A weekend in Johannesburg

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Friday, February 8, 2013

After 24 long hours, I finally landed and cleared customs at Johannesburg's Tambo International Airport. This was my first visit to Africa, 'real' Africa (I have been to North Africa, but as you can imagine, that is very different). I was so excited, more than I have been about a trip in awhile. I have always wanted to visit South Africa, and while I would have preferred to do so on a three week holiday, I landed here on a last minute, very packed and very quick business trip.

As I exited I looked at the dozens of name cards and hotel drivers waiting for pickup, looking for mine. I didn't see it. I stood to the side to check my phone for the hotel and confirmation, but before I could, there was a man with a bright smile standing in front of me. I looked up (slightly confused, I admit) and then saw the paper in his hand with my name in black letters. I just stared for a second thinking, "how did he know I am me?" I smiled back. He shook my hand and excitedly said, "Welcome to Joburg! My name is Nelson. (pause) Like Mandela!" I laughed out loud. What a pleasant start to my trip. On our way to the hotel, he did not stop talking the whole time, telling me about Africa, about Mr. Mandela, about race, about what I 'must' see even if I only have a little time. I was tired, but couldn't help but smile. It is one of the best things in the world to see someone take so much pride in where they come from.

This small initial interchange pretty much sums up my few days there. The people of South Africa are just wonderful. They have a storied past and if on one side, a rather difficult one, but they are genuinely helpful and friendly, expecting nothing in return. And they don't seem to stop smiling. I love it.

I won't bore you with details of my work, but luckily I did have a little time to actually see/do something other than work. So, if you find yourself on a quick business trip in Johannesburg and don't have time to get to the Cape or other cities in SA, here are a few things you can do on a weekend in Johannesburg.

Friday night you can head to Sandton Central's Nelson Mandela Square. There is a well known, authentic restaurant called Lekgotla, Africa's Dining Room. The atmosphere is like sitting in a beautifully decorated hut. The menu boasts delicacies and signature dishes from the four corners of the continent including crocodile, springbuck, and ostrich.

Saturday you can do a couple of things. Ideally you will have time to head into Soweto, a township, and a glimpse into 'real' Africa. Or a full day safari. Or a city tour and the Apartheid Museum. Unfortunately, I did not have time for any of the above. I had a business meeting (yes, on a Saturday, ugh) mid-afternoon, so thanks to jetlag and being awake really early, I had a morning to spare. I decided on a Lion Park, located about 45 minutes outside of Joburg. I was determined to see some animals while in SA, so this worked out perfectly. (I have the name of a fabulous driver/guide who can help organize your tour). I got to see zebras, antelope, lions, play with cub lions, feed giraffes, meerkats and cheetahs. Admittedly, in my head every reference was to The Lion King, yes, I know that is ridiculous, but I just couldn't help it. The Lion Park was actually pretty special because it is smaller and you can get really close to the animals. Of course nothing can beat a true safari, but when time does not permit, you take what you can get.

That evening, we went to another African style restaurant, Moyo. This was interesting since it sits inside Zoo Park. They have a delicious menu, they paint your face while you are eating and there is live African music. Place was filled with tourists and locals alike.

Sunday is shopping day. Being based in Rosebank actually worked out pretty well since Joburg's famous Sunday rooftop market is inside Rosebank Mall. Lucky me! There are over 600 stalls of African art, jewelery, crafts, clothing, food, ceramics, etc. The market runs on Sunday only from 9 am to 5 pm. Go early. I picked up lots of beautiful pieces for family and friends. If only I had more space, I would have bought more! I highly recommend making this visit if you happen to be in Joburg on a Sunday. BUT in case you aren't, right next to it is an African Craft Market, which is open daily.

Sunday afternoon before heading off to the airport, I got to meet up with an old and dear friend from grad school. I live in Chicago, he lives in Cairo, and we met in Joburg. This is the real beauty of travel.

From here I am off to London. I wish I didn't have to go, it is summer here in Joburg so the climate is a perfect 22-25C/75-80F, not to mention, I have fallen in like with this place already. I can't wait to come back! But next time, it will be on holiday, and I will finally manage to go to the one place in the world I have longed to see for years, Cape Town.


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Links:
Lekgotla: http://www.nelsonmandelasquare.co.za/libprop/content/en/nelson-mandela-square/nelson-mandela-square-store-search?oid=411&sn=Detail&pid=115

Lion Park: http://www.lion-park.com/

Moyo: http://www.moyo.co.za/

African Craft Market: http://www.gauteng.net/attractions/entry/the_african_craft_market_of_rosebank/
Sunday rooftop market: http://www.craft.co.za/
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