawk at those who were less fortunate.  It was about the history of the place, about the role that it played in the struggle against the Apartheid movement and about how it fits into modern-day South Africa.

Following a short drive through some of the more prosperous areas of Soweto, our driver took us to an area where we could exit the van and see Soweto up close.  We walked down a dirt path past a handful of tiny, tin houses, accompanied by a Soweto resident who is a volunteer tour guide. 

He took us to a house where the young mother of four welcomed us inside.  She showed us the three rooms of her house: two bedrooms that barely fit the beds that they contained, and her kitchen, as narrow as a hallway.  The tour guide coaxed the answers to a few questions from her.  We watched her children dart in and out of the door.  It was humbling, really, to see how she lived and how unabashedly she showed it to us.  I suppose that it could have been just for the Rand that we all gave her when we left but, whatever the reason, she opened up her home to a half-dozen tourists. 

I had brought along a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops.  When we left the house, I worked up the nerve to ask the tour guide if it would be okay to hand them out to the children.  With his blessing, I broke open the bag and handed them to the children who were in the woman’s yard.  Word, of course, spread quickly.  I was looking at an awful lot of eager faces and outstretched hands; the bag was empty before long. 

The Soweto guide escorted us out of the neighborhood and back to our van.  After a pit-stop at a KFC so a few on the tour could go to the bathroom (a break that featured our tour guide accidentally driving our van over a substantial concrete barrier), we headed further into Soweto.  We saw where Desmond Tutu lives when he is in the area, we saw where Nelson Mandela lived prior to his imprisonment (and for a mere 11 days after his imprisonment).  Finally, we wrapped up our tour at the Hector Pieterson Museum.  Pieterson was the first student to be killed during the 1976 Soweto uprising against Apartheid and the museum was built in the honor of him and the others who were killed during that time.  It was a small museum (we were allotted just 30 minutes to browse), but I found it was a neat, comprehensive way to wrap up the tour.

Sleep deprived and all, it was an enlightening and interesting way to spend our morning.  And we even got back to the hotel with time for a nap before our last match of the tournament: Argentina/Mexico.

Italy vs. Slovakia

Thursday marked the final match we would see in the group stage: Italy versus Slovenia at Ellis Park.  It was a 4:00 pm kickoff, and our shuttle driver had another group to pick up from the airport, so we got to the stadium quite early.  We walked around the stadium, took a few pictures, checked out the apparel, bought an ice cream, watched a bit of the corny “entertainment” put on by a few of the World Cup sponsors and were still to our seats an hour before the game started. 

The game was an exciting one but, apart from the final few minutes of the match, the Italians were disappointing.  It was quite a shock to see the reigning World Cup champions fail to progress out of the group stage!  Italy was very well represented in the stands.  The Italian fans had very long faces on the walk out of Ellis Park, that’s for sure.

The walk out of the stadiums is always interesting.  We never fail to see a handful of foreign reporters – television and radio – looking for a good interview from an elated (or distressed) fan of one of the participating countries.  The world press is definitely present at this World Cup.  The press box usually takes up a section or two of the stadium.  Dozens of photographers, all wearing orange vests, are seated at the sidelines at every match. 

After the game, we met our shuttle driver.  He was kind enough to drop us off at Nelson Mandela Square so that we could squeeze in dinner and a little bit of shopping before we headed back to the hotel for the night. 

We had dinner at a restaurant that overlooked Nelson Mandela Square.  I was feeling adventurous, so I took the suggestion of the “must have!” printed next to the Oxtail Casserole on the menu and ordered that for my dinner.  It tasted okay, but the consistency of the meat left something to be desired.  There was a little bit too much connective tissue for my taste, unfortunately.  It is the only meal I’ve had on this trip that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that bad.  Plus, we finished the meal off with chocolate mousse.  Chocolate mousse heals all.

After finishing up dinner, we caught a cab back to our hotel.  With the length of time that we’ve been in Johannesburg, we have a pretty good idea of the standard rate that it costs to get to or from our hotel to a few different points in the surrounding suburbs.  It’s astounding how often we’re quoted a rate that is 50 Rand higher than the already inflated World Cup rate that the taxi drivers are charging.  We’ve gotten quite good, and quite comfortable with, telling the cab drivers that there’s no way we’re paying such an astounding rate.  And they always come down in price.

Back at the hotel, we got to bed earlier than we had been in bed during the entire duration of our trip.  The alarm clock was set for 6:00 the following morning.  No moaning about the early wakeup call allowed: we were getting up to go on a safari!

Germany vs. Ghana

After a Wednesday morning that started like all of our others: breakfast, showers, outfit coordination and email checks, we arranged for the hotel’s shuttle driver, Thierry, to take us to the Apartheid Museum.

Let me pause for a second to tell you about how awesome Thierry is: very awesome.  He takes us to games and picked us up at the airport.  Always cheerful.  Always laughing at Lauren’s jokes.  He’s definitely made our lives here much easier.  And we’ve certainly paid him for that privilege.

