Text by Giuseppe Origo

Translation by Elisa Borella

Having lived in the Gauteng’s capital city for two months, I can’t avoid saying I had huge problems carving out a little bubble of so-called ‘common everyday life’: Johannesburg is, in fact, a melting pot of cultures, not always living together in peace and showing civilized manners towards each other.

I have already written enough about local social and economic situation – you can find everything in here, clicking the following link:  http://revolart.it/into-the-other-africa-johannesburg/

Although Johannesburg could ignite a series of worried thoughts – thanks to urban legends and to its being completely different to the archetypical western urban atmosphere – it is fundamental to avoid letting rushed and inconsistent fears ruin our journey. We will be able to discover a city that can reveal itself as fascinating, when not curious, or both at the same time.

Browsing around the Internet, I am pretty sure you will find practical travel advice written by people undoubtedly more into the security matters than me or by travel organizations, more or less customized. In the first case, I will suggest you to have a look at www.viaggiaresicuri.it under La Farnesina supervision for Italian readers or at the corresponding websites of national Ministries of Tourism and/or Internal Affairs for foreigner readers’ own countries. In the latter on, I will direct your attention to the marvelous website of the Traveler’s Holy Bible ‘Lonely Planet’ or the ‘Turisti Per Caso’ blog, in which you can find excellent advice regarding more or less touristic destinations.

As far as I am concerned, I will do my best in here to tell you some gems or trivia regarding those less touristic destinations that had been able to surprise me and hook my attention, becoming regular stops in my everyday life here in JoBurg – a city that, once discovered, can transform itself into an interesting and pleasant place to stay.

Preliminary Note: Crime and dangers

As I have already told you – though underlining it once again cannot be that bad! – Johannesburg and Gauteng are places in which crime is still a major problem. Having said that, in order to enjoy the city, it is fundamental to let fears of being in danger fade away, otherwise, they will prevent yourself from living your experience to the full.

  • Always ASK advice regarding the area you want to visit – to locals, to hotelkeepers, to friends, to friends of friends etc.
  • Another issue related to the ‘general dangers’ topic is the high rate of Police Officers’ corruption, caused by incredibly low wages. It is not that uncommon, if being spotted as white people, to be stopped in the streets by Police Patrols with original but unrealistic excuses and to be threatened to be harshly fined or thrown into jail. In those tricky scenarios it is vital to avoid panicking and to calmly ask for clarifications about what kind of crime you were supposed to have committed, calling the Officers by name – it is written on a little tag on their shirt’s right pocket, if missing, PREVIOUSLY ASK FOR IT -, and claim, calmly but firmly, your own rights. Anyhow, I suggest you to always have with you around one or two thousand rands cash, easily stored into the car’s dashboard, in order to cope with the most difficult situations using bribes – note that you should not need to worry that much about ethics nor any other risk, because it is really common in here behaving like this and, moreover, it is best to lose 70 euros bribing than spending a night detention in the township’s jail.
  • Cash machines and credit cards: credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere (best if Visas), but it is advisable to have at least two hundred rands in your pocket. There are places to withdraw money (ATM) almost everywhere (REMEMBER to activate the card for international circuits), but it is best to do so during daytime and not alone.
  • ALWAYS BRING WITH YOU YOUR PASSPORT (or best, a certified photocopy)

Transportation

Forget the buses. There are only a few of them and their lines cover only little limited areas, they have no regular timetables and it could be really frustrating to wait 20/30/50 minutes at the stop, in the middle of an overcrowded suburb.

Avoid Taxis. The taximeters are mere accessories and there are no standard fares between different vehicles. It is not that uncommon to witness violent fights between taxi drivers or episodes of theft towards their customers (however, note that some of them might end up being only urban legends).

Uber is an excellent alternative and, with a little money, it offers reliable and safe means of transport – you can download the app from the website www.uber.com, link it to the credit card, and stop worrying because it is a reliable software. Moreover, the drivers will make perfect conversation partners from which everyone can gain precious advice regarding nice places to visit and to travel to.