So, anyway, Thierry dropped us off at the Apartheid Museum for a few hours. 

Even after visiting the museum, I still find it inconceivable that apartheid fell only 16 years ago.  16 years! 

The museum itself was well done.  It was a little crowded, I thought, but we still took a great deal away from it.  There is so much information – I’m sure that I only soaked up a tiny percentage of what was presented – on both the rise and the fall of the apartheid museum.   I definitely left with a greater understanding of South Africa and its history.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I’m ever in Johannesburg again.   

Thierry picked us up outside of the museum (on African time, of course).  He told us that he was looking for our blonde hair.  That’s all we are here.  Blonde bombshells freak shows. Now I know how Jessica Simpson feels.

We got back to the hotel with less than an hour until we were supposed to leave for the Ghana/Germany match.  It was a quick turnaround.  We changed into our Germany jerseys.  Packed up our tickets and our cameras.  Ran to the restaurant for a quick snack (chicken strips for Lauren and a quesadilla for me), caught just a bit of the two Group C final games (USA/Algeria and England/Slovakia) and got on the shuttle.

Wednesday was day of the final group stage games for Group C and Group D.  When we left for the game, USA was tied with Algeria, 0-0, and it looked like the American team would be going home.  Thierry had the game on the radio in shuttle and we listened nervously as time ticked down.  What a shame.

We were on the highway when the game entered injury time.  We were stuck in traffic, inching along.  The shuttle was just driving past a fan park – where the games were projected onto big screens – when the Americans scored. 

Perfect timing.

For us and for Landon Donovan.

Lauren and I were both a little shocked.  All this time, we had assumed that we would be watching England in the Round of 16.  And now we had a reason to use the temporary tattoos we hadn’t used at the USA/Slovakia game.  Hurray! 

With plenty to be excited about, we entered Soccer City to watch Germany/Ghana.

As has become pattern, the African fans were loud and proud.  There were a lot of German fans in attendance, too.  Unlike the Mexico fans, no Germans tried to tell us that we didn’t look German.  Go figure.  A few tried to speak to us in German, as a matter of fact.  We smiled and nodded and definitely could’ve used Betsy or Meredith’s translation services.

The Germany/Ghana game was a fun one to watch.  Germany’s goalie, Manuel Neuer, plays like a complete madman.  While the score was only 1-0, both teams had a good number of quality scoring chances.  We had category 3 tickets for the game, our lowest price/category tickets, and I swear that they were equal or better to some of the category 2 tickets we had.  Go figure. 

There is no explaining FIFA.

A feathered hat and the paparazzi

Monday was a rest day.  No games, no tours, no commitments until our 8:30 pm dinner reservations. 

We started our day at approximately the same time that we start every day here, 9:30 am.  Breakfast is served until 10:00 am, so we’ve set our internal clocks to get us up just in time.  We haven’t missed a breakfast yet.  And good thing.  I hear it’s the most important meal of the day!

Following our breakfast and our morning email check, we sat with our friend James in the hotel lobby for a while.  Though he is from Liverpool, James was travelling with the group of New Yorkers (who had since gone home) and we had spent quite a bit of time with him.  He was with us on our first trip to Ellis Park, for the USA/Slovenia match, and he had gone to the Brazil/Ivory Coast match the night before, too.

James mentioned that he was going to the mall and to lunch with Jackie (the proprietor of our original accommodations and the woman kind enough to take us to the Lion Park) later in the morning.  We decided to tag along.  We ended up back at the African craft market.  Where we bought a few things (of course) and subsequently banned ourselves from returning to because we find it far too easy to burn through cash there.

(I should mention that we’ve since made plans to return this Monday because self control + Lauren + Alyson = does not compute.)

We had a nice, quick lunch and headed back to the hotel to see James off.  Before he left, he delivered several flags to our room: United States, Spain and Argentina.  He had no use for them at home; we promised to wave them wildly at every opportunity. 

The rest of our afternoon passed quietly.  Lauren did homework and took a nap.  I blogged and checked my work email. 

We headed to Melrose Arch for dinner at a restaurant called Moyo.  We had actually tried to have dinner there on Saturday, but couldn’t get reservations.  Moyo is an authentic African restaurant that came highly recommended by Jackie. 

Lauren suggested that Moyo may be the Frankenmuth of South Africa.  The staff wears traditional African outfits, which is probably embarrassing yet mitigated by the amount of business that they see.  We were seated in the basement section of the restaurant, which was absolutely enormous and completely packed.  The basement is decorated to look like a cave.  A cave with flatscreen televisions broadcasting the Spain game. 

We had drinks.  We had dinner.  We watched the Spain game.  We had our faces painted – which is apparently an African thing (or just a clever trick to charm the tourists).  We talked a Frenchman named Francois into taking our picture.  We soaked up the atmosphere.  It was really fun.

And about to get better.

Just as we were finishing up our meal, the Spain game finished.  To celebrate, the restaurant played the World Cup’s anthem “Waka Waka” (performed by our hero, Shakira) over the loudspeakers.  The wait staff gathered on the floor and started to dance.

“Go dance with them,” I told Lauren.  We’d been dancing to that song for nearly a week.  And it isn’t like talking Lauren into doing something like that is even remotely difficult.

So Lauren gets up with the wait staff and she starts dancing.  Before long, she’s wearing a hat made of feathers.  And drawing quite the crowd. 

Before I could really comprehend what was happening, Lauren and I were standing at our table and posing for photos with a large group of men.  Who formed a line.  To get their pictures taken.  With us.

There was also a large group of others surrounding us, taking pictures.  (Thankfully, I took a good number of photos of the paparazzi.  So funny.  Can’t wait to share them.) 

Here’s something we’ve learned since coming to Africa: girls with blonde hair and blue eyes are a bit of a rarity.      

Especially to a group of men from Saudi Arabia, which is where the majority of our fan club hailed from.

It was one of those situations that you could only ever get into with Lauren.  You all know exactly what I’m talking about.  Just so unusual that you can’t really believe that you’re there and so funny that you’ll be rehashing it for years to come. 

The night was magic.  Pure magic.  (Plus a bangin’ Shakria jam and one feathered hat.)

Argentina vs. South Korea

The Argentina/South Korea match was a 1:30 pm kickoff, the earliest time that World Cup games start.  Traffic around the venue, Soccer City Stadium, is dreadful.  We had to leave for the game at 10:00 am.

We’re lucky enough to be staying at a hotel that arranges match day transportation.  We have a shuttle bus that takes us to each game and picks us up at the conclusion.  It is very convenient.  Johannesburg is a bit like Detroit in that it doesn’t have a terribly effective public transportation system.  Imagine you were staying in Birmingham, without a car, and needed to get to a game at Comerica Park.  It’s something like that, but with a few more taxis. 

Our shuttle driver dropped us off as close to Soccer City as he could get.  Which wasn’t close at all.  You couldn’t see the stadium from where we started our walk.  Or for the first 10 minutes of our 30 minute walk, to be quite honest.  We followed the sea of people and, eventually, we came upon Soccer City and it is gorgeous.  You’ve seen the pictures – it’s the stadium with an exterior of patchwork in varying hues of deep reds and browns.  It’s a very impressive structure.

Minus the invigorating hike that every attendee must take prior to a match.  If there was a similar situation in Ann Arbor, we would be dropped off at Briarwood Mall and have to walk to Michigan Stadium from there.  On a dusty path.  Seriously.

The energy just outside of Soccer City was electric.  Fans were dancing, posing for pictures, shopping at the merchandise tent.  It was so fun to see all of the passionate supporters for each team, dressed up, draped in flags, faces painted.  It really made the whole thing real.  We’re really at the World Cup! 

Having worked up a hunger on our hike to the stadium, we stopped for a snack before going to our seats.  I had “mash and gravy,” a bowl of mashed potatoes with gravy on top.  Lauren had a cheese dog, a hot dog that had little, melty pieces of cheese throughout. 

We had a decent set of seats, in the upper bowl of Soccer City, but right at the half.  We were on the same side of the stadium as the benches, so we got to watch Diego Maradona pace back and forth for the entire match.  We also got to watch the blocks of passionate, loud supporters of each team.  During the South Korean national anthem, South Korea’s fans unfurled two enormous South Korean flags that nearly covered an entire section of spectators.  It was an amazing thing to see. 

In a World Cup where there haven’t been many goals scored, we were lucky enough to see five in Argentina’s 4-1 win.  And, surprisingly, I find the vuvuzelas to be less distracting in person than they are on television.  At the stadium, you can hear the separate toots of each horn, while on television they seem to bleed together into an obnoxious and constant buzz.

After the game, we took our long walk back to our shuttle.  The ride back to the hotel was a quiet one.  I think everyone was a little worn out, partially due to the game, partially due to the trek to and from the shuttle. 

We hung out at the hotel for a bit before eventually heading into Rosebank, where we found a bar/restaurant where we could watch the 8:30 pm match and eat dinner and chat with a pair of very old, very drunk South Africans who were just so happy that such a large number of foreigners were in South Africa that they felt compelled to tell us. 

After the match was finished, we called for a cab to take us back to our hotel.  Also similar to Detroit, you cannot get a taxi without calling for it.  It isn’t like a city like New York, when all you need to do is step to a curb to hail a taxi.  Kind of a pain, but we haven’t been stranded anywhere .  Yet.

It was around midnight when we got back to the hotel and we went to bed not long after that.  We had another exciting day planned for Friday: dressing up in our patriotic finest for USA/Slovenia!