Renting a car could also be a good solution. There is indeed a high number of guarded parking spots available, really cheap and easy to get to, almost everywhere in the city.

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What to see (and do… and eat!)

In my view, Johannesburg is a city that, after all, can be funny and cheap, if you know exactly your timetable and the right places to go, related to what you are interested into – you will find down here a brief summary that will cover a quite big variety.

Neighbourgoods market

When? Every Saturday, from the morning until 4 pm + every month’s first Thursday, from 6 pm to 10 pm

Where? 73 Juta St, Johannesburg, 2000

What? During the weekly days it is a car parking area, but every Saturday it becomes alive, turning itself into a culinary market visited by people of different age and nationality. Through the stalls it is cooked every kind of food from all over the world: it is possible to find excellent wine bottles, beers and cocktails. It is an appointment that cannot be missed, also enriched by live concerts and local artists’ exhibitions, right there and also in the streets nearby. Regarding night hours, it is best to previously collect information about which galleries and exhibitions are open to the audience.

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1Fox Market The Sheds

When? From Thursday to Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm + every month’s last Friday, from 6 pm to 10 pm

Where? 2 Fox St, Johannesburg, 2048

What? Very similar to Neighbourgoods, but less varied from a culinary point of view. However, you can find lots of things, including some curious objects and local artefacts. The 1Fox The Sheds takes place into an old industrial shed in the city centre: it is really close to a guarded parking area (10 rands cost) where, at different times, you can easily find live music and enjoyable performances.

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Rosebank Rooftop Market

When? Every Sunday

Where? Rosebank Mall, 20 Baker St, Johannesburg, 2196

What? Located in the Rosebank commercial area that hosts the biggest malls of the South African area, at the very top of the parking zone of one of them every Sunday you can find the Rooftop Market: hundreds of stalls sell every possible kind of trinkets and local handicrafts, from wooden or ivory statues and masks to magnets, spices, jewelry, food, fabrics, discs and leather goods. You can find everything that can be sold in any other African market, only… twice (or more) its size! It is souvenirs’ and impulsive purchase’s paradise, but it can also offer to careful and smart buyers great bargains because the golden rule is ‘negotiate!’

Rosebank Market

Bryanston Organic & Natural Market

When? Every Thursday and Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm + every festivity day

Where? 40 Culross Rd (off Main Rd), Bryanston, 2196

What? Half an hour by car or Uber far from the city centre, the Ryanston Organic & Natural Market is really different from all the other Johannesburg’s local markets. It is kind of a Hippy and Alternative place in which freaks from Gauteng and from all over the world offer (at not exactly cheap prices, I have to say) food and home-made goods. Both the market’s structure and its location are fabulous, though being outdoors – be sure to visit it in a sunny day then! It is totally worth a brief trip ‘out of the city’. You can also find live music there.

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Art On Main

When? Every day BUT every Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm ‘Market On Main’

Where? 264 Fox St, Johannesburg, 2094

What? The very end of Fox Street towards the city centre has become in the last few years the Jozi’s artistic and contemporary design meeting place: showrooms related to arts, photography, design, lithography and fashion have been popping out really quickly, giving to the city, to young people, to the artists and to the tourists a wonderful place to stay and to spend some time. Nearby it is also located the splendid ‘Bioscope’, a tiny arthouse cinema where you can watch old movies and have a pizza slice for only a few rands. Arts On Main is worth a visit on Sundays because it takes place ‘Market On Main’, my favourite Jozi’s marketplace, where food, design, and arts are mixed together, giving birth to one of the coolest markets in the city. In the beautiful main area, at number 264 Fox St, are located, under the trees and between the artists’ laboratories, dozens of stalls, selling the best local handicrafts and displaying the latest trends in terms of fashion and design. The culinary market is also worth a visit, just outside the main building: in my view, no customer should skip it.

Apartheid Museum

When? Every day, from 9 am to 5 pm

Where? Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Rd, Johannesburg, 2001

What? I promised to myself to write down some guide lines, highlighting places different from the most famous and advertised ones, but I cannot absolutely omit the Apartheid Museum. It would be a pity, as it represents a milestone in the recent history, but also for the unique architecture hosting its collection: no tourist should miss this place. Guess everyone can imagine what can be found inside it, so that I am not going to waste words into its description.

It is curious to note that the Apartheid Museum has been built next door to the Gold Reef City Funpark, where screams and laughs from the roller coasters can easily find their way to its gardens… Not exactly the smartest choice ever, is it? Perhaps, but I think it portrays quite nicely the atmosphere of a country that after such a dark period of segregation and separation, only now is starting to prefer a laugh over grief.

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SAB World of Beer

When? Every day from 10 am to 5 pm

Where? 15 Helen Joseph St, Midrand, 2113

What? I am not used to have a look at this particular kind of museums – I was actually kind of skeptic towards this experience and never did I imagine ending up writing about it. But still. It is a bad taste’s masterpiece in which the weirdest stories of the weirdest characters related to the breweries’ world are on display. Having said that, I have to admit it is a really funny experience, if shared with a group of friends. For the cheap price of 140 rands (around 10 euros) it will eventually include: huge hangover, after different rounds of ‘beer tasting’ – 6 little ones and 2 pints chosen from a SAB selection –, free burping, lots of good memories. IT IS BEST TO AVOID DRIVING: use Uber and have mercy on your poor driving licence.

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MOMO Art Gallery

When? From Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 6 pm

Where? 52 7th Ave, Johannesburg, 2193

What? Among the city’s museums, the MOMO Art Gallery is worth a visit, as Johannesburg, having suffered a lot in the recent past, is a productive ground for contemporary arts. There are many private galleries in the streets, particularly in the Maponeng area, along Fox St and 4th Ave in Parkhurst. There are also many urban museums and art fairs, but they offer only distant pictures of what can be regarded as truly valuable avant-gardes. To me, MOMO is synonym to high quality and from its foundation in 2002 it has always been sensitive to the latest trends in arts, from an international point of view, but also from a local one. Have a look there and you will understand what I mean.

Gallery MOMO in Parktown North, JHB, designed by Sarah Calburn

44 Stanley

When? From Monday to Saturday, from 7.30 am to 4 pm + on Sunday, from 7.30 am to 3 pm

Where? 44 Stanley Ave, Johannesburg, 2091

What? Someone could define it as an ‘Hipsters’ Heaven’, but it is not as simple as that: what once was an industrial shed, it is now hosting thousands of little shops, restaurants and design laboratories that offer tasty food, excellent music, fabulous shopping and good fun, all in the same place at the same time! Green and shaded, it is the ideal place to spend a lovely afternoon resting.

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Katy’s Palace

When? Thursday evening and randomly during other days – for more info have a look at its website http://katyspalacebar.co.za/

Where? 6 Desmond Street, Kramerville

What? Perhaps it is the most amazing place I have ever visited since I have been here. The biggest problem, though, is that none knows its opening hours and it happened to me to be there only once. It is a big shed that contains a shiny restaurant with a breathtaking view over the city. It is best to book for it – or so they say.

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Nightlife

When you ask to a few locals ‘where can I go to enjoy the night?’, the answer will always be ONE AND ONE ONLY: ‘It depends. Do you prefer them black or white?’

Dirty jokes aside, digging a little deeper, if not interested in following your inner lust, you can easily gain precious information about pubs, clubs and night-time events. Or simply have a look at the list down here.

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Katzy’s

Where? 1, The Firs, Hyatt Centre, Oxford Rd & Biermann Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196

How much? 150 rands during the week, 100 rands on Saturday

What? Live dance music, varied customers, over 20, dress code. Excellent for a night of good fun, rhythm and dancing.

Harem

Where? 160 Jan Smuts Ave, Johannesburg, 2196

How much? 150 rands

What? RnB music, excellent disco, mostly attended by black customers that, against all odds, are not very inclined to dance. On the upper floor you can find the ‘Kong’, a nightclub also owned by the Harem’s management.

Truth

Where? Pretoria Main Rd, Midrand, 1685

How much? 75 rand, depending on the nights

What? Two rooms, one with house music and the other usually with techno: mostly attended by white customers and really young ones, especially in the early part of the night. A bit far from the city centre, but very enjoyable. No dress code, casual clothes permitted.

4th Avenue, Parkhurst

Where? 4th Avenue, Parkhurst, Randburg

What? Road renowned for restaurants, pubs, art galleries and design shops for a nice evening of good fun. On Wednesday nights, events for students.

7th Street, Mellville

Where? 7th St, Melville, Johannesburg

What? As for the 4th Ave Parkhurst, but less ‘cool’, it is full of high quality pubs and restaurants in which you can spend a nice evening.

 

VIP Room

Where? Corner Maude and West Street, Sandton, 2196

How much? 200 rands

What? Very elegant disco, located inside the Plaza Mandela Mall. Dress code requested, white customers over 25. Do not expect the ‘temple of fun’, but it depends on the nights. Excellent cocktails. House and commercial music.

News Caffè

Where? There are many of them, located in the different suburbs renewed for nightlife

What? Locals’ favourite shops’ chain, excellent for early evening meetings. High quality cocktails at affordable prices and varied customers – black and white people mixed together –, often young, but not too much. Good music, mostly electronic and commercial.

Movida

Where? Corner Witkoppen & Rivonia Rd, Rivonia Crossing, 3 Achter Rd, Johannesburg

How much? 150/200 rands

What? Elegant disco, mostly attended by white customers, dress code requested. House, electronic and commercial music. Warning: after midnight it becomes really crowded, so that it is really difficult to move inside it.

BeerHouse

Where? Corner Witkoppen, 1 Sunset Ave, Sandton, 2191

What? Overlooking the Montecasino view, pleasant beerhouse and pub in which you can spend nice evenings with young people and excellent music, tasty food and superb beer. Speaking of which, in here you can find the most varied and complete display of beers, with also the possibility to taste them. Precious advice, given by the helpful staff, regarding food and beer choice.

Jolly Roger

Where? 10 4th Ave, Randburg, 2193

What? Among the dozens Parhurst’s pubs it is worth to mention this ‘temple of rugby’ and meeting point for sporty people and team supporters. Good selection of cocktails at fair prices, almost everywhere 24 hours screens on sports channels. Mixed customers.

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Other alternatives

SOWETO: really famous township, safe and pleasant to spend some time into. There are many tours – have a look on Google for more information – towards the most interesting destinations, as Nelson Mandela’s house, different art galleries, a big theatre, the old smokestacks from an ex-energetic unit now dressed in graffiti and the chance to try some bunjee jumping in an unique background. Leave behind your fears and have a look at the South Western Township (SO-WE-TO) for an immersive experience into history and culture.

Est, Main Reef Road: Needless to say that what you will find in Johannesburg will be a shiny, rich and urban Africa, really far from the rest of the mainland. It is only a façade, because there still is poverty, only very well hidden or disguised. Jump in the car, go to the old station and go straight on Main Reef Road until you start to get lost: you will discover overcrowded slums in an appalling situation. It will be an awe-inspiring view over the harsh true reality of this continent.

Montecasino: I am leaving it as the last one to be described: plasters, Perspex, and fake marble are what you will see in the Gauteng’s version of Las Vegas. Montecasino stands for bad taste in every possible way: in an indoor location, a massive shed with a fake plastic sky with lights replacing moon and sun hosts a Tuscan village’s replica, following the stereotypical image of the Italian countryside – little balconies, fountains, theatres, pebble streets, Vespas, wineries, little tables with red and white checked tablecloths, ALL IN PLASTIC. A gigantic casino is also in there. An ode to bad taste that, after all, it is still worth a visit.

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